Republican News · Thursday 13 April 2000

[An Phoblacht]

Monumental hypocrisy


On 11 April 1991, IRA Volunteer Colum Marks was shot dead in Downpatrick by the RUC. They were congratulated on the success of their operation by the SDLP's Eddie McGrady, who commented that the degree of violence used had been entirely justifiable despite the fact that Marks was unarmed. Shortly after the killing, members of his family and the local community, wishing to honour his memory, erected a white cross on the spot where he died.

The cross remained there, unmolested and uncontested, for eight years, until the same local community organised, and paid for, a more permanent memorial stone. Included on it were five further names of local IRA volunteers killed in action going back to 1923.

The new stone, which was placed on exactly the same spot as the white cross, was unveiled in a simple ceremony on 13 February this year. The following day, at a meeting of Downpatrick Council, UKUP Councillor Billy Alexander raised an objection to the new memorial on the basis that it did not have the benefit of planning permission. Despite the fact that the original memorial did not have planning permission either and had not been opposed by anyone during the previous eight years, he was supported in this objection by the SDLP's John Doris.

Accordingly, the matter was discussed at a committee meeting on 29 March, where another SDLP Councillor, Eamon O'Neill, also objected to the memorial stone, this time on the grounds that it represented an insurance risk because someone might, theoretically, trip over it. Billy Alexander claimed to have received numerous letters from ``ordinary'' Catholics (that is, SDLP rather than Sinn Fein voters) opposing the stone, although to date he has not been able to produce a single one of these alleged letters. On the other hand, those wishing to retain the memorial have produced a 300-name petition supporting the erection of the stone. Throughout the entire saga, the SDLP and the UKUP have demanded that Sinn Féin Councillor Aiden Carlin tell them who is responsible for the memorial.

This local difficulty is, of course, symbolic of the much wider issue of the way in which the British state and its cohorts continuously seeks to assert control over which parties to this conflict are to be permitted to commemorate their war dead, and in what manner. In short, we have the unedifying spectacle of the SDLP, clearly worried by the electoral gains being made by Sinn Féin in the area, acting in craven connivance with the most unsavoury elements of unionism, the British military and The Daily Telegraph - witness the newspaper's recent campaign, enthusiastically supported by the British Army establishment, for local permanent memorials to be raised to all British military personnel killed during `the Troubles', including members of the UDR. This motley coalition are attempting to deny the nationalist community the right to remember their dead in any tangible way.

The uproar over the INLA memorial in Derry is another example of the stratospheric level of hypocrisy which abounds on the issue. Granted, the INLA's memorial may not in the best possible taste, but it still commemorates the loss of loved ones through conflict and, despite Gregory Campbell's carry-on, it is hardly Nelson's Column. It is, actually, also in a graveyard, whereas the British war dead are commemorated in a 20-foot high sculpture of a squaddie in extravagant combat posture, slap-bang in the middle of Derry town centre. Gregory Campbell has to go somewhat out of his way to be outraged by the statue in Derry cemetery, but the looming edifice in the Diamond is almost impossible to avoid.

It does not, of course, require a great deal of effort to understand what is really going on here; this is merely another skirmish in the seemingly endless ideological battle waged by the British state against any suggestion of equivalence between British soldiers and Irish republican soldiers. The insistence that British war memorials are normal, respectable and legitimate (whereas republican war memorials are the reverse; abnormal, provocative, illegal) and that the their war dead are more important and valid than ours is simply part of the old, old fight by the state to criminalise the republican struggle.

Aiden Carlin, rightly, refuses to accept the terms of this particular debate and has fought tenaciously with Downpatrick Council for the right of the nationalist community to properly honour its dead IRA volunteers. However, the SDLP-controlled Policy and Resources Committee, having sought ``legal opinion'' on the matter, is due to meet at the end of this month to rubber-stamp an order to remove the memorial to Colum Marks. The local British war memorial, meanwhile, remains securely in place.

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