Eoghan Harris

Monday 28 July 2014

Sinn Fein's smiling posters stained by Provo past

Eoghan Harris

Published 04/05/2014|02:30

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The fresh young faces who smile down from Sinn Fein posters regard Mary Lou McDonald as their role model. Illustration: Jim Cogan

"From his toes to his groin, they used iron bars. For his upper body, they brought nail-studded cudgels. He had no chance. It was eight against one. His friends could hear the sound of the iron bars cracking against his bones and of Paul Quinn begging for mercy." – Suzanne Breen, Sunday Tribune, October 2007

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A PROVISIONAL IRA unit in South Armagh murdered Paul Quinn by breaking every bone in his body. That was only seven years ago. Mary Lou McDonald did not open her mouth.

That is why I don't subscribe to the mindless media mantra that McDonald should take over from Gerry Adams. That would make Sinn Fein's murky project more palatable. And turn their incoming tide into a tsunami.

Mary Lou McDonald is the acceptable face of Sinn Fein. The fresh young faces who smile down from Sinn Fein posters regard her as their role model. But they repeat her political mantras like members of a cult rather than a political party.

Last week, three of Sinn Fein's Euro contenders, Matt Carthy in Midland North West, Liadh Ni Riada in Ireland South, and Lynn Boylan in Dublin, all told the Irish Independent that, like Mary Lou McDonald, they too believed Mr Adams was never in the IRA.

Liadh Ni Riada's remarks particularly saddened me. In the early Sixties I spent some weeks with Sean O Riada and his large young family in Dun Chaoin. While Ruth Bean Ui Riada nursed a new baby, I acted as a nanny to the older kids, including Liadh, so that Sean could compose in peace.

Liadh Ni Riada is a person of passionate idealism. So what is she doing in Sinn Fein? What are any of these young people doing in Sinn Fein? Recalling my own youthful radicalism I can think of two reasons.

First, many in the rising generation see Sinn Fein as morally superior to mainstream parties, more interested in ideology than money, an alternative to the greedy golden circles of which McDonald has been a formidable critic in her polished performances at the Public Accounts Committee.

Second, by deciding to go into Government, the Labour Party deprived Irish democracy of a radical alternative. I regard that decision as an act of political delinquency because at one stroke it both destroyed Labour and let in the wolves of Sinn Fein.

But fat cattery is not murder. Recruits to Sinn Fein can only continue to see that party in a rosy light by shutting down that part of their moral sensibility that would normally recoil from the murders of Jean McConville, Jerry McCabe and Paul Quinn.

How many of these Chukkies with college degrees have faced the fact that the IRA first tortured Jean McConville – the forensic examination showed her bones were broken – shot her in the head, and buried her body on a beach so that her bones were pulled out by dogs?

What have Sinn Fein "feminists" to say about that foul deed? Or indeed women voters who plan to vote for Sinn Fein for the first time? Or Sinn Fein's new middle-class supporters?

Until recently, Sinn Fein in the Republic appealed almost exclusively to the under-30s, to men, and to the working class. But no more. Polls in the past month show that Sinn Fein increasingly appeals to the over-30s, to women and to the middle class.

Last April's Sunday Independent poll showed 20 per cent support for Sinn Fein. That would translate into 30 seats at the next General Election. And our poll last week showed the party's Euro contender topping the poll in Dublin. In short, Sinn Fein has a harpoon deep in Moby Dick.

Let me sum up. Educated young Irish people are joining a party whose leader has been arrested in connection with the murder of Jean McConville. Their proud parents are preparing to vote for a party led by a man who last week said, "I don't disassociate myself from the IRA". Think about that and you may be less glib about Germans voting for the National Socialists in the Thirties.

Brecht says to see something familiar as if for the first time, we must first make it strange. So let's suppose Enda Kenny, Micheal Martin or Eamon Gilmore were arrested in connection with a murder. Would it damage their parties at the polls? No, it would destroy them.

So why don't we know whether Adams's arrest will damage Sinn Fein? Back in 1987 I gave part of the

answer in a document called Television and Terrorism where I argued that there was a "leaky national consensus" in the Republic in relation to the IRA. Today I would amend that to moral amnesia.

Television is the most powerful weapon in waking people from moral slumber. But RTE has a poor history when it comes to reporters putting Sinn Fein under pressure. As I found out in the same year when I conducted a controlled experiment called Provo Mortar bomb to find out what would happen if the Section 31 ban on Provo IRA spokespersons was lifted.

This exercise provided empirical evidence that a combination of the "leaky consensus" and defective traditional interview techniques would allow IRA spokespersons to run rings around RTE reporters. Which they did as soon as the ban was lifted.

To counter this I proposed new contexting interview techniques. But many RTE reporters were not interested in finding out how to flush out Sinn Fein spokespersons. Instead, I was subjected to a campaign of invective that still rumbles on. A recent RTE programme on Section 31 allowed Adams free rein with not one opposing voice.

That historical background is poor preparation for putting a seasoned polemicist like Mary Lou McDonald under pressure. Last Thursday, on Morning Ireland, Claire Byrne did what I call a clipboard interview with McDonald. She asked easily avoidable questions instead of creating pressure contexts.

Chris Donoghue, over on Newstalk, showed how it should be done. He first asked McDonald if she believed Gerry Adams was never in the IRA. Getting a "yes" he swiftly asked her if she believed Adams about Jean McConville too. It was the contextual juxtaposition that reached McDonald's political jugular.

Last week showed more people are moving the dial to Newstalk. No wonder. Check out Shane Coleman cutting to the core of the Adams arrest on George Hook. Or Pat Kenny's chat with Colm Keena of the Irish Times on the IRA-style intimidation in connection with the Quinn case.

To be fair, Bryan Dobson did his bit to rescue RTE's reputation on Six One. Correctly concentrating on a concrete detail he asked McDonald if Jean McConville was murdered rather than "lost her life". McDonald, the smiling mask slipping, told him she was not going to play word games, then proceeded to play them.

Unfortunately, Dobson was distracted by wind-up signals when McDonald astoundingly assured him that Michael McConville was in no danger from the IRA. Otherwise he might have caustically inquired how she could guarantee what the IRA would or would not do.

But it was Miriam O'Callaghan on Prime Time who gave the master class. She dismissed Sinn Fein's distractions about "timing" as a smokescreen. And cut to the core issue: the arrest of the leader of a political party that could be part of the next Irish government. Think about that and check your passport.

Sunday Independent

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