Well, it didn’t take long. If you or I were about to jump on someone’s back and pummel them, we’d wait until they’d passed and then try not to make it too obvious we were motivated by something other than selective indignation.
But not Amanda Foreman. The ink was scarcely dry on the poll that showed Sinn Féin as the third most-popular party in the twenty-six counties at 16%, and tipped by Paddy Power to get twenty or more seats in the next election, than Amanda had jumped onto the Shinners’ back and was clawing wildly. “Sinn Féin should never be able to escape Jean McConville’s ghost’ her headline announced in Saturday’s Guardian newspaper. Say what? Amanda, for the umpteenth time, describes in detail the last hours of Jean McConville, who as far as we know was abducted and killed by the IRA in the 1970s. The way Amanda tells it, the IRA killed her because “she had Protestant blood” and had tended a wounded British soldier. On these grounds Amanda says Gerry Adams is “alleged to be a war criminal” and shouldn’t be allowed to run for a Dail seat in Louth in the next election. “Teach her story to future generations” Amanda concludes, “and at least the moral debt owed to Jean McConville can be repaid. Jean McConville, Jean McConville, Jean McConville”.
Contrast this with the press treatment of another Troubles story from the same period. For years a British soldier called Clifford Burrage claimed he had killed a young man called Michael McLarnon in 1971. He said he had done so because Mr McLarnon was carrying a rifle at the time, a fact supported unequivocally by his commanding officer (BBC Radio Ulster last week played a recording of the officer's totally-certain Sandhurst tones). It has now emerged that both Burrage and his commanding officer were lying. Burrage in fact didn’t kill Michael McLarnon – another British soldier did; and McLarnon was shown to have been an unarmed, innocent victim. His family, far from calling for the prosecution of his killer or Burrage or his commanding officer, merely dismissed Burrage as a ‘Walter Mitty-type character” and expressed their delight that their brother’s name has been finally cleared.
Central question: why, in the absence of any evidence, is Amanda Foreman denouncing Gerry Adams as a war criminal, while neither her voice nor any other is raised to demand the trial of Burrage, his commanding officer or the murderous British soldier who actually killed Michael McLarnon? I found myself puzzling over that until I remembered Bloody Sunday 1972, when fourteen innocent civilians were shot down in broad daylight by members of the Parachute Regiment in Derry. The reason is because the British army did the killing. When that happens, the very best you can hope for is a public 'Sorry'. Remember the almost pathetic gratitude of Bloody Sunday families when David Cameron apologized for the killing of their loved ones? No prosecutions, no denunciation of the Tory party, no allegations of war crimes.
Writers like Amanda are very good on indignation, regardless of evidence, as long as it’s directed against Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness, or anyone connected to Sinn Féin. Apply the same criteria to British Army killings, where the evidence is abundant and where proven lies have been used to protect murderers? Oh really, now. Don’t be silly.
So here’s my modest proposal for the next time a Shinner-bashing story erupts from the British or Dublin 4 press (don’t worry, there are lots coming down the line, as the south's general election approaches). Simply close your eyes and repeat two words to yourself: Michael McLarnon. Michael McLarnon. Michael McLarnon. Alternatively, you could recite the names of the fourteen Bloody Sunday dead. If you can remember them.