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8 February 2016

Hughes and his ilk unfit to lace boots of Patrick Pearse

Sean Hughes
Sean Hughes

Did Patrick Pearse die so that Provo Sean 'The Surgeon' Hughes could be cheerleader on a video advertising a Sinn Fein Strictly Come Dancing fundraiser?

The traditional Irish nationalist narrative is full of grief-stricken moments when yet another disaster struck and more young heroes went to their deaths or into exile.

In September 1913, disgusted with the bourgeois concerns of Irish politics, W B Yeats asked:

Was it for this the wild geese spread

The grey wing upon every tide;

For this that all that blood was shed,

For this Edward Fitzgerald died,

And Robert Emmet and Wolfe Tone,

All that delirium of the brave?

The Flight of the Wild Geese was the term given to the exodus to France in 1691 of many thousands of Irish Jacobite soldiers after they lost the Williamite War; like Wolfe Tone, Lord Edward Fitzgerald was a member of the United Irishmen who came to a sticky end, and Robert Emmet was hanged after his abortive rebellion in 1803.

That kind of question became a catchphrase in Irish nationalist politics and life, often denouncing an opponent regarded as untrue to dead patriots. It was also a gift to the irreverent, as summed up by my friend Aideen, whose favourite rhetorical question was: "Didn't Patrick Pearse die so that I could do what I liked?"

I try to avoid the what-ifs of history, but I couldn't resist thinking about Pearse and Sean Hughes. Pearse was generous-spirited and selfless, and was driven by psychological torments to seek death through revolution, and his rhetoric unwittingly inspired a century of political violence.

Emmet, Fitzgerald and Tone, who also unwittingly inspired much future pointless violence, were among his romantic heroes because of their nobility of character.

So how does Hughes measure up? He is, allegedly, a close personal friend of Thomas 'Slab' Murphy, Gerry Adams' "good republican" - a smuggler and tax dodger accused on Spotlight by Colonel Richard Kemp of being a mass murderer.

Certainly, they have much in common, for Hughes has been convicted of benefit fraud and accused of a lot worse.

Serious allegations include Peter Robinson's (under parliamentary privilege) that he was among those responsible for bombing Warrenpoint, Newry RUC station and Canary Wharf, and the murders of policemen Harry Breen and Bob Buchanan.

Sadly, plenty of republicans would consider that - if those allegations are true - Hughes deserves a pat on the back (Hughes has never been charged with any offence in connection with any of these incidents).

Some would also have no scruples about his alleged role (again said under Commons' privilege) in the murder of Sir Maurice Gibson, blown up for being a judge; Lady Gibson's death would be dismissed as collateral damage.

But are all those happy, dancing republicans really okay with Lord Laird's accusation (under parliamentary privilege) that he was one of the IRA leaders who authorised the savage beating of Paul Quinn?

What Hughes is doing is what many of the more shameless and sadistic Provos do, which is deliberately to put two triumphalist fingers up at victims (again, Hughes has never been charged with any offence in connection with any of these incidents).

Many people at the dance on Saturday know Stephen and Breege Quinn believe that, in associating with Hughes, their Sinn Fein neighbours spit on them.

I deplore the Easter Rising, but I recognise that its leaders had some fine qualities. As Pearse's biographer, I'm very aware of his hatred of cruelty and greed. He didn't die so murderers, thugs and cheats should flourish.

Utterly unworldly, he died for an Ireland that existed only in his imagination. It certainly did not include Sean Hughes, or, indeed, anyone who regards him as a friend.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards