Sinn Fein's sly shimmy between clan loyalties and urban politics
The Sean Quinn and Tom McFeely sagas highlight the party's political opportunism, writes Carol Hunt
AS FAR back as 1967 in an essay titled The Holy Family, Gore Vidal pointed his aristocratic finger at what ails Ireland.
In his devastating review of the Kennedy clan, much referred to since his death last week, he wrote: "Money, image, family: the three are extraordinarily entwined. The origin of the Kennedy sense of family is the holy land of Ireland, priest-ridden, superstitious and clannish . . .
"Because the Irish maintained the ancient village sense of the family longer than most places in the West and to the extent that the sons of Joe Kennedy reflect those values and prejudices, they are an anachronism in an urbanised, non-family-minded society."
Replace the name Kennedy with Quinn and you have an apt explanation of the breakdown in comprehension between those (the majority rural, religious) who support Sean Quinn and those (secular, urbanised) who find that support incomprehensible and immoral.
It would seem that both camps hold opposing values and ne'er the twain shall meet. In one corner there are those for whom family, clan or religious loyalties will trump all else.
In the other corner (I find this week it is appropriate to use boxing parlance), we have those who believe that these loyalties, while admirable in many instances, must always take second place to the law of the land or else we fall into anarchy.
The one reassuring element of this whole debate is the starkness of choice. It is black and white: you're either with 'em or agin 'em. To express support for the actions of Sean Quinn or not is to place oneself firmly in one or other of those corners.
Because, of course, this is a fight. A bigger one than we have perhaps realised -- and nothing less than the acceptance of the legitimacy of the Irish State and its institutions is what's at stake.
Which is why the letter of support sent by Fermanagh District Council earlier last week to Sean Quinn can be viewed, not just as inappropriate but also contemptuous of the laws of our Republic.
The motion was proposed by independent councillor Bernice Swift and seemingly passed unanimously by the other 22 councillors.
The majority of these Quinn supporters in Fermanagh District Council are, strangely, patriotic Sinn Fein members, many of whose colleagues sit in the parliament of the Irish Republic.
Poor Sinn Fein. It seems to be a little confused these days as to what its political policies and ideals actually are. Has its much-vaunted unity been shattered as increasingly we see partitionist policies becoming the default position for supporters of 'The Project' (unification)?
Here's what Sinn Fein MP Michelle Gildernew said: "He [Quinn] has been treated disgracefully by the Irish Government. Had they not tried to strip him of all his assets, including his home, deny him the ability to function in business and routinely try to humiliate him, I believe he would have paid back every penny he owed to the Irish taxpayer.
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"He is being punished . . . for being an ordinary man from Fermanagh who is hugely respected by the community."
Poor Sean Quinn. That's the party line 'up North'. 'Down South', it's rather different as Sinn Fein TD Mary Lou McDonald insists that "neither loyalty nor emotion can be allowed get in the way of justice being done in the Quinn case".
She has also said: "As the IBRC is now fully state-owned, money owed to it by the Quinns is money owed to the State. The Quinns have an obligation to abide by the law the same as any other citizen."
What a conundrum. The Quinn family believe themselves victims of the urban Dublin media, business elites and judicial system of the Irish Republic. Their Border supporters believe themselves victims of governments that, they say, have neglected them for decades.
They're not the only patriots who use the victim line. Former IRA hunger striker Thomas McFeely is also in his own eyes a victim of the all-powerful Dublin media agenda and State institutions.
In an interview when the injustices committed against the residents of Priory Hall were first exposed, he said that he had been victimised by authorities in Dublin because of his IRA past and the fact that he was from Northern Ireland.
"The real problem lies with the people making these unfounded allegations. If they were honest, they would call it as it is. Namely, Tom McFeely, the ex-IRA hunger striker, is a Nordie and they don't want his type down here," he said.
Indeed. Sure didn't Mary Lou McDonald and other 'respectable' members of Sinn Fein disassociate themselves form Mr McFeely's capitalist activities rather niftily. Gerry Adams got very upset when Enda Kenny referred to him as an "acquaintance". The once feted hunger striker and "freedom fighter" suddenly became "Tom who?"
Poor Mr McFeely. But then, as Sinn Fein is trying to sell themselves as the socialist alternative to our currently right-wing Labour Party, it doesn't look great when former IRA hunger strikers are exposed as aggressive, capitalist and conniving bullies who viciously and remorselessly screw 'the workers'.
Strangely, though, we don't see either Gildernew or Mary Lou McDonald (or indeed members of the Catholic Church or the GAA) organising monster rallies for the unfortunate victims of self-proclaimed 'Nordie' Thomas McFeely.
Perhaps they feel, in light of the man's easily offended personality, combined with his past offences, a light touch is essential?
They must. The decision at the Dublin Ard Fheis to send "solidarity greetings to the evacuated residents of Priory Hall" (I'm not making this up) in a statement in which they said they "deplore the disgraceful conduct of Prior Hall developer Thomas McFeely" is hardly adequate and sufficient recompense for the hundreds of residents whose lives have been so utterly destroyed and who have been treated with astounding contempt by this ex-patriot.
Presumably, his rather sudden desire to acquire British residency status has rendered his republican credentials suspect? One would have hoped Sinn Fein would feel a little more responsibility for McFeely's actions considering his -- and its -- past history. But hey, don't mention the war.
And when you're playing to two different crowds in two different rings, things can get complicated if not duplicitous.
Former RUC and PSNI detective chief superintendent Norman Baxter accused Sinn Fein (in light of its contradictory positions on Quinn) of political opportunism last week. Political opportunism? Doesn't he know that for this old Gaelic clan, that's just business as usual.