“A DUP MP has faced criticism from parliamentary counterparts after linking the IRA with Catholicism.
Ian Paisley’s reference to the sectarian murder campaign by the “Catholic IRA” drew critical responses from fellow members of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.
Mr Paisley was questioning Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis on legacy issues and was asking him if he was going to push the Irish Government to do more to secure justice for IRA killings in border areas during the Troubles.
“Today is Holocaust Memorial Day where we remember victims of Holocaust and also other genocide around the world and in Northern Ireland of course we remember the border campaign and the genocide of sectarian murder where the IRA, the Catholic IRA, murdered Protestants at the border,” said North Antrim MP Mr Paisley.”
Having been born, and raised, a Catholic myself, and having had the catechism drilled into me (with, it must be said, limited success), it’s still a struggle to remember exactly where “thou shalt bomb and maim and terrorise the British” appears in the teachings of the Church.
What Paisley was trying to say, in fairness to him, was that much of what the IRA did (and indeed, what the loyalist militants, to an even greater extent, did in return) was overtly and transparently sectarian. The Kingsmill Massacre, for example, saw eleven men shot and killed for the crime of being protestant. In turn, there are too many instances to count of loyalist paramilitaries killing random Catholic civilians on the basis of nothing other than their religion, in the twisted and misguided hope that the Catholic community would turn on the IRA.
But that’s not the same thing at all, as saying that the IRA was a catholic organisation. It was an organisation largely made up of Catholics, but then, so is the United States Supreme Court, and you wouldn’t find anybody calling it “the Catholic Court”, now, would you?
The Editor of the Irish Catholic – perfectly correctly – is unamused:
This is outrageous and he should apologise. Catholic Church leaders were trenchant critics of violence – whether from the British state or paramilitaries like the IRA. https://t.co/cDjKSfYzjr
— Michael Kelly ن (@MichaelKellyIC) January 27, 2021
Kelly’s tweet gets at the heart of the issue here: While the IRA might have had a catholic membership, its actions and campaign were very far from the teaching of the catholic church – just as far, one might say, as the actions of the UVF were from the teachings of the Presbytarian Church.
Indeed, Catholic Bishops and Church leaders on both sides of the border routinely denounced the IRA during the conflict. Ironically, by painting them as a Catholic organisation, Mr. Paisley is suggesting that the IRA had far more support than they actually did.
But believe it or not, that’s probably only the second most-offensive thing that Paisley said. Note the reason, and timing, of his comments: He’s effectively comparing the IRA campaign to the holocaust of the jewish people in World War Two. Six million, or so, Jews were killed during World War Two, in a targeted campaign of racial extermination. Children were thrown in gas chambers. Pregnant women were cut open in medical experiments.
To compare the Northern Irish campaign to those horrors – bad though it was – demonstrates a level of historical tin-earedness relatively unmatched in the recent history of such matters on this island. Mr. Paisley is a noted friend of Israel – he’d best hope that they don’t notice the comparison he’s just made.
In fact, that comparison is what makes the whole thing much worse, on another level: Had he simply referred to the “Catholic IRA” in any other context, he could conceivably pretend to have mis-spoken, and say that he was trying to talk about how the conflict was often sectarian. But by comparing it to the holocaust, his intentions, and beliefs, are clear: He seems really to believe that the IRA campaign was a Catholic Campaign to exterminate the Protestant people.
That kind of rhetoric, of course, is very dangerous, especially in the context of renewed cross-community tensions about the border. Prominent Unionist politicians telling Unionists that their Catholic neighbours ran a campaign to perpetrate a genocide against them is the kind of thing that could easily inflame violence, after all.
He should clear this up, and apologise. He should have done it yesterday.