Monday 24 June 2019

Jody Corcoran: Sinn Fein's laissez-faire attitude to terrorism

Adams wants to be seen as our Mandela, with IRA murder given the blessing of history

BLACK DAY FOR THE FORCE: Justice Minister Alan Shatter, Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, above, and his deputy Noirin O'Sullivan following the publication of the report.
BLACK DAY FOR THE FORCE: Justice Minister Alan Shatter, Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, above, and his deputy Noirin O'Sullivan following the publication of the report.
Jody Corcoran

Jody Corcoran

So was Pat Finucane a laissez-faire victim of "war"? In the end it will come down to your definition of "war" as opposed to a dirty little sectarian conflict which achieved little over 30 years – other than a toll of human misery – that constitutional politics could not have achieved more quickly with far less bloodshed.

Right now, Sinn Fein is attempting to re-write its own history. For the best part of two decades, the people have allowed the State to allow Sinn Fein write a version of that history in the name of peace.

The peace processors have done a good job insofar as the killings have stopped.

But, accustomed to such appeasement, Sinn Fein last week sought to take the next step – for history to be re-written to such an extent that the people will say it is okay, that the time has come for Sinn Fein to be in government.

That is what is at stake if Sinn Fein, under its current leadership, is to be elected to government in 2016 – 100 years after the Easter Rising – that the people will have said the Provisional IRA's 'war' was a legitimate war.

A stepping stone to such a pass will be recorded by the manner in which Sinn Fein reacts to a final report on the murder of Pat Finucane, the Belfast solicitor – or human rights lawyer as he was also called – when or if such a report is ever written.

Mr Finucane represented members of the Provisional IRA, including the hunger striker Bobby Sands, during what is called the 'Troubles' in Northern Ireland.

The Troubles began in the late 1960s and continued until the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, during which more than 3,000 people were killed in a dirty little sectarian conflict between republican and loyalist paramilitaries that also involved the British security forces.

In 1989, at the age of 38, Mr Finucane was shot dead in front of his wife and three children at their home in Belfast.

The loyalist Ulster Freedom Fighters, which carried out the murder, claimed that they had killed a member of the IRA. But Mr Finucane's family has always denied this, as have the security services, who have also said that there is no reason to believe Pat Finucane was a member of the IRA.

It has long been said that the British security forces in the North colluded in the murder and that there was more to the death of Mr Finucane than a loyalist execution of a lawyer who represented republicans.

Last week a tribunal of this State, the Smithwick tribunal, issued a report into the events which have surrounded the murder of Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Robert Buchanan of the RUC.

The men were killed in an IRA ambush near the Border, between Louth and Armagh, on March 20, 1989 as they returned in an unmarked car from a cross-border security conference with senior garda officers in Dundalk.

Judge Smithwick concluded that on the "balance of probabilities" there had been collusion between members of the gardai and the Provos, which led to the murders of the officers.

The tribunal was also critical of two earlier garda investigations into the murders, which it described as "inadequate".

In his initial reaction, Gerry Adams, the president of Sinn Fein, chose to focus, instead, on what he said was the RUC officers' "laissez-faire disregard" for their own security.

In the end, it will come down to your definition of war – the great conundrum.

A common definition is that war is an 'act of force to compel our enemy to do our will'. A more modern definition is that war is a 'universal phenomenon whose form and scope is defined by the society that wages it'.

When Gerry Adams was leader, the year officers Breen and Buchanan were murdered, Sinn Fein took just 1.2 per cent of the first preference vote and no seats in Dail Eireann in the 1989 general election.

This society did not wage that "war".

Sinn Fein has also sought to attach the image of Gerry Adams to the iconography of Michael Collins.

This is what Adams said in the Dail last week. "There is no way one can just draw a line and say there was a good Old IRA back in the day throwing powder puffs at the British and also that there is an IRA which has departed the stage and which behaved in a more cruel way."

In effect, the Sinn Fein position asks us to take a moral decision vested in Gerry Adams.

The media, and also the establishment, have now finally begun to ask hard questions of Sinn Fein. In response, Gerry Adams continues to deny that he was ever a member of the Provisional IRA.

He denies that he gave the order to have abducted, murdered and secretly buried a widowed mother of 10, Jean McConville, or that he stood idly by for nine years in the knowledge of his brother Liam's admission that he had abused his daughter Aine.

But these questions matter. It is why the media has also begun to examine the behaviour and attitude of Sinn Fein's two heirs-apparent, Pearse Doherty and Mary Lou McDonald, who takes her fresh prawns in Superquinn in a posh suburb of Dublin.

Another question has also become more urgent:

For how much longer will Sinn Fein/IRA allow Gerry Adams remain president of Sinn Fein while the contamination of his past seeps like blood into the shifting sands of a new generation.

Or does it matter?

In the 2011 general election, 13 years after the Good Friday Agreement, Sinn Fein took 9.94 per cent of the vote and 14 seats in Dail Eireann. In the presidential election later that year, the Sinn Fein candidate, Martin McGuinness, who admits that he was in the IRA, took 13 per cent At the moment Sinn Fein is at around 17-18 per cent in the opinion polls.

But it does matter.

Because it is conceivable that Sinn Fein will be part of the next government, that Gerry Adams may be the next minister for foreign affairs, as he would like, and after that, the new Nelson Mandela, as he sees himself.

As we consider the moral issues, we are required to ask of ourselves: where do we hold the line on common decency? At what point do we turn our back on murdered women and children; on the indiscriminate bombings; the forced suicide bomber; the beating to death of a man on a street outside a pub and then the intimidation of his sisters; the crucifixion of two British soldiers over whose bodies Fr Alec Reid prayed; the shooting dead of a Detective Garda in the line of his duty; a bullet in the back of the head of a man waving a white handkerchief.

For what? For Sunningdale for slow learners. . .

But that is what we are being asked to do – to draw a line under all of that, and worse, to declare that those murders, and the hundreds of others besides, were the casualties of a legitimate "war".

In the Dail last week the current Minister for Foreign Affairs, Eamon Gilmore, said: "I do not think Deputy Adams does himself, his party or, with the greatest of respect, the peace process any service today by saying what he has said."

Gilmore returned to the core of the question: the murder of two RUC officers.

"By any standard, that is a serious matter, at a number of levels. It was obviously serious for the individuals who lost their lives, but it is also serious for our police service, the police service of a democratic State."

The day before he spoke, Fianna Fail had sneaked in the back door of the Labour Party and robbed Colm Keaveney, like a laissez-faire burglar would a statue of the Child of Prague – and everybody felt queasy. Soon his head will fall off.

Then the Fianna Fail spokesman for Justice, Niall Collins, entered the front door on Prime Time and, in due course, he too spoke of Pat Finucane, the murder of whom is a touchstone for republicans North and South.

Mr Collins's uncle, Gerard Collins, was the minister for justice when Harry Breen and Robert Buchanan were murdered, to be followed by two "inadequate" garda investigations.

In 2004, the retired Canadian judge, Peter Cory, concluded that military and police intelligence knew of the plot to murder Pat Finucane and they failed to intervene.

He recommended a public inquiry, but the British government rejected the proposal and opted instead for a review by Sir Desmond de Silva.

That review found that employees of the state and state agents played "key roles" in the murder; that Mr Finucane was likely to have been suggested as a target to loyalist paramilitaries by a police officer from the RUC; that the authorities had been aware of the threat to the lawyer's life, but did nothing to protect him; that senior army officers lied and the RUC's special branch obstructed justice; that there was intelligence which, if property used, could have prevented the murder of Pat Finucane.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron called the level of state collusion "shocking".

But the review also said there had been "no over-arching state conspiracy" and found no evidence that government ministers were aware of plans to kill Mr Finucane.

The Finucane family has described the review as a "sham" and a "whitewash", which had done "exactly what was required – to give the benefit of the doubt to the State, its cabinet and ministers, to the army, the intelligence services, to itself".

Two weeks before the murder of Pat Finucane, an ex-minister complained in the House of Commons about lawyers who were "unduly sympathetic" to the IRA, a statement which nationalists warned would create assassination targets.

Arising out of the Good Friday Agreement, the British government has committed to a further inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane.

When or if such a report is published, the question Sinn Fein must answer is this: was Pat Finucane also just another laissez-faire victim on the great theatre of "war"?

Sunday Independent

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

Don't Miss