Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: Mary Lou McDonald

More on Sinn Féin

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on March 5 2020


In my previous article I reported that the recent general election in the Republic Ireland saw Sinn Féin winning a majority of the popular vote. Because of the vagaries found in many democracies this did not automatically give them a place in government. Let us not forget that in the US presidential election in 2016, Hillary Clinton won three million more votes than Donald Trump. The loser of the popular vote won two out of the last five US presidential elections.

Sinn Féin did not run enough candidates in the general election to secure a majority of seats in the legislature. The nature of the Irish proportional representation system is such that the government is always a coalition. Today, we have the peculiar situation that because of various obstacles in the way of forming a coalition, the self-confessed loser of the election, Fine Gael’s leader Leo Varadkar, continues to serve as prime minister. Fine Gael finished third both in seats (35) and in first-preference votes. Fianna Fáil have 37 seats. Sinn Féin received the most first-preference votes, and won 37 seats. There has been much clamour to deny any chance of either of the main parties forming a coalition with Sinn Féin.

The leader of Fianna Fáil, Micheál Martin, rules out any chance of his party going into government with Sinn Féin on moral grounds. He says that there has never been any contrition for the atrocities carried out by the Provisional IRA. “Sinn Féin’s justification for the IRA’s war is a continuing one… In the peace process we all had to make compromises in order to achieve the peace, but Sinn Féin need to come some distance too and they haven’t.”

Sinn Féin’s success in the election was because they attracted young people to whom the violence was not even a memory. According to 2017 data from the Central Statistics Office, Ireland has the highest number of young people in the EU and the second lowest number of old people. These young people are concerned about current issues like health, housing and homelessness rather than history.

Today’s Sinn Féin would have us believe that they have no links with the violence of the past. Part of the Provisional IRA army council strategy for making itself invisible has been to push media-friendly ladies like Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill to the fore. I have referred to this as a monstrous regiment of women; another commentator has used the term “skullduggery of skirts”.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the IRA had “gone away” and that no one directs the party other than its membership or leadership. “The IRA will not be returning. The days of conflict are past.”. Many do not believe that. Garda (police of the republic) Commissioner Drew Harris said he agreed with a 2015 report by the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) assessment that the army council still oversees the IRA and Sinn Féin. Leo Varadkar has called on the Sinn Féin leader to disband the IRA Provisional Army Council.

Newton Emerson wrote in the Irish Times “It is tempting to say, only slightly facetiously, that southerners lack experience in the nuances of the peace process but will soon acquire the necessary sophistication.” Emerson argues that the intent of the 2015 report was to save the devolved Stormont government by asserting that a murder of a prominent republican in Belfast was not the work of the Provisional IRA. Two 2015 murders have not been solved and a murder attempt took place in the same area last month. Last November a new paramilitary monitoring panel reported without mentioning the Provisional IRA at all.

In Sri Lanka, the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) was mainly dependent for funding in its early days on robberies and extortion.  Trading in gold, laundering money and dealing in narcotics brought the LTTE substantial revenue to buy sophisticated weaponry. They also played a role in providing passports and other documents and also engaged in human trafficking. The Provisional IRA funded its terrorist activities with bank robberies and protection rackets. The IRA’s counterfeiting operations extended to fake football strips, designer clothes, power tools and a well-known brand of washing powder. A bottle of counterfeit perfume seized at a market was found to contain urine as a stabilizer. About half of Northern Ireland’s filling stations sold fuel smuggled from the Irish Republic, where duty was considerably lower, at a cost to the Treasury of about £200 million a year. Fuel smuggling, much of it organized by the notorious South Armagh brigade, was probably the IRA’s single largest source of income.

Martin McGuinness was the IRA Commandant for Derry. He and Gerry Adams were prominent in the labyrinthine negotiations that led to the Good Friday Agreement and the IRA laying down its arms. As a minister in the government of the statelet of Northern Ireland, McGuinness   visited Sri Lanka to advise us on peace and reconciliation.  Harris’s predecessor, Nóirín O’Sullivan, noted that the IRA remained heavily involved in organised crime in the Republic, with €28 million recovered from more than 50 individuals by the Criminal Assets Bureau. Like the LTTE, the Provisional IRA made a lot of money from dubious enterprises for its “noble” cause. Fiachra Gibbons, in the New Statesman, described Sinn Fein as “a kind of cross between Fianna Fáil and the Catholic Church, but with extra guns, paedophiles and front businesses.” In 2005, the Department of Justice estimated the IRA’s global assets at €400 million. Where did that go? It has been privatised, with individual IRA members holding property portfolios and businesses in Ireland, Britain, Europe and the US.

The dissident groups are also into “ordinary” crime. The Real IRA is believed to be extorting millions of Euros from targeting drug dealers — as well as business people — in Dublin and Cork. The Real IRA have taken over many of the security and protection rackets once run by the Provos. The dissidents are also believed to be selling bombs to criminal gangs including elements within the Travelling Community.

It is understandable that the ‘respectable’ parties are anxious about allowing Sinn Féin into government, whatever the voters might want, and giving them access to the internal workings of the security of the state. Fintan O’Toole writes: “What Sinn Féin has to confront, sooner rather than later, is that it can’t continue to legitimise the “armed struggle” of the Provisional IRA without giving exactly the same legitimacy to every other gang that puts a different adjective before those three sacred letters: continuity, real, new. “

Hello, Mary Lou

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on February 25 2020

Sinn Féin’s monstrous regiment of women

After the general election of February 8, the Dáil, the lower house of Ireland’s parliament, was scheduled to reconvene on Thursday, February 20th.  As I write, the Irish prime minister (Taoiseach) Leo Varadkar is about to hand in his resignation to President Michael D Higgins. Although Varadkar concedes that his party, Fine Gael, lost the general election and has clearly stated his wish to be opposition leader, he and his Government will continue to govern in a caretaker capacity.   Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin told a meeting of his parliamentary party that it could be two months before a new government is formed.

This kind of confusion is partly because the Irish system of proportional representation (by single transferable vote with multi-member constituencies) rarely gives one party a decisive number of seats to enable them to form a government. Politicians and voters are well-accustomed to a sometimes-unseemly haggling and deal-making to cobble together a coalition that will be able to govern.

What made this election different is that the party that came out on top was a sworn enemy of the state it was now attempting to govern and within living memory was killing civilians in an attempt to achieve a united Ireland. Elections have usually been about switching power between the two major parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. This time, Sinn Féin received the most first-preference votes, and won 37 seats. Fianna Fáil finished with 38 seats, including the Ceann Comhairle (Speaker), which brings them to level-pegging with Sinn Féin.  Fine Gael finished third both in seats (35) and in first-preference votes. The three largest parties each won a share of the vote between 20% and 25%.

CNN inaccurately described Fianna Fáil as left-wing and Fine Gael as right-wing. Both parties are centre-right and their origins lie back in the fight for independence from Britain when they both evolved out what was then called Sinn Féin. The current iteration of Sinn Féin was the political face of the Provisional IRA (much as the TNA was the political face of the LTTE). Back in 1998, the Provos and the British government finally accepted that no-one was going to win the war of attrition that had been going on for 30 years, claiming some 3,000 lives. The then president of Sinn Féin, Gerry Adams, and Martin McGuinness were successful in persuading the Provisional Army Council to cease hostilities and eventually surrender their arms.

The current Sinn Féin leader, Mary Lou McDonald, is very different from Adams and McGuinness who maintained a stance of “constructive ambiguity” about the issue of their personal roles in Provo atrocities. She grew up in a privileged background in Rathgar and went to a fee-paying convent school, Notre Dame des Missions in Churchtown.  In 1998, Mary Lou was a promising 29-year-old member of Fianna Fáil living in the pleasant middle-class suburb of Castleknock in Dublin West. She had an MA in European Integration Studies from the University of Limerick. She was seen by some as a possible future cabinet minister or even leader of Fianna Fáil. Strange that by 2004 she was a Sinn Féin candidate for the EU Parliament and was attending the funeral of Seán Russell as chief of staff of the IRA during the second World War, who supported the idea of an armed campaign to establish a German puppet state in Ireland in direct collaboration with the Nazis. One might never know why Mary Lou switched to Sinn Féin but the funeral was clearly a test of her loyalty to her new masters., including the hard veterans of the “armed struggle” who were sceptical of her conversion. She rose so rapidly within that according to Fintan O’Toole she must have “been able to convince the old IRA cohort that she was utterly ‘sound’ on the legitimacy of the armed struggle.”

Mary Lou and Gerry

After the Good Friday Agreement, there has been a long peace in Ireland. There is still a border whose existence has been made worrisome by Brexit. We don’t have a united Ireland which was ostensibly the raison d’être of the Provisional IRA. There have been terrorist incidents but these have been the work of splinter organisations whose diehards have been condemned by Sinn Féin. It is bizarre that Sinn Féin did not mention a united Ireland in their election campaign. However, there is a good reason for this. Their surge has been a result of their taking on the issues that bother people today – affordable housing, health, homelessness and the economy. The economy recovered eventually from the 2008 downturn but people were angry with the centre-right duopoly for allowing corruption and the casino culture to get out hand in the first place and then imposing austerity on ordinary blameless individuals so that the EU troika could rescue the banks. Irish voters have noticed that Ireland has one of the most expensive health systems in the world which people cannot access when they need it. During the boom times, housing estates were built which are now empty but homelessness is increasing and people are dying on the streets.

My poet friend Simon Wood commented, “The young want somewhere to live. I mean a house, not a country. That is why they voted Sinn Féin “. Sinn Féin won almost 32 per cent of the votes of young people aged between 18 and 24 and a similar proportion of those between 25 and 34. Fine Gael won only 15.5 per cent of the votes among the age 18-24 age group and 30.2 per cent of those aged 65 and over. Fianna Fáil won 13.6 per cent among the 18- to 24-year-olds and 29.7 per cent among the over 65s.

The JVP murdered her husband but CBK still courted them for her coalition. Sinn Féin now have elected representatives in both parts of Ireland, Westminster (although they don’t take their seats) and the EU parliament. Sinn Féin did very badly in the local elections and were not confident enough to put up candidates in all constituencies in the general election. This meant that although they convinced 25% of the electorate to vote for them, they did not get enough seats to form a government.

There are many who abhor the idea of Sinn Féin having any part in the governance of the state without renouncing their past. Even before the election Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil raised a moral objection to coalition with Sinn Féin, citing IRA links, refusal to condemn violence and the malign influence of “shadowy figures”. The memory of the IRA campaign of violence was a defining experience for many older voters but housing is more important to the young.

It may at first sight seem abnormal for Sinn Féin to be so close to being in government but Fintan O’Toole sees it as a new normal. The duopoly of the old civil war parties was only interested in maintaining some kind of normality through continuity and absence of change.  “The terrible secret of the Irish has always been that we don’t want to be colourful, crazy, exceptional, anomalous people. We want to be ordinary. That’s why we have emigrated in our millions – to flee from our own strange and irregular circumstances. Gradually, Ireland has in fact been achieving this bliss of privileged European ordinariness. And what we are seeing now is the political system struggling to catch up with the transformation of a tragical and eccentric place into a post-Troubles, well-to-do society whose citizens expect what they perceive to be realistically achievable Western European standards.” Young people are looking to the great disruptors, Sinn Féin, to provide this.

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