Sunday 22 September 2019

'A leopard doesn't change its spots' - Flanagan rules out any coalition with Sinn Féin

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has ruled out a Fine Gael coalition with Sinn Féin because, as he put it, "a leopard doesn't change its spots".

Fine Gael has been accused by Fianna Fáil of cosying up to Sinn Féin and entering into an "unholy alliance" with Mary Lou McDonald's party in order to get the controversial Judicial Appointments Bill through the Dáil.

But Mr Flanagan - who has been a strident critic of Sinn Féin throughout his career - is categoric on the prospect of any coalition arrangement.

Will it happen in the future? "No."

Even decades into the future? "I don't see it."

Mr Flanagan argues that Sinn Féin's economic policies would "bankrupt the State".

He also claims there's an absence of democratic structures in Sinn Féin and "the shadows of Belfast" are evident in how the party operates.

After Ms McDonald assumed the leadership of Sinn Féin she insisted that "the IRA has gone away" and that Sinn Féin is a "fully formed independent democratic party".

Mr Flanagan pointed to her "deliberate" use of the republican slogan 'tiocfaidh ár lá' in her first speech as leader and the incident that led to the resignation of Sinn Féin MP Barry McElduff as examples of how the party hasn't changed. Mr McElduff was suspended by Sinn Féin and later resigned over a social media video in which he appeared to joke about the sectarian Kingsmill massacre.

Mr Flanagan said he "fundamentally" disagrees with Dáil remarks by Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh who claimed Special Criminal Court judges had shown "anti-republican" bias.

The Justice Minister said the greatest threat facing the State is from dissident republicans in the Border area and the need for the Special Criminal Court is "firmly established".

Asked if he would prefer not to be relying on Sinn Féin support to get the Judicial Appointments Bill through the Dáil, Mr Flanagan points to the Government's "minority position".

He doesn't accept that Fine Gael did a deal with Sinn Féin that would see the rival party get new sentencing guidelines for judges introduced in later legislation.

Mr Flanagan insisted that Fine Gael has been calling for such guidelines to reduce inconsistencies in sentencing - while maintaining the independence of judges - for years.

In relation to the post-Brexit status of the Border with Northern Ireland, Mr Flanagan said he doesn't envisage a return to the security situation of the Troubles.

But he said: "I'm disappointed at the level of uncertainty surrounding Brexit.

"I would hope that the British government would come forward with a plan at the earliest opportunity."

Mr Flanagan said he meets the acting Garda Commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin regularly to discuss the issue and contingency planning is taking place against the backdrop of the closest ever relations between gardaí and the PSNI.

He said this relationship must continue "irrespective of Brexit".

Gardaí have been hit by a series of controversies in recent times including issues relating to whistleblowers, the bogus breath test scandal, and finances at Templemore training college. Mr Flanagan said he sees a "determination" among Garda management to ensure such controversies are "firmly in the past".

He said he looks forward to the appointment of a new Garda commissioner by the end of the summer.

Mr Flanagan says there are currently "unprecedented resources" being provided to gardaí and that he wants it to be "one of the leading police services in the world with modern equipment, technology and best practice".

He says that the plan to increase staffing of gardaí to 21,000 over the next three years - including 4,000 civilian personnel and 2,000 Garda reserve - will free up more officers for front-line duties.

On the future of the Confidence and Supply deal with Fianna Fáil - which is up for renegotiation after the Budget - Mr Flanagan said: "I don't see the need for an early election."

He said he has a full programme of reforms across gardaí, the courts, prisons, immigration and equality.

"I don't wish to be distracted by a general election," he said.

Irish Independent

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