The politics of Northern Ireland can seem baffling, even to those who live there. But King Charles, and perhaps more importantly those who advise him, have introduced a new element of madness into the process of handing out the – let’s face it – very scarce invitations to next month’s coronation.
Yesterday we learned that much to the dismay of the approximately 1,800 victims of IRA violence during The Troubles, Michelle O’Neill, the leader of Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland, will be among the select group of guests favored over dukes, former politicians and prominent public figures.
Perhaps to placate the aging godfathers of Republican terrorism among her supporters — many of whom have since diversified into organized crime and cross-border diesel and tobacco smuggling — Ms. O’Neill predictably accepted the invitation on Twitter with reluctance.
‘I’m an Irish Republican,’ she said superfluously, as if to make it clear that she’d rather walk a mile in tight shoes than with the British establishment at Westminster Abbey.
The leader of Northern Ireland’s Sinn Fein will be favored among the select group of guests over dukes, former politicians and leading public figures at the coronation
“I also recognize that there are many people on our island for whom the coronation is a hugely important event,” she added. By emphasizing this point, she made it clear that she was not among the people who thought it important.
On the contrary, she went under duress, to show those unsophisticated trade unionists who take this sort of thing seriously that Sinn Fein is prepared to meet their fears of republican rule of the six counties of Northern Ireland.
It is easy to imagine the smooth-talking officials at the top of the British civil service debating her invitation, arguing that 25 years after the Good Friday Agreement was signed, it was time to ‘move on’, forgive and to forget.
Naturally, the new king was put in a difficult position. Either option – inviting the leader of Sinn Fein or emphatically refusing to do so – would raise eyebrows. You can almost hear the Northern Ireland Office mandarins muttering how ‘useless’ it could be to exclude her.
The problem with showing such leniency to the justifications of the IRA terror campaign is that Ms O’Neill has never sought atonement for the crimes committed in the name of Irish republicanism.
In senior Republican circles, she is regarded as something of an empty vessel. She rose through the ranks of Sinn Fein almost without a trace, aided by her family’s IRA credentials. Her father, Brendan Doris, was interned during the Troubles. A cousin, Tony Doris, was one of three IRA members killed in an SAS ambush in 1991. And another cousin, IRA volunteer Gareth Malachy Doris, was shot and wounded during an attack on an army base in 1997.
The new king was put in a difficult position. Either option – inviting the leader of Sinn Fein or emphatically refusing to do so – would raise eyebrows
In a BBC interview last summer, Ms O’Neill suggested the IRA had no choice but to shoot and blow up civilians with bombs until the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
“I don’t think an Irishman ever woke up one morning and thought conflict was a good idea, but war came to Ireland,” she said. “I think there was no alternative at the time, but fortunately now we have an alternative to conflict and that is the Good Friday Agreement.” According to her, violence broke out all over Northern Ireland spontaneously, without any help from republican (or loyalist) terrorist gangs.
Her lack of remorse enraged Unionist politicians who saw it as deliberately provocative. Ms. O’Neill resorts to the usual republican technique of referring to the IRA as if it had always been a totally separate entity from Sinn Fein. In reality, everyone in Ulster knows that the IRA and Sinn Fein have always been, by all accounts, connected at the hip.
Police and fire brigade outside the Criminal Court and Army Recruiting Office in Whitehall, where an IRA bomb exploded on 8 March 1973, killing one man and injuring hundreds
To be sure, the Police of Northern Ireland (successor to the RUC) still believe that the IRA Provisional Army Council oversees both the IRA and Sinn Fein. Higher ranks of the Garda in the Republic of Ireland make the same assumption.
Mrs. O’Neill’s preferential treatment seems all the more odious when compared to Lady Pamela Hicks’ humiliation.
Lady Pamela practically personifies the notion of “royal insider.” She is a former lady-in-waiting to the late Queen and the daughter of Lord Mountbatten, King Charles’ mentor, who was killed by the IRA in 1979.
Yet there will be no room for her at the abbey on the big day, and she was told so during a phone call from a palace aide as she celebrated her 94th birthday. The exclusion of Lady Pamela, who was treated like family by the late Queen and was related to Prince Philip by blood, suggests twisted priorities in the palace and at the highest levels of government.
It will fail to impress Democratic Unionist Party leaders, who are under pressure from London and the White House to rejoin the devolved government in Stormont.
Unionists will again see those who sympathize with terrorists rewarded rather than suspended. Worst of all, the monarchy is being dragged into this sordid drama.
Our new king, in his undoubtedly well-intentioned zeal to extend the hand of friendship to the country’s former enemies, is in danger of forgetting who his real friends are.
Andrew McQuillan is a political consultant and specialist in Northern Irish politics