Wednesday 26 October 2016

Dearbhail McDonald: A vote for SF is a vote for Slab in all but name

Friday's sentence hearing of Thomas 'Slab' Murphy could impact on SF's election campaign, writes Dearbhail McDonald

Published 07/02/2016 | 02:30

Thomas 'Slab' Murphy. Photo: Courtpix
Thomas 'Slab' Murphy. Photo: Courtpix

Anything can happen during a general election campaign: it's what makes them so unpredictable - and so compelling.

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After all the months of careful planning, strategising and obscene message management by high-octane Svengalis, candidates of all hues know that many of their number are hostages to fortune and potential victims to that infamous phenomenon attributed to Harold Macmillian, "events, dear boy, events".

It's hard to believe it is only four days since Taoiseach Enda Kenny "raised his sail" in the Dail and skulked off to the Aras, leaving a hipster video on Twitter in his wake announcing Friday, February 26 as the date of the election.

Yet in that brief period, there have been enough events and ghosts of statements past that could make that smooth path to a second term as Taoiseach for Enda Kenny a very rocky road indeed.

The dramatic storming of the Regency Hotel in Dublin last Friday night by gunmen dressed up as members of the gardai's armed Emergency Response Unit (ERU) will put Fine Gael - the self-declared party of law and order - under further pressure to address the seemingly endless crisis engulfing the justice sector.

Brandishing AK47s in broad daylight, the gang - one of whom was dressed as a woman in a blonde wig - murdered one well-known drug dealer before fleeing the scene in a Transit van.

The scene would have been shocking enough had it just been a fictitious episode of RTE's Love/Hate.

Yet almost 20 years after the callous murders of Det Garda Jerry McCabe and crime journalist Veronica Guerin, urban and rural crime gangs, as well as republican dissidents, are acting with a level of impunity that would make the likes of convicted drug dealer John Gilligan (happily now a spent force) blush.

From real AK47s to merely metaphorical ones, the petulant antics of Alan 'Jelly Bean' Kelly has overshadowed Labour's bid to present itself as the stable hand to curb Fine Gael's lust for power and keep it on the straight and narrow.

Alan's election campaign began in earnest last week when an interview he gave to Niamh Horan during a constituency walkabout in Nenagh, Tipperary, appeared in the Sunday Independent.

The interview, in which the Environment Minister spoke passionately about power - and himself - was comical, were it not so arrogant.

"It's [power] obviously a drug. It's attractive. It's something you thrive on. It suits some people. It doesn't suit others. I think it suits me," he told Ms Horan whom, I imagine, may have had to pick herself off the floor with laughter. Or shock.

Days later, Mr Kelly displayed what he described as the "ruthless" nature of politics when "stormed" into Newstalk's mobile studio in Thurles last Thursday demanding to know why Independent TD Michael Lowry was given a "prime time slot".

The foul-mouthed tirade against broadcaster Chris Donoghue dominated much of Friday's campaign launch by the Labour Party, which had no choice but to stand by its increasingly-erratic deputy leader.

It wasn't just Alan Kelly for whom Michael Lowry was causing angst: last Friday, the Taoiseach emphatically ruled out any deal with the Tipperary North poll topper and former Fine Gael minister.

The emphatic 'no' was classic Enda, for it was quickly followed up with a caveat that if the Taoiseach (as expected) did have to do any deals with any parties or groups - presumably including any independents - the terms of those deals would be published.

The findings of the Moriarty Tribunal and Fine Gael's inability to disown Lowry may return to haunt Mr Kenny.

It remains to be seen whether the sentencing of republican icon and tax evader Thomas 'Slab' Murphy, will have any impact on Sinn Féin, which is on course to increase its 14 strong complement of seats in the Dail.

On Friday, all eyes will be on the non-jury Special Criminal Court as it considers what sentence to impose on Mr Murphy, successfully named by the Sunday Times as the director of an IRA bombing campaign in Britain, who was convicted last December of nine charges of tax evasion.

Last week Slab was the absent star of a BBC Spotlight programme which aired an interview with a British soldier who said he will remember Murphy as a "mass murderer" who killed and ordered the killing of "many people".

For Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, Mr Murphy is a "good republican" - for his deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald, Slab is a "very nice" typical rural man. Whatever.

But what about those voters minded to give Sinn Féin their first preference or crucial transfers? Sinn Féin is, in the main, popular with young voters who (thankfully) have little or no memory of the Troubles and tend not to vote in great numbers.

But Sinn Féin remains toxic for many voters.

They are uneasy at Mr Adam's seemingly slavish devotion to Slab Murphy and to the Sinn Féin leader's fair-weather approach to the rule of law - he advocates the abolition of the Special Criminal Court without interrogating the main reason (the activities of dissident republicans) why it exists.

Many also give short shrift to Mr Adam's consistent denials that he was a member of the IRA.

Last week Mr Adams stonewalled questions on the Spotlight program as well as batting away legitimate questions about his relationship with Slab Murphy.

"He isn't to my knowledge standing in the election, is he?" fumed Mr Adams.

But in a manner of speaking, Slab is up for election.

Rather, it is his relationship with Mr Adams and the fact that - according to last year's reports on republican and loyalist paramilitary groups - IRA members themselves believed the army council "oversees both PIRA and Sinn Féin with an overarching strategy" which is up for scrutiny.

Relationships matter.

And as long as Gerry Adams stands by Slab Murphy and the violent past he represents, it will be harder to refute the proposition that a vote for Sinn Féin is a vote for Slab Murphy and the army council in all but name.

Sunday Independent

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