Eoghan Harris

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Skeletons in the closets start rattling their bones

Eoghan Harris

Published 03/02/2013 | 17:52

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NIALL Collins TD nailed it when he described Gerry Adams's apology as an act of gross hypocrisy.

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And when he accused Justice Minister Alan Shatter of sticking to the same hypocritical line as Sinn Fein last Tuesday, that Fianna Fail's motion on garda cutbacks should be postponed – purportedly as a mark of respect to Det Garda Adrian Donohoe. Let's take a closer look.

Last Monday the Irish Times reported that Shatter became "emotional" at the Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony in Dublin. But a few hours before he was cold as winter on Today FM when smearing the Sunday Independent, by far the most consistent supporter of the democratic state of Israel in the Irish media.

Asked by Anton Savage about this newspaper on different aspects of the garda cutbacks, Shatter said: "I don't think anyone should take the Sunday Independent narrative seriously. They have an obsession with trying to identify someone on a weekly basis whom they can target."

It's true that we tackle major political issues from many angles – and these issues inevitably have politicians attached. Last Sunday we published 10 stories on crime and garda cutbacks. But Fr Michael Cusack's criticism of cutbacks at Det Garda Adrian Donohoe's funeral, and the applause which followed, proved that we had our fingers firmly on the public pulse.

The Sunday Independent's policy of approaching a major, but hitherto marginalised, issue from many angles was also vindicated on Sunday December 5, 2005. That day we published 12 articles criticising the government's plan to give early release to the gang which murdered Det Garda Jerry McCabe.

As the McCabe murder may be misty to many younger readers, let me summarise the story.

An IRA unit shot McCabe to death in Adare, Co Limerick, on June 7, 1996. The IRA intimidated witnesses, so the charge of murder was changed to manslaughter. Five men were convicted in 1999.

They did not serve hard time. They were moved to the low-security prison at Castlerea, Co Roscommon, in 1999. They had their own front-door keys, were able to order takeaways and had all modern conveniences, such as microwaves, televisions, videos and washing machines. Not a regime to deter other potential killers.

Gerry Adams continued to campaign for their release under the Good Friday Agreement. Five years later, on December 1, 2004, Enda Kenny forced Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to admit that the McCabe killers would be released as part of a Provo-Paisley deal.

That day too, Vincent Browne wrote blithely in the Irish Times: "Of course there will be obstacles and maybe the odd crisis, with the Sunday Independent alarmist headlines of IRA intelligence-gathering, or maybe even the occasional robbery." Two weeks later we had lots of "alarmist" headlines when the IRA robbed £25m from the Northern Bank.

Ahern's admission didn't even make the front page of the Irish Times. The editorial comfortably concluded: "But if the release of the prisoners is a make-or-break point in the deal in Northern Ireland – and Mr Ahern says it is – then it can be justified."

Most of the media agreed.

But on Sunday, December 5, the Sunday Independent broke the shameful silence. Backed by Ann McCabe, we carried a front-page photo of Jerry McCabe lying dead in his bullet-riddled car. It shocked a new generation who thought that Sinn Fein was all about grinning Gerry Adams and cuddly Mary Lou McDonald.

Alas, the Irish media has a short memory. Last Tuesday, apart from the Irish Independent, most outlets were conned by the Adams apology. RTE News was the most gullible. It ran the apology as the lead on the 6.01 and 9pm news bulletins.

This defective decision gave Sinn Fein the top spot and displaced the all-party condolences with the Donohoe family. Niall Collins was almost alone in denouncing the apology as a shameless Sinn Fein ploy. The timing of the Adams apology proves his point.

Why did Adams apologise last Tuesday? He had plenty of chances to do so in the 17 years since Jerry McCabe was gunned down – especially during the presidential election when the IRA's murder of gardai was put on the agenda.

In fact, the Adams apology was a breathtakingly brazen media ploy: to hijack the public mood of grief and make political capital out of the murder of one garda by apologising for the murder of another garda. Because if he really wanted to convince us of his sincerity there was only one way to do so – by acting with good authority and hurting his own side.

Adams expressed perfunctory regret about the IRA gang "causing pain". But the apology did not cause any pain to Adams or Sinn Fein. If he wants to show sincerity, let him categorically condemn the convicted killers.

Let him also call for the members of the murder gang still on the run to give themselves up.

He should also call on Mary Lou McDonald to apologise for her crass comments on the killing of RUC officers. Most decent Irish people deplore the murder of all brave men and women doing their duty to preserve the peace – and that includes the old RIC.

Shatter also owes the Sunday Independent an apology. The testimonies of retired Assistant Garda Commissioner Martin Donnellan, as well as Fr Michael Cusack, confirmed the correctness of our coverage. But he also owes the Irish people an apology.

Last Tuesday, Alan Shatter and the Government objectively aided Adams in putting himself top of the media agenda. They did so by taking the same line as Sinn Fein – that the Fianna Fail motion on garda cutbacks should be withdrawn as a mark of respect for Garda Donohoe.

Shatter has two questions to answer. First, how did he find himself singing from the same hypocritical hymnsheet as Sinn Fein in trying to stifle discussion of garda cutbacks? By doing so, he helped create a favourable climate around the Adams apology, which assisted Sinn Fein in seizing the media agenda.

Second, what is behind Shatter and Fine Gael's antipathy towards the Sunday Independent? Fine Gael runs a coalition with a massive majority, it has huge influence both with RTE and with moguls in the private sector media. Can the party not tolerate one critical voice?

Shatter accuses the Sunday Independent of obsessions. But what about his own obsessions? Why the constant threat of a Privacy Bill? Has Fine Gael something to hide?

You don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce that antipathy towards the Sunday Independent as well as Fine Gael's pressure about privacy might arise from a desire to deflect attention from some deeper problems.

What deeper problems? Fine Gael has fairly large skeletons in its closet – the bones of political bodies buried in the glory days of Fine Gael fundraising in the early 1990s. The party's DNA is traceable to fundraising by Michael Lowry and his chums and to the findings of the Moriarty tribunal.

But as Sinn Fein is finding out, bodies don't stay buried. Meantime, the Sunday Independent will continue to ask the hard questions.

Irish Independent

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