Every day I look at tweets from the Auschwitz Memorial site and from SEFF (the South East Fermanagh Foundation), and read the brief descriptions of lives cut short by murders linked to that day’s date.

Published: 18 October 2022

I find this puts my own small worries in perspective, by reminding me every day of the real people whose worlds were tragically destroyed — those utterly overlooked by cheery chanters belting out “Ooh, Ah, Up the RA” in the dressing room of the triumphant Irish women’s football team last week, or in bars in Dublin airport.

With Auschwitz, it’s a birthday, for it’s often impossible to pinpoint when individuals among the millions of people shovelled into camps actually died in that killing field in Nazi-occupied Poland, poisoned by Zyklon B or from disease or hunger.

With SEFF, it’s the day they died — 90% of them from the bullets or bombs of paramilitaries.

On Sunday, I paused from reading various commentators’ reactions to the chant to look at Twitter and think about five-year-old Hungarian Jewish Klara Boda, deported to Auschwitz and gassed.

SEFF was mourning 24-year-old Garda Michael Clerkin, blown up on 16 October 1976 in a booby trap bomb that had exploded in a deserted cottage near Portlaoise. He and his colleagues had been lured to it by an anonymous phone call that a bomb was being prepared there ahead of an assassination attempt on TD Oliver J Flanagan, father of Charlie, who in 2017 would become Minister for Justice.

Clerkin was killed in the blast, with four other officers injured, one of whom permanently lost his hearing and his sight. More than four decades on, the other three are valued SEFF members.

Lost Lives tells me that Sinn Fein — who would have discovered that this was not popular in the Irish Republic — described this as an outrage and an act of sabotage until later they went quiet when it became clear that it had been perpetrated by the IRA.

Automatic denial is still as popular with the Shinner establishment as it was all those years ago, long before “I-was-never-in-the-IRA” Gerry Adams handed over to “I-believe-Gerry” Mary Lou McDonald and her side-kick “There-was-no-alternative” Michelle O’Neill.

These days, of course, the leadership is backed up by faithful twitter supporters.

“The Irish women’s football team”, said the commentator Mark Humphrys, “has unleashed a flood of hate-filled Shinners on social media, furiously defending the IRA, attacking Britain, wildly accusing all critics of the IRA of supporting the UVF, and so on. What a sad ending to what should have been a happy story.”

One of the most moving and constructive contributions to the debate of the last few days came from the Reverent Dr David Clements of Cullybackey Methodist Church, who had a friend read out his comments to the Dail’s Public Consultation on the Constitutional Future of the Island of Ireland because he was carrying out the funeral service for his mother.

His own father, William, a sports-lover happy to be Irish, British and an Ulsterman, who would have been rooting for the Irish women’s team, had been shot dead by the IRA for being a member of the RUC.

Hearing the chant turned Dr Clements’s stomach.

Expressing his sadness about the loss of “ten beautiful people” in the explosion in Creeslough, in Donegal, he spoke of knowing most of those killed in the Enniskillen 1987 Remembrance Day bomb, and of being on the scene of the Shankhill bomb shortly after it exploded. There were similarities, he said, but “one glaring difference”. Creeslough was an accident: the others were a consequence of “careful and callous planning”.

And in words the young chanters who had been so distressed for the Creeslough victims should take to heart, he added, “Believe me when I tell you that when that grief is deliberately caused by the evil intent of another human being, the burden to be carried is greatly increased.”

He concluded with a plea that for the sake of future generations, “we must build on firm foundations having found a better way to deal with the bitter legacy of the past”.

At the very least, we should expose young people to tweets that show the faces of people killed by tribal hatred.

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