OVER the past few weeks there has been a row over a poster that was erected in County Tyrone as part of the 12th celebrations. The poster was dedicated to the now deceased Billy Wright of the UVF/LVF. It quoted Wright as saying his best moment was the killing of four men in Cappagh.
The incident referenced is one in 1991 when four men were killed in Boyle’s Bar, Cappagh. Three of the men were IRA volunteers. It is an incident that stinks of security force collusion. Indeed, the families and Relatives for Justice produced a report on the killings and the collusion on the 25th anniversary last spring.
Of course, the anniversary and the report got a whole lot less attention from the media and other commentators than this banner palaver. Sometimes we forget how collusion was seen as republican propaganda and the families that highlighted it treated as though they were mad, angry or utilised by the republican movement – or all three. But somehow the journey of uncovering just how dirty the war was and the slow vindication of families has us now in a place where people just shrug their shoulders at the state being involved in killing those it claims as its citizens. It is another way to marginalise the same families and deny their experience. But what happened with the Moygashel poster this summer is new. Treating the actual living grief of families with such raw contempt is particularly sick and nasty. Of course remember our dead. Commemorate our dead. But do not use your commemoration to explicitly denigrate and belittle other grieving families and their loss.
Why not? Well, apart from the basic and obvious reason that it debases our humanity, it also perpetuates the conflict environment. It brings us back to days where the taking of lives was inevitable and intractable. Thank God for those committed to peace who took us out of those days and who continue to fight tooth and nail for peace and prosperity. But this monstrous banner was a manifestation of the truth that despite the passing years there are still those who are addicted to hatred, hurt and the infliction of pain.
Quite clearly this was an incident of hate and breaching the peace. A deep, sinister breach of our peace. Quite clearly the PSNI response was insulting and inappropriate. At the Policing Board, Sinn Féin and SDLP representatives correctly called out the PSNI for their dereliction of duty. But I haven’t heard other community leaders, church leaders, trade union leaders or any single member of the DUP or UUP call this incident out. Silence from those quarters would suggest that they think victims are fair game to be targeted in such a cruel way. Except they don’t. Many of the above speak out ferociously for victims. For them it is some victims who are fair game. The relatives of IRA volunteers. As though these families’ tears hold less salt or their hearts less love.
The past few weeks demonstrate more than ever the need to protect with every ounce we have the current definition of victims. Because families in our community need the protection of law. Without it their suffering will receive insult, a shrug of the shoulders or denial.