Time to be afraid, to be very afraid

Margaret Rossiter


Margaret Rossiter

I cannot exactly put a date, or even a year, on that early summer evening when I received a visit from two men. They canvassed my vote for their candidate in a forthcoming local election.

I cannot exactly put a date, or even a year, on that early summer evening when I received a visit from two men. They canvassed my vote for their candidate in a forthcoming local election.

It was certainly a decade before the Good Friday Agreement. Their literature identified them as representing Sinn Fein, and this was at a time when the appendage ‘stroke IRA’ was attached to Sinn Fein, both in popular parlance and in the media.

It was also at a time when Europe was fractured by the physical and ideological Iron Curtain, on the eastern border of which was totalitarian Stalinism and on the western side democracy.

I knew that, given a choice which had been denied to so many millions of Europeans, on which side of that division I would like to live.

By the time I was visited by the two men seeking my vote, I had long been sickened by the para-militarism, of all hues, in Northern Ireland, and the consequent eclipse of the admirable Civil Rights Movement, under the pressure of the bomb and the bullet.

Any lingering aspirations I might have had (as a result of the skewed teaching of Irish school history) or the romanticism and glory of dying, or killing, for Ireland, had long since died.

It drifted towards death each morning as the radio news told me of the latest bombing or ‘political’ murder on the island on which I lived and loved.

It finally expired when I saw lumps of flesh and bone and blood, which had once formed a living breathing person, being lifted from the street on a shovel into a black plastic bag.

So, from that perspective, on that evening decades ago, I politely thanked my visitors for their offer of literature and which I refused to take, saying that it would not influence my decision not to vote for their candidate.

I was just closing my door as the two walked down the short pathway on to the street.

“Number 16 - we’ll 
remember that!”

There they stood and looked back at my house and one said in a very loud voice - ‘Number 16 - we’ll remember that!”

It was a crude threat and I laughed at its crudity, but had I, at that time, been living in the small streets of segregated communities in Belfast or Derry, would I not, as we used to say as children, have been laughing at the other side of my face.

Would I have dared to open my mouth and made a legitimate (and polite) response to a legitimate (and polite) request? Would I Hell?

The Mairia Cahill campaign for justice during the past few weeks has brought into sharp focus the activities of a paramilitary regimen in Northern Ireland that was as destructive of human rights and liberties as that of the Stasi (the secret police) during a half century of Communism in Eastern Europe.

Several recent publications, resulting from studies of released files, have revealed the tyranny of a State-operated organisation which did not allow for even the most modest critical comment or dissent.

A casual implied criticism with a family could result in a ‘disappearance’.

That same climate of disappearance would now appear to have been the stock-in-trade of republican paramilitarism in Northern Ireland. People were shot, knee-capped, crippled, or worse, for life. They disappeared into Irish bogs. They were ‘exiled’ into the Republic, where they were free to continue their nefarious activities.

They were sent ‘abroad’ where they were given shelter and new identities by supporters.

All the time a cruel imperative of silence was imposed on communities.

The human rights of disassociation, of personal integrity, of free speech, all the prerequisites of any democratic society, were denied to communities by people who abrogated to themselves the right of life and death.

Some of the acknowledged inheritors of this regimen have now established themselves as a political party in the Republic.

It can be argued that this is the natural progression of ‘revolutionaries’; the illegals become legal. History is littered with such welcome transformations.

But do we, ordinary Irish people, have to listen, in our Dail and in our media, to the boneheaded defence of an indefensible sordid episode in the implementation of so-called justice in the recent history of Northern Ireland?

Do we have to watch a woman, Mary Lou McDonald, stand by her man in a display of subservient loyalty?

She had established some credibility, especially among women, in her trenchant condemnation of the Irish Catholic Church on its historic cover-up of child abuse.

It would seem that what was sauce for the goose was not sauce for the gander.

This begs the question: is there a sinister subtext to the Mairia Cahill story?

She was, as we know,a close member of the ‘republican family’.

Her cousin, Eilis O’Hanlon, would appear to know a thing or two about that same family. She is now a journalist on ‘The Sunday Independent’.

In a feature in last Sunday’s issue of that paper she has written “Hard men from the IRA in Belfast still run Sinn Fein. It’s as simple as that. Dublin has been put firmly in its place. Be afraid. Be very afraid”.