The ability of extreme shades of political opinion to misread the room, and drive their objectives further away rather than closer, should never be underestimated. Three weeks ago it was a hijacking and a bomb hoax at a reconciliation event in Belfast which led to a hasty departure for Foreign Minister Simon Coveney.
This weekend it was a parade in Derry by masked and dark-clothed members of Saoradh, a group frequently linked to the New IRA, on the third anniversary of the murder of journalist Lyra McKee.
Hooded men and women marched along the Bogside, despite a ruling last week from the parades commission that no paramilitary-style clothing could be worn. And despite, also, an intervention from the family of Ms McKee.
Her sister, Nichola Corner, questioned why the event could not have been held on a different day, pointing out that the date of Easter changes every year.
“When we objected to this parade taking place, it was on the grounds of the date alone, not on the grounds of marching,” she said.
Bad taste, of course, has never been an impediment for extremists on the republican/unionist divide but these flashbacks to grimmer, older, days come at an untimely moment when there are attempts to make political progress towards a rational debate on a united, and peaceful, Ireland.
While Mr Coveney was declaring “there is absolutely no place for masked thugs marching anywhere on the island of Ireland” the SF leader, Mary Lou McDonald, was warming to her theme of “the decade of opportunity” by seeking “partnership” with unionists to achieve reunification. “Walk this journey with us,” she said.
If Ms McDonald is serious about having companions on historic travels then Sinn Féin will have to address the law and order contradictions which allow extreme republicans to prematurely present an event which ended with petrol bombs and arrests as a “dignified parade” allied to a tone-deaf refusal to listen to a reasonable request from a family not to march on the anniversary of the murder of a young woman. A murder for which there has still to be a criminal conviction.
The McKee family said: “Three years on, we are waiting for justice for Lyra, the person who pulled the trigger of the gun that led to her death still walks these streets, and while they walk these streets, these streets will not be safe for the people of this city.”
Sinn Féin’s opinion poll ratings reached a zenith during the pandemic and the housing crisis.
Events such as masked parades incrementally take the shine off their standing even where they are not seen to be the organisers. Studied silence may be taken as ambiguity. That is dangerous for political ambitions.