In this pandemic previously unthinkable compromise must be well thinked, thought.
Last week Robin Swann formally requested help from the British army, “to help distribute lifesaving equipment and to plan for a temporary hospital at the former Maze prison site”.
There was a row because the rest of the Executive had not been consulted. However, three of the other four parties thought it was all fair enough. Sinn Féin was criticized for objecting and accused of, in what is becoming a regular accusation, “politicking”.
So, let’s break it down. Help with distribution. Is there an issue with distribution? All of the supermarkets are boasting about how supply chains are working and shelves are being re-stocked every morning. Seamus Leheny, regional manager with the Freight Transport Association, well known to us with Brexit, expressed surprise given the number of trucks and drivers lying idle who would be glad of a day’s work. My understanding to now has been that any lack of availability of life saving equipment has had nothing to do with distribution but rather deliberate lack of planning and purchasing, which has left there little to distribute.
Then a temporary hospital at “the Maze”? anyone remember when the Executive to a person referred to the Maze/Long Kesh site? Is there no one in the Ulster Unionist party looking at the sites being designated for extraordinary housing of the sick and the dead?
The proposed site for a temporary morgue is at Palace Barracks, well part of it at Kinnegar army barracks – the two Hollywood based installations were consolidated in 2016. The part of the site being proposed is mainly used for training British army personnel.
For nationalists and republicans, the Maze Long Kesh site and Palace barracks will not be synonymous with an effort to save lives. They will only speak to memories and experiences of torture, harm and death. For the same constituency the British army doing anything in the North of Ireland speaks to occupation, torture, murder, collusion and impunity.
Quite frankly it is insulting to challenge the legitimacy of anger at such disregard for the experience of thousands of families who share this space at such a time of vulnerability. And to pretend that this is merely “about the way Robin Swann did it and the lack of communication”, is also diversionary and seeking a soft conversation where a hard one is required.
It is no coincidence of course that the Ulster Unionist party which is at the forefront of dismissing the rights of those seeking the dignity of truth and justice has made these proposals. It is however more surprising that other parties who try to take “middle grounds”, pretend to not see the natural and legitimate questioning of whether we are actually in a position where there are no other options.
From following Britain into Brexit, to pretending the rule of law cannot apply to state actors, to following Britain into “Herd Immunity”, to requesting the British army is deployed, the Ulster Unionist party’s dangerous, myopic vision is depressing. This latest move is disrespectful and potentially denies the pandemic sick and dying fundamental dignity. And it needs to be called out for what it is, the cynical assertion of a British military narrative. It must not be skirted around. Our families’ and friends’ lives, in all of their complexity, with contested pasts, deserve equal value and treatment. Dignity and respect are fundamental to that and cannot be compromised.