Daniel McConnell: Tanaiste Adams? It's closer to reality than you think . . .
Despite their murderous past still looming large, Sinn Fein is a party still growing in popularity
Published 01/09/2013 | 05:00
DO we really want Tanaiste Gerry Adams? Well, according to the latest Sunday Independent/Millward Brown opinion poll, published today, that would likely be the case if an an election took place tomorrow.
At 21 per cent in the polls, Sinn Fein since 2011 has more than doubled its popular support and the public has said that the most favoured coalition is a combination of Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein.
Last weekend, Labour Party chief whip Emmet Stagg said he could see himself joining forces with the IRA's former political wing.
But is a party with such direct links to murder, terrorism and criminality fit to be trusted with high office?
Just three weeks ago, it emerged that Mr Adams got into a blacked-out van to bring the sons of IRA victim Brian Stack to meet those who ordered their father's murder. Is this really the role of a leader in a democracy?
Mr Adams is also the man who only last month said it was legitimate for the IRA to kill innocent people at the British Conservative party conference in Brighton in 1984.
The Louth TD was again forced last month to deny he had any involvement in the 1972 killing of Jean McConville, the Catholic mother of 10 whose body was found on a beach in Co Louth in 2003.
"I have consistently rejected claims that I had any knowledge of, or any part in, the abduction or killing of Jean McConville,'' he said at the time.
He is also the man who Taoiseach Enda Kenny earlier this year said he is convinced was a longstanding member of the IRA army council and therefore would have involvement in committing murder.
Mr Adams has repeatedly denied such claims and has sought to emphasise his credentials as a peacemaker.
His deputy leader Martin McGuinness has previously admitted he was a leading figure in the IRA during the Seventies, which was the subject of much attention during his failed bid to become President in 2011.
And other current Sinn Fein TDs can't hide their direct involvement in the IRA's murderous terror campaign.
According to State documents released recently under the 30-year rule, Dublin North West TD Dessie Ellis has been linked by "forensic evidence to some 50 murders" in the North and South of Ireland.
British diplomats in Washington in 1982 said Ellis, who was arrested in Dublin in May 1981 for possession of electronically controlled devices, was linked to the murders at the height of the Troubles.
FULL POLL RESULTS AND ANALYSIS: PAGES 28 & 29
Ellis at the time denied the reports, dismissing them as "unsubstantiated allegations", but said he "has made no secret of his involvement in the republican struggle over many decades".
A recent book on Finglas, A People's Portrait by RTE journalist Samantha Libreri, acknowledged Mr Ellis was involved in the IRA at the "highest levels".
In 2011, he was elected to the constituency of Dublin North West receiving 7,115 first-preference votes, having unsuccessfully contested the 2002 and 2007 elections.
Martin Ferris, the Kerry North TD, is another former IRA activist turned politician. He was arrested in 1984 aboard the ship Marita Ann, attempting to import arms for the IRA. He caused controversy when he met the killers of Garda Jerry McCabe on their release from prison in August 2009 while he was a sitting TD.
Sinn Fein's Mr Ferris stood by his controversial decision to meet the killers. The Tralee TD, also a former IRA prisoner, claimed he was trying to dampen media hype by greeting Pearse McCauley and Kevin Walsh on their release from Castlerea jail.
Mr Ferris said: "I was there for the lads coming home."
The men had been jailed for the shooting dead of Det Garda McCabe, who has family in the west-Kerry area, in an armed robbery in Co Limerick in 1996. McCabe was shot about 15 times with a Kalashnikov assault rifle.
But behind the front-line politicians, Sinn Fein's murderous past looms large. Sean 'Spike' Murray, named by the Sunday Times in 2005 as OC of the northern command of the IRA, sits on Sinn Fein's Ard Chomhairle. According to the nomination booklet, Murray "has been a republican activist for over 40 years, having been interned in Long Kesh in the Seventies and served a 12-year sentence in the H-Blocks in the Eighties."
Sinn Fein's process of political normalisation in the 26 counties began in 1997, after the party abandoned its policy of absentionism. Today, the party has 14 TDs and could stand to gain as many as 11 extra seats at the next election and such a return would make Sinn Fein the kingmakers of the next government.
But Sinn Fein's financial affairs are also subject to criticism. They have repeatedly been accused by Enda Kenny and Finance Minister Michael Noonan of having involvement in the 2004 Northern Bank robbery. Adams has rejected these allegations as unfounded, groundless and untrue without any evidence to support them.
They say their TDs only claim the average industrial wage from their Oireachtas salaries of €96,000 and donate the rest to the party. But this doesn't stop them receiving tens of thousands each year in unvouched expenses. As a party, Sinn Fein received almost €2m in State funding from the Irish taxpayer last year.
The party has long been criticised for claiming expenses and salaries from Westminster despite continuing their abstentionist policy.
But given Sinn Fein's past strong links to murder, terrorism and criminality, how can they claim to be fit for government?
Could the departure of Adams, Ellis, Ferris and McGuinness make the difference and allow Sinn Fein to become a truly dominant political force in the Dail? Only time will tell.