Funerary politics have their own particular potential. In the middle of a pandemic, so many ordinary citizens have been denied the opportunity to accord to their loved ones the honour and ceremonial of what is part of Irish culture – a decent funeral.
In a gesture of solidarity with so many families, the British royal family held a strange hybrid between a Covid-compliant family funeral and a scaled-down military ceremonial for the monarch’s consort.
At Stormont, Michelle O’Neill paid tribute to that family’s loss and acknowledged the sense of loss of so many unionists at Prince Philip’s death. Fair enough.
Lurking in the background, however, was the cruel and inexcusable murder of four people at Mullaghmore in 1979, including the elderly Louis Mountbatten, the Prince’s uncle, and three others, two of them boys. Somehow those murders needed to be further reconciled with Michelle O’Neill’s words in the assembly.
And so it was that Mary Lou McDonald made what appeared to be a statement of regret that the Mullaghmore murders had happened – a statement in terms that ambivalently morphed into general regret that so many others had died in the Troubles.
It was as far as Provo ideology could let her go. It was as far as Provo ideologists would permit her to go. She was not free to say more. Her political choreography is as controlled and scripted as that of Michelle O’Neill.
The real puppet-masters in Sinn Féin can never permit their visible glove-puppets to question the legitimacy of any part of the armed struggle carried on by the Army Council of the IRA precisely because their ideology still considers that the legitimate power, including the power of life and death, of the Irish Republic remain vested in that council. Mitchel McLaughlin famously admitted this when I pressed him on Questions and Answers in 2005 as to whether shooting Jean McConville was a crime (see Mark Brennock’s piece in this paper dated 19th January 2005).
So deliberately killing the young boys at Mullaghmore cannot have been murder; they were just collateral damage in a form of extended tyrannicide.
“Thirteen dead but not forgotten –we got 18 and Mountbatten” read the Provo graffiti, airbrushing the boys from their repugnant arithmetic. Maybe “21” would’nt scan as well.
There won’t be any Mountbatten apology because there can’t be an apology. The puppet-masters in Belfast could not live with or permit one. There is no point in demanding one. Anyway Mary Lou cannot apologise on behalf of the Army Council.
Things would be very different if Sinn Féin’s elected politicians were free to apologise for or to condemn IRA actions in the interests of reconciliation. But they aren’t.
Drew Harris, the Commissioner of the Garda Siochána, was reported in the Financial Times just 14 months ago as saying that Sinn Fein was overseen by the Army Council of the IRA. Nothing has changed in the intervening period. That was just before the pandemic struck.
Is banging on about such oversight now futile, irrelevant or harmful? Is it just yawn-making sour grapes? Is it bad taste to point out that the best-financed political party on this island is “overseen” by such a body? Does it matter that such a party aspires to lead the next government of this state – a state which that party’s political overseers consider to be illegitimate?
Sinn Féin’s public appearance is that of a unified phalanx. There is no detectable dissent or even internal political debate.
By contrast, Fianna Fáil, the Greens and Fine Gael appear to be jockeying among themselves - and within themselves - for political advantage and control. Meltdown in the public finances conceals normal debate on the allocation of public resources. Failure to deal decisively and radically with the housing shortage endangers foreign investment as well as the electoral prospects of the coalition parties.
I hope Una Mulally won’t be too offended if I re-echo her prediction this week that a political backlash seems inevitable.
And it is precisely in these circumstances that a party like Sinn Féin that is rigidly controlled by a politburo and organised on Leninist principles of democratic centralism will thrive.
Does anyone consider it remotely likely at this stage that the FF-FG-Green coalition will be re-elected? Does anyone consider that FF will seek to take part in such a coalition? Stranger things have happened, perhaps.
But our political centre looks very fragile and unlikely to hold. It may be that international events will change what now seems increasingly inevitable.
As things stand however, Yeats’s description of this state at its birth one hundred years ago seems eerily apt:
“The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand…”
Or is it?