FOR Sinn Féin and its supporters, the current enveloping crisis is a simple affair.
It involves political opponents cynically blowing up a controversy for electoral purposes. In this scenario, the Shinners are cradling the peace process in their arms, while putting in Trojan work against austerity, and their selfless efforts are being attacked by politicians of a lesser integrity.
In yesterday’s Irish Examiner Gerry Adams referred to “political posturing” by “opportunistic and deeply cynical” parties attempting to “demonise and marginalise” his party. All Mr Adams was missing was the cross and crown of thorns.
This view of the crisis over whether or not the IRA still exists has found a particular tone in the Republic. Down here, we’re told that the IRA matter is a deflection from “the real issues”.
Here’s Brian Stanley, Sinn Fein TD for Laois/Offaly having a go at Joan Burton for having a go at his party.
“She’d be better off dealing with the crisis on her own doorstep,” he said. “The crisis in housing, health and water charges.”
What is the real issue here? Does it matter if there is a possibility that a political party which could be in government within the year has a military wing? Or are water charges, or specifically populist rhetoric about such matters, more important and more relevant to people’s lives?
There is no doubt but that Sinn Fein has had an excellent recession. In the North, the party is still viewed as a nationalist entity. Down here, where, unfortunately the plight of the North is often regarded as a side issue, the party has concentrated on presenting itself primarily as an “anti-austerity” force. It is rare to hear any nationalist rhetoric from Shinners in the Dáil.
The approach has been pursued with some profit. Political activists, either newly awoken, or fleeing from other parties, have been attracted to the party standard. Many of these people are genuinely motivated by the left-wing politics which Sinn Féin espouses, although some might say that the party’s true compass is convenient populism. A large cohort of these newest recruits regard the nationalist DNA of the party entirely as a secondary consideration.
Equally, many — particularly younger — voters have no memory or interest in the horrors committed by the party’s military wing. In any event, as with much else, the horrors were, to a large extent, confined to north of the border.
So Sinn Féin’s rising popularity and freshfaced TDs have given it the sheen of an anti-establishment party along the lines of similar entities like the recently sundered Syriza in Greece or Podemos in Spain.
The extent of disillusion with mainstream parties has prompted the Shinners’ newest recruits and supporters to hold their noses when the past rises up every now and again.
Gerry Adams’ arrest over the murder of Jean McConville; Mr Adams’ role in the Mairia Cahill affair; the treatment to which another abuse victim, Paudie McGahon, was subjected. All of these issues have come and gone and had little or no impact on Sinn Fein support. All had at their core Mr Adams, and whether or not he was a leading member of the IRA, which he denies, and which all his supporters claim to accept.
It’s all as if the past and the killing and bombing have nothing to do with today’s cleancut party, which draws its real focus from young politicians with no blood on their hands.
That’s the Sinn Féin that is largely presented in the Republic. But is it, like the existence of the IRA, like Mr Adams’ past, all smoke and mirrors?
One hint as to the real centre of power was provided last October when the controversy blew up over the sexual abuse of Mairia Cahill and her subjection to a kangaroo court.
For about a week after the BBC Spotlight broadcast of Ms Cahill’s story, the freshfaced TDs were under serious pressure. They could accept a lot from the past, but were having difficulty about a victim of sexual abuse being subjected to what Ms Cahill endured.
For a while, it looked as if the party’s iron internal discipline might be fractured. Would the freshfaced TDs hang in there? Was this a revelation too far?
On the following Saturday, Mr Adams made a major speech about the affair, dismissing critics as cynical and opportunistic (again!) and asserting his and the party’s integrity. What he said wasn’t as important as the location.
The controversy was primarily focused in the Republic, yet Mr Adams retreated to West Belfast to make his stand. In a culture where symbolism is writ large, the message to anybody who had any notions about the centre of power or the primary focus of the party was clear. It was from the republican heartland that Mr Adams drew his power, not the elected freshfaced members from the South.
Now, we have a situation in which the existence of the IRA has reared its head again. Who to believe? By now, Mr Adams has zero credibility in anything he says about the IRA. Even his statement last week illustrated this.
“My thoughts are with the McGuigan family,” Adams said of the murder of Kevin McGuigan, for which elements in the IRA are suspected.
“Anyone with any information on this brutal murder should bring it to the PSNI. So too should anyone with information on the killing of Jock Davison.
“There has been a lot of speculation and media spin about whether the IRA was involved in the killing of Kevin McGuigan. The IRA was not involved.”
If Mr Adams was never a member of an IRA that he says doesn’t exist, how does he know the IRA was not involved?
Then there is his plea for anybody who can to help the PSNI with their inquires.
Davison and McGuigan were both senior IRA figures in their day, both of the same generation as Gerry Adams. Does the president of Sinn Fein, leading Republican for the last 30 years, have no information, even in the form of intelligence or informed rumour, about the murders of either of these men?
Does he not even speak to former (or possibly current) IRA commanders who would know?
Is any of that credible? Yet Adams asks “anybody with any information” to go to the PSNI.
The existence or otherwise of the IRA is a real issue, whatever the Shinners might claim. This jurisdiction has had a single army since 1922, answerable to a government elected by a sovereign people. The possibility that a political party in power could have access to the structures of another armed entity, which could for instance, settle scores or contribute financially to its political wing, is a very real issue.
Deflecting to other more palatable matters, or claiming to be a victim of demonisation, won’t wash this time.