Irish Examiner View: Our hope for change must not be blind

Irish Examiner View: Our hope for change must not be blind

When, at Sunday night’s Oscars a clip from the 1960 epic Spartacus is shown to honour Kirk Douglas, who has died aged 103, cinema will remember a man born Issur Danielovitch Demsky just eight months after our 1916 Rising.

It is a neat coincidence that Spartacus is a story of revolution and sacrifice even if it is almost as long as The Irishman.

By honouring Douglas, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will show an awareness of the past and the shadows it always leaves that has been, to an unwise degree, pushed aside in our election campaign.

Sinn Féin are the main beneficiaries and drivers of this winnowing.

It is, therefore, unsurprising that that party’s most supportive cohort was born around the time Kirk Douglas passed the three-score-and-10 milestone in 1987, the year the IRA murdered 12 people in the Enniskillen bombing in the name of freedom.

More recent events left a difficult legacy too — like the apology forced from Stormont finance secretary Conor Murphy over remarks he made after 21-year-old Paul Quinn was beaten to death by a gang linked to the IRA in 2007.

Doubts have also been raised around Stormont’s communities minister Deirdre Hargey. She was in Magennis’s bar in Belfast in January 2005 when Robert McCartney was stabbed to death by the IRA.

The investigation into that murder ran into the sand when none of the 70 or so people in the bar — witnesses all — were prepared to give evidence.

Ironically, and increasingly dangerously, even raising these questions is dismissed as a campaign to vilify Sinn Féin — even if this not forgetting is no more than a sensible reference to our immediate past.

Dismissing this as the normal cut-and-thrust of an election campaign might have been possible before say-what-you-like social media became such a force.

The anger, poison, the disconnection from reality, and basic dishonesty on so many threads supporting Sinn Féin must be a concern. The examples, several suggesting media organisations are paid to publish stories critical of Sinn Féin, are myriad. One shows how coordinated the chorus is.

Earlier this week, half an hour before the leaders’ television debate ended one thread had over 300 comments all variations of “Mary Lou wiped the floor with them lads”.

It would be utterly wrong to link Sinn Féin to Wednesday night’s attack on Glasnevin cemetery’s memorial wall.

Vandals damaged the monument which includes names of those who died between the Easter Rising in 1916 to the end of the Civil War in 1923. The gang used a sledgehammer to remove the names of British soldiers killed during the Easter Rising.

However, it would be wrong too to pretend that strands of this election campaign, especially Sinn Féin’s online echo chambers, have not created an atmosphere if not encouraging such criminality then making it seem ordinary, almost praiseworthy.

It would be wrong too to criticise Sinn Féin without pointing to the failures of one government after another— as we have consistently done. There is not one party contesting this election without squadrons of skeletons in their tightly-closed wardrobes.

That is a reality of political evolution but none of those skeletons belong to young men beaten to death or killed by car bombs in the years since this democracy was established.

There is another irony. Sinn Féin use social media far better than any Irish party. They do this to promise life-transforming change while being the only Dáil party active in Stormont.

There, their record is one of set-in-concrete caution and unblinking conservatism. Change has been minimal, the revolution, or the revolutionaries, have not delivered.

It’s almost a century since Kirk Douglas was a young man struggling to become an actor. It’s almost a century too , since democracy and political life were so flummoxed, so strained by slide, deepening inequity, and civilisation-threatening challenge.

If this weekend Sinn Féin make the advances opinion polls promise then they will have to decide whether to work against that tide or continue, as they always do, to provoke discord so they might offer themselves as saviours.

It is hard to remember, at least since the 1932 election, when so much was at stake. Every voter has a responsibility to inform themselves and not through social media shout fests, before they vote.

Calculation and rational judgement must prevail, not anger and emotion — even if that anger and emotion are all too often justified by the cold inaction of our institutionalised conservative administrations. Frying pan, fire etc.

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