Murderers, gun runners, fugitives: who really calls the shots down here?
IRA veterans with criminal records are the real decision-makers, write Maeve Sheehan and Philip Ryan
Published 27/12/2015 | 02:30
Gerry Adams's rush to defend the convicted tax evader Thomas 'Slab' Murphy has again raised suspicions as to who calls the shots in Sinn Fein.
Murphy is not the only senior IRA figure in Sinn Fein. The upper echelons of Sinn Fein are filled with IRA veterans who have done time for bombings, murder or plain IRA membership, who have ditched militarism for the 'Sinn Fein project' - which is to take power in Ireland.
The dominant group is the IRA 'vets' from Belfast who are loyal to Gerry Adams.
Few are more influential than the IRA's former head of intelligence, Bobby Storey. He has spent more than 20 years in prison in Northern Ireland and in Britain for IRA activities and was arrested last year - along with Gerry Adams - in connection with the abduction and murder of the widow Jean McConville, although neither of them will be prosecuted.
He is based in west Belfast and his official title is chairman of Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland, but his influence permeates every constituency in the country where the party is running a candidate.
When Mairia Cahill alleged that her rape by an IRA man was covered up by the republican movement, it was Storey who sent out a memo instructing all Sinn Fein-elected representatives - north and south - to button their lips. Remarkably, all of them - every Sinn Fein TD, councillor and senator - obeyed, even those who style themselves as campaigners against sexual abuse.
Others in the Belfast brigade of Sinn Fein strategists include Sean 'Spike' Murray, who has been named as a former head of the IRA's Northern command. A BBC Spotlight programme interviewed an American gun runner last year who named Murray as his main contact for shipping weapons for the IRA in the late 1990s when they were supposed to be on ceasefire.
Mike Logan, the self-confessed gun runner, has reportedly offered to testify against Murray. Murray has denied Logan's claim.
It's no secret that several sitting and past Sinn Fein TDs have served time for IRA offences, including convicted gun runner, Martin Ferris, a Kerry North TD, and Dessie Ellis, a Dublin TD convicted of explosives charges.
In recent years however, Sinn Fein has been recruiting a new generation of squeaky clean candidates without a day of "military service" to their name, leaving the veterans with records for bombings, shootings and "membership" as backroom players working to get their fresh-faced candidates elected to Dail Eireann.
Harry Duggan was a member of the notorious IRA hit squad known as the Balcombe Street gang. His unit was responsible for a 14-month campaign of terror in London in the 1970s. The republican newspaper, An Phoblacht, gushed: "Harry's unit attacked the British establishment at work, at home and at play. During the year when they were active in London, they carried out numerous operations, averaging one a week."
Duggan and his cohorts received life sentences for murder and were later released under the Good Friday Agreement in 1999. Duggan returned to his native Feakle, Co Clare, where he is now county chairman and frequent spokesman for Sinn Fein, which is working to elect the party's general election candidate, Noeleen Moran.
In Monaghan, Thomas McMahon, who is responsible for the infamous attack on Lord Mounbatten and his family in 1979, is regularly seen pounding the streets for Sinn Fein.
McMahon was jailed for 18 years for the attack that led to the tragic deaths of Lord Mountbatten's 14-year-old grandson Nicholas Knatchbull, Paul Maxwell, (15), who was working on the boat and Lady Brabourne (82).
McMahon was released under the Good Friday Agreement and is these days a valued Sinn Fein member, according to Gerry Adams. McMahon, who has canvassed for Sinn Fein's MEP candidate, Matt Carthy as well as for Martin McGuinness and his wife, is a former Sinn Fein councillor.
In Louth, one of the party's most prominent members is the Garda killer, Tommy Eccles, from the county's Cooley peninsula. Eccles was convicted of murdering Garda Frank Hand during an IRA post office robbery in 1984.
Eccles was released under the Good Friday agreement and is now prominent in the Sinn Fein Cooley Cumann. His criminal past and his current political activity have jarred with some local people in recent time. Eccles is treasurer of the Cooley Community Alert Group, which has called for more local garda resources in an area that has seen the murders of two gardai, Tony Golden and Adrian Donohoe.
The convicted IRA bomber, Jim "Mortar" Monaghan - better known as one third of the Colombia Three - is listed as the public relations officer on the Sinn Fein Walkinstown's website. Monaghan and his fellow fugitives, Martin McCauley and Niall Connolly, jumped bail in Bogota in 2005 after being convicted of training Farc rebels. The men vanished before their sentencing, disappearing for several months, eventually re-surfacing in Ireland.
They remain the subject of an Interpol arrest warrant which has never been executed. Monaghan canvassed door to door in Dublin South East for Sinn Fein at the last general election, and he is likely to be knocking on doors again for the party in the new year.
The IRA has also been accused of spying on Sinn Fein's electoral rivals, which could be regarded as another advantage of having your own army.
Niall Binead, who was convicted of IRA membership in 2004, was suspected of running one such IRA spy ring. Binead was a close friend of and former director of elections for Aengus O Snodaigh, the Sinn Fein TD for Dublin South Central, when he was arrested in October 2002.
Gardai were led to Binead after they stopped cars in Wicklow and discovered a sledgehammer, pick axe handles, balaclavas, ties, rubber gloves, CS spray, tape and a garda fluorescent jacket. At Binead's house, gardai found a bit of paper with a list of politicians and Dublin criminals and a note on the movements of three former justice ministers.
Binead has returned to the party fold since his release. In 2011, he canvassed in Northern Ireland for Catriona Ruane and Gerry Kelly and he is back on the streets in Dublin South Central in advance of GE2016. Sinn Fein did not comment on whether Binead has returned to a formal role in the party.
Another personification of the Sinn Fein/IRA crossover comes in the form of Tom Hanlon, a former Sinn Fein councillor who was jailed for IRA membership in 2010.
Hanlon was once councillor in Passage West. He was arrested in February 2005, by gardai investigating the Northern Bank raid, the £26m heist suspected of being the IRA's last hurrah before decommissioning. At his trial, the judge said he was "intimately involved in a highly suspicious financial transaction" but he was charged only with IRA membership, to which he pleaded not guilty. After he completed his three-year prison sentence, he became the area organiser for the party in Cork East.
Another thing IRA veterans can bring to Sinn Fein is discipline. Internal dissent, it appears, is dealt with swiftly and with ruthless efficiency.
In Clare, where Harry Duggan is county chairman, an internal row resulted in the local cumann being stood down, and in 2012, the party's only sitting town councillor, Cathy McCafferty being expelled.
Ms McCafferty told the Sunday Independent she was never given a reason for her expulsion: "You are not allowed have anything to say that isn't the party line," she said. "I am not in the party anymore and I would not vote for them."
Earlier this year, Sinn Fein dealt with dissent in Cork East centred on the performance of TD Sandra McLellan. Two local Sinn Fein councillors - Kieran McCarthy and Melissa Mullane - wanted the party to field a second candidate. But claims that a constituency Credit Union loan in Cobh was taken out without party authorisation surfaced and Kieran McCarthy was expelled and Mullane was suspended. Sinn Fein has since bizarrely "unexpelled" McCarthy and lifted the suspension on Melissa Mullane.
McCarthy got a two-year sentence when he was found with explosives in Belguim in 1990. He thinks his past is one of the reasons why the party didn't want him to run in the general election.
"I do believe I was shoved out by the party from contesting the election because of my IRA past," he told the Sunday Independent.
In a statement, Sinn Fein said: "The role of former republican prisoners in Sinn Fein is neither new nor newsworthy. Former prisoners have been elected as ministers and assembly members in the north, as MPs in Westminster, as TDs in the Dail, MEPs in the European parliament, in councils across Ireland and many more continue to support to our party at a local level."