The comment made this past week on social media by a prominent Sinn Fein Councillor Ciaran Beattie, subsequently removed, where he accused People Before Profit MLA and Westminster candidate Gerry Carroll of being ‘a Brit’, isn’t anything new.

Labelled as a ‘Brit’ is similar to the accusation within the Unionist community of being branded a ‘Lundy’. Another word used with the same intent, not exclusive to Republican communities, is ‘Tout’, aimed at those accused of providing information to the Police about criminal activities. Derogatory in use, such terms seek to taint the person being targeted and separate them from the community – leaving others to fill the vacated space, obviously. The tactic is not unique to Sinn Fein, of course, and isn’t new in Irish life.

Of course we remember the late Gerry Fitt, nicknamed ‘Fitt the Brit’ by Republicans sympathetic to the IRA; the term used all the more intensely as the ‘Ballot Box & Armalite’ strategy developed.

Eager to unseat Fitt from his Westminster seat of West Belfast, whom he won from Unionist, James Kilfedder (later MP for North Down), in the 1966 General election, a number of strategies were employed to unseat and intimidate Fitt.

Gerry Fitt, while a Republican and Socialist, was a staunch opponent of the Provisional IRA. He opposed the 1981 Hunger Strikes by the IRA inmates in the Maze Prison. In the 1983 General election Gerry Adams won the West Belfast seat for Sinn Fein.

On appointment to the House of Lords, Fitt’s home on the Antrim Road was firebombed, and he moved to London.

Much of this recent history has the hallmarks of the bully-boy tactics employed by Irish Republicans in the early 20th century, when Irish Home Rule MPs were targeted along with many Anglo-Irish Landlords – ‘Brits’ all. Mr Beattie’s words have a long heritage in the context of broader Irish Republican methodology.

This social media ‘mis-step’ has obviously been a cause of some embarrassment for Sinn Fein, evidenced by the removal of the original post.

It does though raise the question as to what extent Sinn Fein is the party of equality, respect and tolerance that it has branded itself to be in more recent years. If Sinn Fein is happy to brand an Irishman, republican and socialist a ‘Brit’, what must they think about their Unionist and British neighbours?

The neutralisation of Northern Ireland since 1998 has involved the removal and desecration of symbols on public buildings, because they have been deemed ‘British’. From anything with a Crown, to the Union flag, they have all been deemed offensive and either been removed or limited in use (primarily flags) – all done in aid of ‘equality’ and ‘parity of esteem’.

Yet “Brits” remains a term of abuse? Where is the respect or equality in that?

Sinn Fein are not prone to ‘mis-speaks’, being a tightly controlled organisation which likes to be known to run with (almost military) precision. It uses its words carefully; it intends communication to send messages to two entirely different audiences in the one message, effectively, and often subtly. (The wider political use (and control) of language is of course a separate if not unconnected subject for another day, another place.)

That is why rare public expressions of underlying Republican thinking attract considerable media attention.

Whether or not the press will dig deeper into the meaning behind Cllr Beattie’s remark or just drop this quickly after a day or two of headlines, as something distracting in an otherwise dull election campaigning period, we wait to see.

Nevertheless this ‘slip up’, ‘mis-speak’, call it what you will, acts a reminder as to the mindset that has a long history and seems to remain not too far beneath the surface of Irish Republicanism.