There are few things more enjoyable than a man or woman in full moral-outrage flow. Jim Wells was flowing very well in the Stormont debating chamber the other day and I must say it was a tour de force.
Jim was making it clear that non, il ne regrette rien. If any muddle-headed nationalists or republicans were waiting for him to apologise for his remarks, they’d be waiting a long, long, LONG time. The remarks Jim was referring to were when he, behaving in what Minister Carál Ní Chuilín described as an aggressive, venomous and threatening manner, and referring to the Minister’s adviser Mary McArdle, said to her “You needn’t think you are going to bring that murderer to South Down”. In another incident, Jim passed Mary McArdle in a corridor in Stormont and said to her “There’s the murderer herself”. In the light of the incidents, the committee on standards and privileges proposed to bar Jim from Stormont for a week. But the motion was defeated. Jim stays.
Why was I cheered up by these matters? Several reasons. It brings into the open what people are thinking - in this case, what unionist politicians, particularly Jim, think of people like Mary McArdle who were formerly IRA members. It brings into the open what people think of themselves: in denouncing the actions of Ms McArdle, Jim clearly was claiming higher moral ground for himself. Finally, it brings into the open the attempts of unionist politicians to instate their version of the history of the past forty years as the official history. I’m cheered by that because it’s always comforting to see what people are really up to.
Unfortunately there’s a down side as well, and that is that what people are up to may prevail as accepted wisdom and fact. Let’s consider the three I’ve listed.
Even if we were to accept Jim’s judgement of Ms McArdle as a murderer, why just her? Why doesn’t Jim stop Gerry Kelly, Martin McGuinness and any number of other former IRA people and tell them they’re murderers as well? He might even stop former members of the UDR or the British Army or the RUC and upbraid them. But he doesn’t. Jim’s wrath is confined to one woman.
Clearly, in denouncing her, Jim believes himself to be morally superior. I’m assuming (perhaps I’m wrong) that if he were asked his religious affiliation, Jim would reply without hesitation “Christian”. But doesn’t the founder of Christianity say somewhere “Judge not that you may not be judged”? And didn’t he forgive sinners again and again? And urge his followers to do likewise?
But maybe Jim’s history-writing is the most important part of his display of wrath. If Jim and those who think like him can promote as official the view that the IRA were a murderous gang and the cause of all the deaths of the Troubles, then that will mean...Well, that Jim’ s side was right. That they had God on their side. With the devil, presumably, on the side of those who opposed him. Not that Jim’s the only one to take this tack. Quite a number of those who would describe themselves as nationalists take the same tack, only without Jim‘s thundering anger.
Post-script. It could be that Jim chose his moral-wrath target because he knew he’d have a fair number of nationalists lining up beside him as well as unionists. When I was sufficiently reckless to suggest that Mary Travers, in whose death Mary McArdle has been implicated, was killed by the IRA but not murdered, I received more, well yes, venomous responses from people than for pretty well anything I’ve blogged in the past few years. No doubt Jim had that kind of venomous back-up in mind when he targeted Mary McArdle. I've also noticed that, since that blog, my appearances on Radio Ulster/Raidio Uladh's Thought for the Day, once regular, have petered into non-existence. Coincidence? Mmm. Let me think about that one.
Still, you have to admit: the Stormont outburst was as fine a display of off-the-leash moral indignation as we’re likely to get this side of Christmas. Go raibh cead maith agat, Jim - thanks loads.