An unlikely trio were linked in the news last week: Kenny Donaldson, Joe Brolly and Bernadette McAliskey.

Published: 4 January 2022

My friend Kenny was recognised in the New Year Honours list with an MBE for his magnificent work as Director of Services at the South East Fermanagh Foundation (SEFF); Brolly, the GAA player and pundit from Londonderry and now improbable political commentator in the Sunday Independent was in the news for a TV interview in which he claimed to have donated a kidney “to atone for the taking of human life by people close to me”; and McAliskey (née Devlin) — the eloquent and fearless civil rights leader who achieved international fame in 1969 at 21 when she won a Mid Ulster by-election and became the youngest woman ever elected to the House of Commons — told RTE that the whole island has to change if the two states are to reunite.

Where the three of them agreed was that the Republic of Ireland had let Northern Ireland down.

Brolly went first, rather incoherently explaining that “as the horrors unfolded … and you saw this orthodoxy that started in the south that … it was the Catholics and nationalists were to blame for what happened. If they had just behaved themselves and not worried about civil rights and not taken to the gun everything would have been fine”.

These viewpoints, he said, completely “ignored the reality of soldiers machine gunning people to death and then walking away”.

He illustrated this with examples including the 1989 UDA murder of Pat Finucane, which is close to his heart because senior Sinn Fein politician John Finucane, who witnessed his father’s terrible killing, is a good friend.

I don’t think history is Brolly’s long suit.

He seems to have missed out that most of the demands from the civil rights movement had been granted by the early 1970s and it was the involvement of paramilitaries that sparked off the violence and brought soldiers to Northern Ireland.

When denouncing in his column the Irish “establishment” rather than “the people”, for letting down northern nationalists, he showed no understanding that successive Irish governments — still remembering the disaster that was the 1922-3 Irish civil war — had no desire to join in the carnage up north and extend it island-wide, and that apart from moments of high emotion over, for instance, the hunger strikes, the mass of their electorate agreed with them.

A few days later, asked in an RTE interview by Tommy Tiernan if she felt northern Catholics had been let down by “the southern state”, McAliskey said “Absolutely”. But she was coherent and well-informed.

I’ve been following her extraordinary life on and off since the late 60s and acknowledge her gifts, the suffering she has endured (including her terrible wounds in 1981 when UFF gunmen shot her nine times in front of her children) and her selflessness in serving her community.

Our politics are very far apart and I often find hers weird and wrong, but I respect her honesty.

No one could accuse her of seeking popularity. She never liked Sinn Fein careerists. Loyalty and self-sacrifice are everything to her.

When in 1994 she eulogised her dear friend, the brutal mass murderer Dominic McGlinchey who had been shot by his old INLA comrades, she denounced the journalists who had accused him of drug dealing and criminality and said they were “curs and dogs. May every one of them rot in hell. They have taken away Dominic McGlinchy’s character and they will stand judgement for it. He was the finest republican of them all. He never dishonoured the cause he believed in. His war was with the armed soldiers and the police of this state”.

McAliskey has never had any respect for the ‘Free State’.

“The northern Catholic was and still is looked on by the southern state as not worth the trouble,” she told Tiernan.

And while I’m sure she’s wrong in her belief that Brexit will destroy the Union, she is right to say that if there is to be Irish unity, “the whole island has to change”.

Kenny Donaldson has no time for any killers or their apologists. Helping victims is at the heart of everything he does.

In the press, on behalf of Innocent Victims United, he challenged Brolly’s rewriting of history as the expression “of a narrow ideological position without any acknowledgement of the wider narrative [which] sends out a dangerous message to those still involved in terror groups” (‘Joe Brolly’s narrow viewpoint means he’s not a credible pundit,’ Dec 29).

He reminded him of the arming of the Provisionals by southerners and the Republic’s failures to extradite the terrorists who killed in the north and hid in the south.

Brolly must be regretting blabbing about why he donated the kidney. Speculation is rife.

Could he be referring to his late father Francie, who was a Sinn Fein Assembly member when he was interviewed by the PSNI in 2005 about the 1972 Claudy bombing?

If not him, who?

And the PSNI are now watching the footage and are under pressure to interview Brolly.

Innocent Victims United pursue murderers whether republican or loyalist terrorists or members of the security forces “that departed from the code and committed criminal based activity”.

Don’t underestimate them.

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