Monday 26 September 2016

Murphy case sits right on the North-South faultline for Sinn Féin and its leader

Published 23/12/2015 | 02:30

Thomas ‘Slab’ Murphy, who was convicted of tax dodging. Photo: Court Collins
Thomas ‘Slab’ Murphy, who was convicted of tax dodging. Photo: Court Collins

We can expect to be in the teeth of a general election campaign when Thomas 'Slab' Murphy comes up for sentence on February 12.

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Be sure that Sinn Féin's opponents will not miss an opportunity to say: "When you vote Sinn Féin, who will be the real influence on them in Leinster House or even in Government Buildings? Will it be people like Murphy and his associates?"

That is not good news for Sinn Féin, which hopes this coming election will bring a big breakthrough for the party. But the reality is that this case sits right on the faultline of the party's anomalous position in Irish politics and relates directly to the legacy of the "Armalite and the ballot box strategy" which stretches right back to 1981.

Put another way, it sits pretty close to the Border - where Mr Murphy's activities eventually came to the attention of the Criminal Assets Bureau and Revenue Commissioners.

It epitomises the dichotomy between Sinn Féin in the North and the party's activists in the Republic. And sitting atop that faultline is one Gerard Adams. He is increasingly seen as an electoral liability south of the Border - but crucial to cohesion and the continuation of peace in the North.

The emphasis put on Mr Murphy's role, as a kingpin in bringing IRA activists with him on the path to peace, covers a multitude. That view leaves many things unsaid which are of more significance than the things which are said.

It speaks to a suspicion that there is a continuing role within the broader republican family, which includes the Sinn Féin party, for people linked to violence.

It is not good news for democracy generally - and it makes the North's peace process appear, not just fragile, but more than a little grubby.

But in an election it is, as we have noted, bad news for Sinn Féin among the "middle Ireland" voters the party is hoping to attract.

It also militates against getting transfers in the volumes they would like to maximise their seat haul.

Don't be unduly taken in by Sinn Féin's apparently relaxed attitude to all of this. True, they have weathered controversies which would have dealt a hammer blow to any of the other parties.

Imagine the impact on Fine Gael if Enda Kenny were hauled in by police for questioning related to murder and kidnap? How would Fianna Fáil fare if the party leadership was being challenged about the handling of sexual abuse?

Sinn Féin has long traded upon the assumption that voters in the Republic box off the party's troubles as "something to do with the North and the past".

The problem for them this time is that those things in the North have a direct impact on the South. And they are not in the past.

Irish Independent

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