From top: Sinn Féin’s Barry McElduff; Dan Boyle
One of the extra curricular activities I most enjoyed, while in Leinster House, was being a member of the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly. This brought together elected representatives not only from the Houses of the Oireachtas and Parliament, but also from the Scottish Parliament, the Northern Irish and Welsh assemblies, as well as representatives from The Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.
For many who took part it was seen as something of a jolly. Getting away to some nice location where the vicissitudes of normal politics could be hidden. Those appointed seemed an often curious mix of those on their last political lap, blended with many who would never likely achieve ministerial position. My sore thumb status was amplified by being the only Green from any of the parliamentary bodies.
I thought, and still think, that it has greater potential than it has shown. I took it seriously enough to involve myself in one of its sub-committees, which sought to compare and contrast the approach taken to social disadvantage in the various jurisdictions.
The sub-committee was chaired by an extraordinary man, Alf Dubs. Now Lord Dubs, he had been a junior minister at the Northern Ireland office, working with Mo Mowlam. He had a far better understanding of the situation there than most of those who were members of the assembly.
His personal story was even more incredible. An orphaned refugee at the end of the Second World War, he has in recent years, used his experience to embarrass the Tory government to address the fate of similar children now found in the Calais refugee camp. It was a privilege to have worked to have worked with a person of such calibre and dignity.
Barry McElduff, as an MLA, was also a member of the Assembly. I write that not to contrast Barry with Alf, only to illustrate the range of people who were involved. I found Barry to be friendly, jovial, if not particularly deep.
As with many Sinn Féin representatives he seemed wedded to an ideological version of history. To these there was to be no veering from the belief that a just war was waged in Northern Ireland over that horrible 30 year period.
To the many, so many, innocent victims of that violence, there hasn’t been a tinge of regret. Various mantras get repeated ‘Terrible things happen in wars’ or ‘We need to look forward not back’. When these trite cliches fail to convince, argument falls back into a seemingly endless well of whataboutery.
Black humour sustained many individuals and communities through those awful times. No amount humour can repackage those events into a guilt-free future.
This will be Mary Lou McDonald’s biggest obstacle. Sinn Féin’s glass ceiling will be double, if not triple, glazed. Until the party can present a worst critique of itself than its opponents do, it will always find itself carrying that wee bit more additional political baggage.
Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle
Dan Boyle’s ‘Making Up The Numbers – Smaller Parties and Independents in Irish Politics‘ published by the History Press is available at all good bookstores now.