ALISON O'CONNOR: Just how many more skeletons will emerge from the Sinn Féin closet?

DURING the turbulent election campaign of 2011 I wrote about the possibility of Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness being elected as the President of Ireland, writes Alison O’Connor

Gerry Adams delivers his keynote address during the second day of the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis in Derry. Picture: Stephen Kilkenny/Photocall Ireland

I wondered whether we wanted or needed a president who could have huge skeletons clattering out of his closet at inopportune moments.

I felt it stretched belief to hear him say, as he did on the campaign trail, that he never killed anyone or had a part in anyone being killed. He also said he had left the IRA in 1974, and I wondered if both assertions were true, how then did he command such enormous respect in terms of getting the IRA to give up their arms?

Imagine if he had been successful in getting elected, might we now be facing a situation where our President could be under siege this week from the media at public events to ask him about the sexual abuse of young people by members of the IRA and subsequent kangaroo courts?

Remaining in the realms of speculation, but looking into a future where Sinn Féin have been very successful in the next general election, I’m rolling forward to March 2016 and St Patrick’s Day. Imagine it is this time next year and that Sinn Féin are in a coalition Government. It doesn’t matter with whom. They have three seats at the Cabinet table and those three ministers, one a super junior, are about to take off to promote Ireland on our national feast day. In fact Tánaiste Gerry Adams is already in Washington, he left a few days early to have a medical procedure done in a private clinic there to help with his chronic snoring. The consultant who carried it out is a personal friend. Ministers Mary Lou McDonald and Pearse McLoughlin are due to go to New York and Columbia respectively.

The problem is that a massive controversy has broken with yet another woman, from Co Louth as it happens. She has come forward to say she was abused as a 16-year-old and subject to an IRA kangaroo court. The matter is complicated by the fact, and made all the more tragic, that she became pregnant as a result of the abuse and had to travel to London with her mother for an abortion. They were accompanied, she told a reporter on her local radio station, LM/FM, by a female member of the IRA who had been involved in that court. The IRA had paid for the travel and costs.

Just after discovering she was pregnant she too was “interviewed” by a kangaroo court and remembered being told, just like Paudie McGahon, not to be telling anyone else about what happened and they would deal with it. She certainly did not feel she was in a position to go to the Gardai.

She too was made one of those offers where she could have simply said the word and the man would have been killed, but she too went for the exile option, because, as she said herself, as a Catholic it was bad enough having an abortion on her conscience not to mention the death of her abuser.

Tánaiste Gerry Adams says he believes the woman and thinks it is a truly terrible story, especially the bit about where she had to go for the abortion. He got all choked up talking about it over the phone from Washington where he had to get up in the middle of the night in his hotel room to take the call from Morning Ireland.

He’s due on Capitol Hill later in the day and he tried to talk a bit about that and what it meant for Ireland Inc at the end of the call, but presenter Cathal Mac Coille was having none of it, insisting he stick to the subject of this poor woman. The Tánaiste knew nothing though about any kangaroo courts. As Minister for Justice Mary Lou McDonald spoke later in the day about how she too was dreadfully upset and believed the woman, but the Minister was a little vague on whether she had been aware of the case before it went public.

Anyway she was going to have a chat with the Garda Commissioner about it all, and yet another investigation would be taking place.

It’s another opportunity for the dratted media to bring up the Mairia Cahill case and that of Paudie McGahon whose own stories had been told similarly and caused no end of strife for Sinn Féin at the time. But the controversies didn’t stop the party from doing really well in the general election.

They both caused trouble for Gerry Adams’ personal popularity but it all settled down in time for the general election of September 2015. There were lots of sneaky efforts also to remind people of the case of poor widowed Jean McConville the mother of 10 young children, who was murdered by the IRA in December 1972 but in the end it all faded away.

Mary Lou had also borne the brunt of it because people, particularly women, felt she had let the side down in sticking like glue to Adams despite him being on such shakey ground during the Cahill and McGahon cases. It seemed so at odds with her image of a strong, heartfelt female politician who was never afraid to say it as it is.

Funny, though, she got re-elected easily in her Dublin Central constituency and her loyalty paid off with the appointment to Justice where everyone, even her traditional detractors, agree she is doing a very good job.

Ahead of the general election the Opposition kept trying to bring up the entire nasty business and there was no doubt that while they cared about the victims they were also happy to make hay with complications for Sinn Féin, particularly Adams. But it was a sign of what low esteem they were held in by the public at that time, that their attacks ultimately had little effect.

But for some reason now the story of this woman who was abused and got pregnant and then had an IRA funded abortion seems to have captured the public imagination in a way that the other cases before it did not. There is the added frisson, as it were, that this is 1916 and the Easter Rising commemorations are fast approaching.

It is quite clear listening to Cabinet colleagues of Sinn Féin they are increasingly uncomfortable with the situation and the Taoiseach is expected to address the issue in the Dail. The phone lines from Government Buildings to Washington have been hopping. Privately the non Sinn Féin ministers are expressing their utter bewilderment that this seems to matter to the public so much now, but not previously.

There is no explaining the voters, that’s what they’re saying.

More analysis and comment here


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