Eilis O'Hanlon: Deadly silence puts Sinn Fein on the spot
The reaction would be thunderous if a TD from any other party faced such accusations
They may not have known the full extent of what he did when he was, by his own admission, a senior IRA activist, but those who voted for Sinn Fein's Dessie Ellis in Dublin North West at the last election would hardly have been under the impression that he spent those years twiddling his thumbs.
So does it really matter that secret papers from the British embassy in Washington, revealed under the 30-year rule, have now claimed that Ellis was forensically linked to 50 murders in the North and the Republic?
There's an abstract political argument to be made that it shouldn't. That's certainly the one which Sinn Fein supporters were hiding behind last week in a desperate attempt to cover Dessie Ellis's back. He's a democratically elected representative; those were different times; British forces were up to no good as well. . . All undoubtedly true. That figure of 50 does also look a bit dodgy. The IRA murdered about 1,800 people. That would make Dessie Ellis responsible for nearly three per cent of all Provo killings, a remarkable feat in an organisation which saw up to 10,000 members jailed. There is undoubtedly an element of propaganda in the British claim, especially as it was made to US officials in 1982 when Ellis had been arrested on immigration offences.
But even so, surely we can all agree that it is, at the very least, interesting that a member of Dail Eireann has been accused of involvement in up to 50 murders? If it were Michael Kitt, the Fianna Fail spokesperson on housing, who had been so accused, rather than Sinn Fein's equivalent, we'd be talking about little else on the airwaves for months. The public reaction wouldn't be "who cares?" It would be "what the –?"
But because it's Sinn Fein, plenty of people, broadcasters included, seem prepared to immediately forget they ever heard it. There may be reasons for that, but it is psychologically curious that so many are able to blank it out of their consciousness.
Nothing matters more than life and death, and if it isn't relevant that a TD and possible future government minister has been named as an alleged mass murderer, what is? These weren't just random northerners either, mere statistics, easily forgotten from the other side of the Border. The papers from the British Embassy claim that Ellis was involved in murders in the Republic, too, and, as seen in the presidential election, that makes a big difference to public opinion. Murders in a foreign jurisdiction are one thing. The deaths of fellow citizens has far greater potential to do political damage.
What Sinn Fein does about this is its business, but it's not going to stop. Every year there'll be more murky secrets uncovered, and it all has the potential to become a messy distraction. Young men and women with fire in their bellies are being held back by old soldiers with too much baggage.
The Taoiseach may be a disgrace to his office by flinging dirt about the IRA whenever he's put on the spot in the Dail, but it can't be denied that some TDs make it easy for him. Not least when Ellis's only response to the allegations so far is a dismissive: "I don't want to comment on anything said by the Brits. I wouldn't be bothered."
Any other politician who trivialised serious allegations in this way would receive short shrift from Sinn Fein's whited sepulchres.
And this is a man who also couldn't be bothered answering follow-up questions when the Irish Independent revealed in September that he was among a number of former councillors to receive a lucrative "retirement gratuity" payment on being elected to the Dail.
Sinn Fein can't continually demand answers from everyone while simultaneously refusing to answer legitimate questions from anyone.