Anthony McIntyre looks back on the funeral of Bobby Storey.

When Bobby Storey was arrested in August 1981 the RUC were delighted, their interrogators trying to wind him up in Castlereagh holding center by rubbing their hands with glee and loudly telling him that "it is the end of the Storey." Almost forty years later and two weeks after his death Bobby Storey is still the story. 

As he continues to make waves from beyond the grave, not for the first time is Sinn Fein taking flak for its symbiotic association with the dead IRA leader. Often, when alive, he was accused of inadvertently causing problems for the party with some of his more audacious post-ceasefire and post-Good Friday Agreement operations. Now, in permanent repose, it is his funeral that has pushed its way to the front of the news agenda and put Sinn Fein on the back foot. While the volley of shots was absent from the honours administered as part of the funerary rites for dead IRA activists, a different type of volley is being fired at the party of which he was a member. 

Sinn Fein stands accused by its political opponents and others of having shown scant regard for public safety by breaching rules that limit attendances at funerals in the midst of a global pandemic. Doug Beattie has asked a question that is in all likelihood flashing across the minds of more than just unionists.

why – in the midst of a global pandemic – did they feel the need to call hundreds of people onto the streets of West Belfast if the plan all along was to hold a cremation ceremony several miles away in the east of the city? … what was the point in taking a coffin to a graveyard only to then transport it to a crematorium?

Sinn Fein has not managed its response particularly well, opting to return the serve, rather than concede the point, with no real panache, while the new BB - the Bot Brigade - has taken to social media to bully those raising concerns. Michelle O’Neill, the party’s Northern leader, has no need to apologise for attending the funeral of one of her friends and colleagues. Where she is on much softer ground is her reluctance to admit that the organisation of the funeral was, like that for Garda Colm Horkan, insufficiently firewalled against Covid-19. 

With less hubris, the party could have said the emotion of the occasion swamped its judgement and it erred in breaching – to whatever extent it did - social distancing guidelines. It is currently in one of those situations where if you are explaining you are losing

Doug Beattie, chimed with many republican critics of  Sinn Fein in asking:

were people’s lives really put at risk from Covid-19 just so Gerry Adams could perform a speaking engagement in Milltown cemetery?

There are no shortage of republican critics who view Adams as a coffin surfer, not lifting coffins as much as having coffins lift him. They will read events at Milltown as an opportunity for Adams to grandstand rather than honour Storey. Some of them spot an incongruity in a politician who has always denied membership of the IRA, delivering the oration for a man who in the eyes of his admirers, came to personify the IRA.

Doug Beattie might not understand the symbolism of the republican plot at Milltown or the raw emotion evoked by so many who fought alongside Bobby Storey resting there. Moreover, it is facile to reduce the choreography of the funeral to the scheming of Gerry Adams. As a former republican prisoner commented to me:

All that may be true about Gerry Adams, but the funeral was not simply about him. It was more about the need to create another hero of the peace process. The funeral was an exercise in group reinforcement and myth making.

In that context it is tempting to see the whole event as a carefully crafted act of political street theatre designed to place a new Bobby on the Sinn Fein masthead. Try as the party might the old Bobby, Sands, held too many positions at variance with the current Sinn Fein. He did not support an armed British police force, a judiciary using Diplock courts, the partitionist principle of consent, power splitting executives, a Worker’s Party type reformist strategy, participation in Stormont, decommissioning of IRA weapons, and the effective standing down of the IRA.

Had he been alive he might have come to support those positions but at the time of his death he most definitely did not. It requires a lot of work with a metaphorical jemmy bar to force the image of Bobby Sands into the Sinn Fein picture frame, and then a lot of buffing to smooth out the awkward joints. Too many others can lay a claim to the legacy of Sands. 

Not so with Storey. He supported all the measures Bobby Sands opposed. Themselves Alone can safely lay claim to his legacy. 

It is unlikely that one Bobby will completely displace the other, but we can expect to see murals and imagery of both men, with the new Bobby to the fore:  Bobby of the Armed Struggle gently fading into the background to make way for Bobby of the Peace Process. 

We might yet come to look back on the Milltown Cemetery pageantry as the changing of the guard, where at the funeral of Bobby Storey, Bobby Sands was buried. 

⏩Follow on Twitter @AnthonyMcIntyre

Changing Of The Guard

Anthony McIntyre looks back on the funeral of Bobby Storey.

When Bobby Storey was arrested in August 1981 the RUC were delighted, their interrogators trying to wind him up in Castlereagh holding center by rubbing their hands with glee and loudly telling him that "it is the end of the Storey." Almost forty years later and two weeks after his death Bobby Storey is still the story. 

As he continues to make waves from beyond the grave, not for the first time is Sinn Fein taking flak for its symbiotic association with the dead IRA leader. Often, when alive, he was accused of inadvertently causing problems for the party with some of his more audacious post-ceasefire and post-Good Friday Agreement operations. Now, in permanent repose, it is his funeral that has pushed its way to the front of the news agenda and put Sinn Fein on the back foot. While the volley of shots was absent from the honours administered as part of the funerary rites for dead IRA activists, a different type of volley is being fired at the party of which he was a member. 

Sinn Fein stands accused by its political opponents and others of having shown scant regard for public safety by breaching rules that limit attendances at funerals in the midst of a global pandemic. Doug Beattie has asked a question that is in all likelihood flashing across the minds of more than just unionists.

why – in the midst of a global pandemic – did they feel the need to call hundreds of people onto the streets of West Belfast if the plan all along was to hold a cremation ceremony several miles away in the east of the city? … what was the point in taking a coffin to a graveyard only to then transport it to a crematorium?

Sinn Fein has not managed its response particularly well, opting to return the serve, rather than concede the point, with no real panache, while the new BB - the Bot Brigade - has taken to social media to bully those raising concerns. Michelle O’Neill, the party’s Northern leader, has no need to apologise for attending the funeral of one of her friends and colleagues. Where she is on much softer ground is her reluctance to admit that the organisation of the funeral was, like that for Garda Colm Horkan, insufficiently firewalled against Covid-19. 

With less hubris, the party could have said the emotion of the occasion swamped its judgement and it erred in breaching – to whatever extent it did - social distancing guidelines. It is currently in one of those situations where if you are explaining you are losing

Doug Beattie, chimed with many republican critics of  Sinn Fein in asking:

were people’s lives really put at risk from Covid-19 just so Gerry Adams could perform a speaking engagement in Milltown cemetery?

There are no shortage of republican critics who view Adams as a coffin surfer, not lifting coffins as much as having coffins lift him. They will read events at Milltown as an opportunity for Adams to grandstand rather than honour Storey. Some of them spot an incongruity in a politician who has always denied membership of the IRA, delivering the oration for a man who in the eyes of his admirers, came to personify the IRA.

Doug Beattie might not understand the symbolism of the republican plot at Milltown or the raw emotion evoked by so many who fought alongside Bobby Storey resting there. Moreover, it is facile to reduce the choreography of the funeral to the scheming of Gerry Adams. As a former republican prisoner commented to me:

All that may be true about Gerry Adams, but the funeral was not simply about him. It was more about the need to create another hero of the peace process. The funeral was an exercise in group reinforcement and myth making.

In that context it is tempting to see the whole event as a carefully crafted act of political street theatre designed to place a new Bobby on the Sinn Fein masthead. Try as the party might the old Bobby, Sands, held too many positions at variance with the current Sinn Fein. He did not support an armed British police force, a judiciary using Diplock courts, the partitionist principle of consent, power splitting executives, a Worker’s Party type reformist strategy, participation in Stormont, decommissioning of IRA weapons, and the effective standing down of the IRA.

Had he been alive he might have come to support those positions but at the time of his death he most definitely did not. It requires a lot of work with a metaphorical jemmy bar to force the image of Bobby Sands into the Sinn Fein picture frame, and then a lot of buffing to smooth out the awkward joints. Too many others can lay a claim to the legacy of Sands. 

Not so with Storey. He supported all the measures Bobby Sands opposed. Themselves Alone can safely lay claim to his legacy. 

It is unlikely that one Bobby will completely displace the other, but we can expect to see murals and imagery of both men, with the new Bobby to the fore:  Bobby of the Armed Struggle gently fading into the background to make way for Bobby of the Peace Process. 

We might yet come to look back on the Milltown Cemetery pageantry as the changing of the guard, where at the funeral of Bobby Storey, Bobby Sands was buried. 

⏩Follow on Twitter @AnthonyMcIntyre

5 comments:

  1. An extremely powerful and insightful piece!

    ReplyDelete
  2. In my opinion it's only a matter of time before S.F completely ends association with past violence. I think it will happen when Adams dies they'll be a saturation of murals, extended propaganda talking about a man of peace who dragged the IRA away from violence blah blah, history will be re-written.
    I remember twenty years ago talking to someone my senior about S.F taking the political route and having concerns about career politicians running the show. I was assured the R.A wouldn't allow it and the 'people 'would always be paramount. Never in my deepest scepticism did I think Bobby Storey would be telling people to cooperate with RUC/PSNI and someone like Mary Lou McDonald would be in the position she is but hey ho it is a funny old life

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  3. Masterfully crafted essay ... Adams bring out the best in you!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Great piece. I now have an image of Adams,Kelly, Ferris and Murray as the beach boys.

    ReplyDelete
  5. By this point TPQ policy is pretty clear.

    Comments from "Unknown" are not published on the blog unless signed off with a distinguishing tag or pen name. It need not be your own name.

    That is not because there is something wrong with the comment per se. But with too many commenters seeking to post as “Unknown”, it leads to confusion and can feed the growth of sock puppets.

    You can retain your anonymity but use a distinguishing name to avoid being confused with others who also seek to post as “Unknown.”

    Simply sign off as "X" or whatever handle you choose.

    Your “X” will mark your spot and remain your handle exclusively.

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