The image at the top of this article is one that will trouble many people. It’s the image of Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish First Minister meeting with Michelle Collins, the leader of Sinn Fein. Now in the years since the 1997 Good Friday Agreement, Sinn Fein have certainly had an image make over. However, it remains the case that this is the party whose long term identity is intertwined with the IRA and its horrific campaign of terror. Remember, that terror campaign was not just about a form of armed struggle with the British military. It included:
- The bombing of civilian targets including but not limited to politicians. Many ordinary citizens lost their lives, lost loved ones and suffered traumatic injuries both in Northern Ireland and on the UK mainland.
- A campaign of terror through mob rule against the people within the very communities that Sinn Fein-IRA claimed to be campaigning for. This included punishment beatings, knee capping and murders. The IRA functioned as much as a cartel or mafia organisation as it did a political entity
- That desire to control a community also meant that Sinn Fein-IRA also sought to run its own justice system leading to the silencing of crime victims including those subject to rape and sexual assault.
There are many good things to say about the Northern Ireland peace process. It is certainly better not to have troops on the streets and the fear of bombings and shootings. However, as I’ve mentioned before, I don’t think that the peace process really got to its desired end and that’s why we still have a truce rather than lasting peace. One of those issues was the failure to properly deal with the crimes and wrongs that were done in the name of sectarian causes on both sides. There hasn’t been the truth and justice side to the process that South Africa recognised as crucial to reconciliation.
So, some of us are deeply disturbed to see the leader of one part of the United Kingdom congratulating and sitting down with the leader of Sinn Fein. It’s worth remembering that when people congratulate Sinn Fein for their so called victory in recent elections, there wasn’t in fact some major break through for Republicanism. Sinn Fein haven’t reached out beyond their sectarian base. They were less winners and more the least of the losers as voting split across multiple parties. Indeed if there was a party beginning the process of break through it was the anti-sectarian Alliance Party even though the system is stacked against non-sectarianism.
It seems that Sturgeon is willing to take ay photo opportunity and be seen with anyone who she considers useful to her own agenda of breaking up the United Kingdom. I consider her dalliance with the sectarians a sad day for Scotland, a country that has been advancing a claim to independence but throughout the history of its independence movement has largely avoided the sectarianism and violence that Northern Ireland suffered.
And in so doing, she ignores that there has long been a legitimate, democratic strand within Northern Ireland politics. There are those who have want to see Irish unification but see no place for violence and desire that a united Ireland should be home to all communities, all backgrounds, all religious outlooks. Just as there are many who want Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to be part of a United Kingdom that similar respects diversity.
Sturgeon’s dalliance with Sinn Fein risks tainting the Independence cause in Scotland. I hope that she will take time to reconsider her move and apologise. However, as I’ve mentioned before recently, the crucial issue at the moment is that a small sectarian minority from either side should not be allowed to shape and control day to day life or the future of the province. A true and lasting legacy of the Good Friday Agreement needs to be a permanent end to sectarianism. This means there needs to be a new political settlement that enables those who are committed to cross community representation to enter office should they be able to persuade a majority to support them.