I spent years trying to fathom why so many in the Irish nationalist tribe from which I came were so tolerant of IRA mass murderers and so hostile to their victims.

Published: 23 April 2024

Along with that went an antipathy to journalists who tell inconvenient truths.

When I became a commentator in the early 1990s, with the Irish and British establishments focused on coaxing and bribing paramilitaries to stop killing, hurting their feelings was regarded as “unhelpful” by peace processors.

Actors and writers and other luvvies queued up for photographs with the likes of newly fashionable Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness and few newspapers would publish trenchant criticism.

And this even when the IRA broke the ceasefire.

The columnist Lindy McDowell, who like me loathed paramilitaries of any stripe, spoke for the small group of us critics with the plaintive plea: “Just because I never murdered anyone doesn’t make me a bad person.”

Last week, former News Letter political editor Sam McBride attracted a skip-load of social media abuse when he tweeted a link to a report of coroner Brian Sherrard’s finding that despite the IRA’s lying denials, it was the Provos that slaughtered ten Protestant workmen on the Kingsmill Road in south Armagh in January 1976.

He wrote in some distress about responses showing open support for the bloodbath.

With typical fair mindedness, he said, “Plenty of republicans privately say they find Kingsmill repugnant.

“They see, as any reasonable person would, that slaughtering civilian workmen for no reason other than their religion is no more or less grotesque than the Sean Graham bookies massacre, or the Greysteel massacre or any of the other grossly sectarian loyalist murders of Catholic civilians.”​

“Social media,” he added, “exposes the darkest thoughts of a section of the northern population who loathe their neighbours to such an extent that half a century after innocent civilians were slain in cold blood on a lonely roadside, they still seek to justify such barbarity.”

That, of course, set off another flood of whataboutery, lies, bigotry, abuse, victim-blaming and demands that he shut up.

That, as ever, led me to make comparisons between hatred of unionists and hatred of Jews, both of which I often struggle to understand.

After the sickening mass rapes, torture and murder of Israelis on October 7, and at a time when Jewish friends were truly scared, I was appalled at how short-lived was the little sympathy shown by nationalists.

Fed with ignorant and vicious Sinn Fein propaganda, as happens in Ireland, republicans see perpetrators as victims and victims as perpetrators.

In 2013, one of my favourite authors, Howard Jacobson, wrote a short book called ‘When will Jews be forgiven the Holocaust?’

“The shocking psychological truth”, he said, “is that man rejects the burden of guilt by turning the tables on those we have wronged and portraying ourselves as the victims of their suffering.”

The Roman historian Tacitus had spelled it out more than two millennia ago, writing that “it is part of human life, to hate the man you have hurt.” The fact was that “those we harm, we blame — mobilizing dislike and even hatred in order to justify, after the event, the harm we did.

“From which it must follow that those who are harmed the most, as in the case of the Shoah (Holocaust) – are blamed the most.”

Hence the desperate attempts to deny that the Holocaust happened. Once it could be shown not to have happened – a crime that never was – “then no one could be accused of not forgiving Jews for it. At a stroke, the victim became the perpetrator, and Jews could go on being accused, as before, of the added crime of fabrication.”

In the case of Northern Ireland, the equivalent for nationalists has been to demonise victims in uniform and pretend that the perpetrators of most murders were in any case shadowy conspirators manipulated by the Brits.

“Must the terrible logic that ensures”, asks Jacobson, “that an irreparable wrong will never be forgiven — induce in us an equally terrible vigilance: Instead of Never Forget, must our motto be Never Mention?”

Certainly that is what republicans require from unionist victims.

The question “When will Jews be forgiven the Holocaust?” is rhetorical, says Jacobson. The answer is “Never”.

I fear that no unionists can be forgiven either.

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