Paul Hosford: For Sinn Féin, and for a United Ireland, there is little to be gained from flippant tweets

Paul Hosford: For Sinn Féin, and for a United Ireland, there is little to be gained from flippant tweets

Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley, who has come under pressure over a recent tweet. Picture: Gareth Chaney Collins

There is violence in the DNA of the island of Ireland.

That violence only ended 22 years ago and still permeates much of the mindset of a part of the populace on this rock in the Atlantic.

Our founding fathers and mothers, those for whom we have named streets and train stations and all in between, carried out acts of violence to achieve their political aims. A generation or two later, those who felt abandoned or threatened by the promise of the Irish Free State would wage their own campaigns of violence.

Now, with many people feeling that a United Ireland, for the first time in over 100 years,  is a probability rather than a possibility, the nettle of those actions will have to be grasped – all of those actions – and with Sinn Féin in the position it is in, growing in popularity in the Republic and anchoring the Stormont Assembly, the party will have to lead much of that conversation.

That is what leads to much of the problem with Laois-Offaly TD Brian Stanley's tweet equating the Kilmichael and Warrenpoint ambushes. 

The equation or the weighing up of "good violence" and "bad violence" is one that Ireland will have to undertake soon. 

We will have to ask ourselves the awkward questions about the propriety and justification of not just the worst of The Troubles but of the worst of the violence which founded our State as well.

And to do that require will require nuance and sensitivity. While we will all, as a nation, have to ask the questions about what makes one soldier a legitimate target in combat but not another, the final line of Mr Stanley's tweet "Pity for everyone they [the British Army] were such slow learners" was too flippant, too offhand. The families of those who died before and after Warrenpoint on both sides will have read that characterisation, a pity, with no small amount of anger. If a British MP had described Ballymurphy or Loughinisland as a "pity", there would be deserved anger here.

If Mr Stanley's party does want to unite Ireland, it knows that to be done peacefully, it must be done with consent from the Unionist side.

To do that means to moderate your language, particularly as a senior TD in the main opposition party in the Republic. Northern First Minister Arlene Foster said the tweet lacked "respect for victims", echoing much of the online reaction.

Everybody knows what Sinn Féin stands for and few would realistically expect it to disavow IRA actions throughout The Troubles. 

But as the reality of a border poll looms larger on the horizon, those who wish to see a United Ireland must begin speaking to those they would seek to unite, not at them or about them. A 32-county Ireland will be a more complex place than most of us are used to navigating. It will require more delicate handling, more moderated tones.

If Sinn Féin wants to lead that conversation, it must accept that a United Ireland will be won at the ballot box and won only by engaging in a meaningful conversation around reconciliation. It cannot have senior members flippantly throwing down the gauntlet to almost half of the North. Sinn Féin now enjoys record support because its TDs have taken to their task in the Dáil seriously – on housing, on health, on welfare – there is little to be gained by these kind of tweets.

For the party or the island.

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