Saturday 21 April 2018

Justice Minister: McDonald 'chosen by forces in the shadows'

Minister: Charlie Flanagan. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Minister: Charlie Flanagan. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Philip Ryan and Maeve Sheehan

The Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan has issued a damning indictment of Mary Lou McDonald's coronation as Sinn Fein leader by stating she was "chosen by forces in the shadows" of Gerry Adams's party.

His remarks came as new Sinn Fein President Ms McDonald closed her first speech as leader with the phrase "up the Republic, up the rebels, agus tiocfaidh ar la" - invoking a slogan long associated with the Provisional IRA.

Mr Flanagan also accused McDonald of trying to align herself with Mr Adams's "hard man credentials" by attending Provisional IRA memorials and posing with symbols linked to the terrorist group.

"The leadership change is being portrayed as a clean break and a new dawn but it is nothing of the sort. The change is merely cosmetic," the Minister told the Sunday Independent.

He also said Ms McDonald should stop "parading" at Provo memorials and associating herself with "IRA iconography of terror".

Mr Flanagan's comments are highly significant given that he is the Cabinet minister with the highest level of security clearance. He said the greatest threat to security on the island of Ireland remains dissident republicans who broke away from the IRA.

The minister said Ms McDonald has inherited a party which operates a "closed culture and army-type discipline enforced by bullying and fear".

"Ms McDonald needs to start with a public apology for the so-called armed struggle which killed thousands of innocent civilians and wreaked havoc and mayhem on the islands of Ireland and Britain," he added.

Yesterday, a family devastated by IRA violence made a direct appeal to Ms McDonald. Stephen and Breege Quinn, whose son Paul was beaten to death by a local IRA gang 10 years ago, asked the new Sinn Fein president to use her influence to urge republicans to come forward with information about his murder.

Paul Quinn (21), from Cullyhanna, Co Armagh, was lured to a farm shed across the border in Monaghan and attacked with iron bars and nail-studded clubs by up to 10 men.

The independent monitoring commission said local IRA members and their associates were involved but Sinn Fein, while condemning the murder, denied the republican link. Gardai have now launched a cold case review of Paul Quinn's murder.

Breege Quinn appealed to Ms McDonald: "Especially because she is a mother and she is the new leader [of Sinn Fein] and I would expect new changes.

"We won't want the same line coming from her as came from Gerry Adams, which is deny, deny, deny," she said.

The silence surrounding Paul Quinn's murder has endured for 10 years in the rural border hinterland, even though gardai suspect that as many as 20 people may have been involved in some way in the orchestrated punishment attack, and that more had knowledge of it.

Police arrested 23 people in connection with Paul's death, some of whom were accused of withholding information. No one was ever charged.

"A lot of people said to me, be very proud you are Paul's mother and not the mother of those who murdered him," said Breege Quinn. "I would not like to be the mother of a child that murdered somebody, or the wife, and to stay silent. I couldn't live with that."

Paul's family believe he was targeted for a punishment beating after getting into an altercation with a relative of a local IRA man.

On the afternoon of October 20, 2007, a 10-strong mob gathered in a shed in Monaghan, and forced his friends to lure him there.

The men in boiler suits and balaclavas savagely beat him with iron bars and nail-studded cudgels in a prolonged attack.

Gardai believe they fled in a white van. Paul died hours later at Our Lady of Lourdes hospital, having sustained injuries all over his body. His mother Breege recalled going to her son's bedside at the hospital: "Half his ear was gone. His hands were smashed. The doctor said every bone in his body was broken. There was nothing left to fix."

In the days after Paul Quinn's murder, Conor Murphy, who was a Sinn Fein minister at the time, linked his death to a "dispute" between criminals, a claim the Quinns say "blackened the name" of their son. "Paul worked on building sites and as a truck driver, and occasionally drove vans for local cross-border smugglers but as has been widely acknowledged since, he was not a criminal.

"I would ask her [Mary Lou McDonald] to ask Conor Murphy to come out publicly and apologise to us for blackening our son's name," said Breege Quinn.

The family believe they know the identities of Paul's killers and claim that some of the suspects have supported Sinn Fein at election time.

Sunday Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Also in this section