Kenny is in no position to throw stones

Is there a significant moral difference between killing and letting die? By Vincent Browne.

Enda Kenny was afforded some further ammunition to target Sinn Féin by the recent revelations about Dessie Ellis, the Sinn Féin TD for Dublin North West, who certainly has questions to answer about the number of people killed or maimed via the bombs he assembled or helped to assemble during the decades of the Northern Ireland conflict.

He certainly won’t answer those questions and his Sinn Féin colleagues will equivocate and dodge on his behalf, expressing indignation over the baselessness of the killing and maiming claims, as though they are not and were not fully aware of what Ellis had been up to during the conflict.

This is part of the palaver of Sinn Féin, now much practised by necessity, for copious palaver has had to be generated to avoid dealing with the central role of Gerry Adams in the Northern killing over those decades. There is no one in Sinn Féin who believes Adams when he claims never to have been in the IRA, and many of us who as journalists were close to the Northern conflict know about his central role. But even if Adams were never in the IRA and was “merely” a Sinn Féin ard comhairle member during all those years, he would still have moral culpability for what happened, for he excused, defended and egged on the campaign of murder and maiming. As president of Sinn Féin he was the chief facilitator and apologist for the legion of atrocities perpetrated by the IRA. We know, of course, his role was far more than that, that he was the central cog in that murder machine and has lied and lied and lied about it.

But Kenny should be careful about sticking the label of murderer on him, speaking nowadays from benches populated by others who knew of murder, maiming, mutilation, robberies, forgeries and intimidation, and lived with it, seemingly undisturbed, for many years. The Official IRA’s campaign of murder and criminality – conducted long after a formal ceasefire in the middle of 1972 and extending well into the late 1980s at least – was not on the same scale as that of the Provisional IRA, but terrible things were done and terrible lies were told for years and years also about that.

So, Kenny had better tread carefully about murder and criminality during the Northern conflict – not that any of his present associates were ever themselves involved in murder or criminality but rather that they must have known what associates of theirs were up to at the time and it took them a very long time to decide they did not want any association with it.

There is a further point and it revolves around the question of whether there is a significant moral difference between killing and letting die.

If you are walking through St Stephen’s Green and see a one-year-old child being thrown into the lake and you do nothing to save the life of that child because you don’t want to dirty your clothes and shoes by going into the lake and rescuing the child, is that significantly morally different from killing the child? Even if there is a significant moral difference, isn’t there something grossly immoral allowing a child to drown in such circumstances?

How much more morally reprehensible is it then to enact policies one knows or should know, from published data, cause the premature death of thousands of people annually in this country?

The Institute of Public Health (an all-Ireland body established under the Belfast Agreement and funded by the British and Irish governments) published a report in 2002 that showed more than 5,000 people died prematurely every year here because of inequality.

It showed that in Northern Ireland and the Republic the “all causes mortality” rate in the lowest occupational class was 100% to 200% higher than the rate in the highest occupational class. For circulatory diseases it was more than 120% higher. For cancers it was more than 100% higher. For respiratory diseases it was more than 200% higher. The incidence of suicide in the lowest occupational class was more than 170% higher than in the case of the highest occupational class: nearly three times higher. And this was not just because the health of people in the lower occupational classes was worse: it was because social conditions generally were worse. In other words, it was because of inequality.

Yes, this report is 10 years old and the data is almost certainly unrepresentative of conditions today. But if there were even a modicum of interest in how government policies were affecting society in this the most fundamental aspect, surely the governments would have been expected to have funded a follow-up study to determine whether the situation was getting worse or better? But no, this State and, one assumes, the British state and the Northern Ireland power-sharing executive have no such interest.

Kenny should desist from stone-throwing.

Image top: epp_group_official.