Sunday 25 September 2016

Mary Lou MacDonald is now suddenly harder to find than Wally

Since being censured for abusing Dail privilege, the Sinn Fein deputy leader has been unusually quiet

Eilis O'Hanlon

Published 12/04/2015 | 02:30

DEFENDING AGAIN: Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald
DEFENDING AGAIN: Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald

Mary Lou MacDonald has been defending the indefensible - or Gerry Adams, as he's better known - for months now.

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Chances are that the Sinn Fein deputy leader will need to do so again in the near future, as her boss's mouth still appears not to be on communicating terms with his brain.

No wonder Mary Lou decided that enough was enough, and that it was about time for colleagues in SF to start coming out to bat for her too. All week they've been loyally popping up on the airwaves to insist that the party's deputy leader was entirely correct last December to use the sanctuary of the Dail to name those she accused of having offshore Ansbacher accounts, despite her actions being censured last week as a breach of the rules by the Oireachtas Committee on Procedures and Privilege.

Those allegations, said the report issued by committee, were "in the nature of being defamatory". There's nothing like a euphemism. It's a bit like saying that calling someone a worthless, despicable son of a, er, gun was "in the nature of being impolite".

SF's defence of all this is that it was "in the public interest". What? Even if the allegations are untrue, as those named in the chamber before Christmas have all stated?

Three of them - former PD leader Des O'Malley; former EU commissioner Maire Geoghegan-Quinn; former finance minister Ray MacSharry - publicly denied having offshore Ansbacher accounts. A fourth - former Tanaiste Mary Harney - just as strenuously denies Mary Lou's allegation that she shut down a probe into such accounts.

The best defence to the criticism that she shouldn't have named these people under Dail privilege would be to assert that she had no other option because the allegations are true, and, by the way, here's the proof. The best defence is not to say, as Mary Lou did, that she was permitted to do so under Standing Order 59 on the grounds of "reasonable excuse, responsible exercise, good faith and sound basis."

Here's the thing. Most of us out here haven't got a clue what Standing Order 59 is. If we're honest, we don't really care either. We just kinda, sorta want to know if what you're saying is true or not, and whether you're either going to stand over, or withdraw, it. The rest of the excuses merely sound like white noise.

The key detail in last week's events is the line which ended all newspaper reports on the matter: "Mary Lou McDonald could not be reached for a comment." The SF deputy leader has been harder to find in recent days than Wally. They should bring out a new series of books to boost the party's coffers: Where's Mary-Lou? Obviously publishers would have to put her in green and orange stripes, rather than Wally's trademark red and white, to counter charges that she's turned into a West Brit, but it could be a winner.

It's only a suggestion, but have people thought of looking in the prawn section of her local supermarket? She's previously been quite happy to be approached there by the media.

McDonald contented herself instead with issuing a statement, standing by her decision - which made a change from standing by her leader, to be fair - but it hardly answered remaining questions.

That was left to colleagues such as Pearse Doherty, who drew the short straw on Thursday's News At One on RTE Radio One. The finance spokesman did his best, insisting, for example, that Mary Lou should have been afforded the opportunity to address the committee personally.

Indeed she should have. Which probably explains why she was. When this was pointed out to him, Doherty diplomatically said that this was perhaps a matter which Mary Lou was best placed to clear up, but that she was abroad. Offshore, one might almost say. Now there's irony.

Of course, she could prove that she has the courage of her convictions by coming out onto the steps of the Dail and simply repeating the allegations. That would give the subjects of her claims the chance to defend their good names in the courts.

Whilst vilifying the media for its coverage of that issue, SF TDs appear unwilling to subject themselves to the same rules. How convenient.

Sunday Independent

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