Defiant Spin Féin come out swinging - but the questions to them still pack a punch
Published 22/10/2015 | 02:30
In Athlone Garda station yesterday afternoon, Nóirín O'Sullivan and Frances Fitzgerald were busily - albeit separately - answering questions on IRA activities on both sides of the border. The words "Sinn" and "Féin" just kept cropping up, too.
"Clearly the issues that have been identified in both reports need addressing by Sinn Féin," said the Justice Minister. "It's true to say that in some cases, some persons who had been associated with PIRA are now involved with political groupings. That continues," said the Garda Commissioner.
After a day of being hit repeatedly over the head by two police reports on paramilitary activities, Sinn Féin came out swinging.
Various TDs, including party leader Gerry Adams were on the airwaves almost constantly throughout the morning and afternoon, launching a blizzard of denials, outrage and counter-offensives. Spin Féin was whirling like a determined dervish from dawn to dusk.
The affable Donegal North East TD Pádraig Mac Lochlainn was the voice of reasonableness on morning radio, but by the time he entered the Dáil chamber for Leaders' Questions, his mood had darkened considerably.
Inevitably, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil were happy to temporarily coalesce in order to rattle the ghostly - or perhaps more corporeal - chains of the party's past in the faces of the public, given that there's an election looming and all that.
The atmosphere in the chamber was sour as Micheál Martin launched into an immediate attack.
"We must ask whether people are absolutely certain that any of the proceeds from the organised crime being committed by alleged individual Provo republicans is not finding its way to the political project. I do not say that lightly," he stated.
Over on the Sinn Féin benches, Pádraig was outraged. "That's shameful. You're a gurrier, a political gurrier," he shouted.
The Fianna Fáil leader wasn't inclined to let that one go. "That is what we are up against in the Republic. The situation has always been one of denial, denial, attack, attack. I have just been called a gurrier by Pádraig Mac Lochlainn," he remarked.
But his accuser was apoplectic and unapologetic. "That's because you are. You're the prime gurrier in these Houses," he hollered.
Then the Sinn-anigans took a strange tack. When the Taoiseach replied, telling his opponent: "Now, I've differences of opinion with you on many matters, but I have never descended to the level of what you've just been called from the far side." But Enda was almost drowned out by a loud guffaw of exaggerated laughter from Pádraig, with some of his compadres joining in.
The Taoiseach continued to the backdrop of mocking hilarity. "While we might differ and argue in our politics we do not have to descend to that level," he declared.
Gerry Adams vehemently denied that his party was controlled by an army council. "We are not accountable to any other group or organisation," he insisted. "All parties have a responsibility to tackle criminality and I will not take weasel words from the Taoiseach stating he welcomes that I am against criminality. I am against criminality."
It was a bad-tempered session, and shortly afterwards on Newstalk a scathing Mary Lou McDonald was in no humour to take a softly, softly approach on claims made by former IRA members in the PSNI/MI5 report that Sinn Féin took instruction from the Provisional army council. "People presenting themselves as members, mar dhea, of the IRA, said that they thought that an army council had some involvement in terms of Sinn Féin. I think this particular assertion in the report brings Chinese whispers to almost a farcical level".
Mary Lou dismissed the criticism from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. "Never mind Micheál Martin's posturing or the electoral opportunism of Enda Kenny," she said.
"It's become political ammunition for political parties who want to stop our gallop, particularly in the South."
There's an undeniable grain of truth in what she says. But the trouble with Sinn Féin is that separating the truth from the chaff is a never-ending business.