SF's muddled response to McCabe murder shows confusion on party line
Suggestions that Sinn Féin General Election candidate Louise O'Reilly was prevented from condemning the killing of Garda Jerry McCabe because she was "rounded on" during an interview are laughable.
On the Claire Byrne show on Radio One on Saturday, Ms O'Reilly spent a full five minutes dodging a very easy question that required a simple yes or no response: Did she condemn the killing of Garda McCabe?
Instead of immediately and unequivocally denouncing his death at the hands of the IRA, Ms O'Reilly equivocated and blustered before eventually trying to depict Garda McCabe as a casualty of war.
"War is very, very complicated and we don't have the time or the scope to go into it now. I don't propose to make sweeping statements about things that happened in the past. I don't think it's helpful and I also don't think that it is what people want to hear," she said. I was also a panellist on the show and, stunned by what I had heard, said I was sure that people would like to hear Ms O'Reilly condemn the killing. Labour TD Kevin Humphries also interjected and bluntly asked if she thought the killing was right or wrong.
"I don't think it's that simple. I think that anyone who reduces it to that level of simplicity … There were plenty of people who were murdered in different circumstances.
"The murder of anyone and the taking of a human life is wrong. Equally there are rights and wrongs on both sides. What you don't do is reduce it down to one incident, it is not that simple and trying to make things overly simplistic like that is disrespectful to all of the victims of war," said Ms O'Reilly.
Now, I'm unaware of any war that was raging in Limerick in 1996 and certainly bewildered about how a Garda going about his duty, providing an escort for pension money being delivered to a local post office, could in any way be deemed to be some kind of combatant or legitimate target.
But, then again, I'm not a confused Sinn Féin member who thinks her loyalty to the party requires her to rationalise the cold-blooding killing of a garda as the collateral damage of some kind of noble republican struggle.
It's worth recalling that Garda McCabe wasn't shot by mistake. A gun didn't accidentally go off when IRA men, attempting to rob money in order to fund their murderous campaign in the North and in England, surrounded his car.
On June 7 1996, as Garda McCabe and his colleague Ben O'Sullivan pulled up outside the post office in Adare, their car was rammed from behind and four IRA men wearing army fatigues and brandishing weapons surrounded their vehicle.
The IRA men didn't shout any warning - they didn't give the two detectives a chance. Instead, they opened fire immediately with an automatic weapon, spraying the front of the garda car with 15 bullets, three of which struck Garda McCabe. Garda O'Sullivan was also shot multiple times but miraculously survived. The men who shot them were not soldiers in a war. They were criminals conducting a robbery that even the IRA itself disowned.
Ms O'Reilly, speaking on Radio One, said she thought it was "incredulous" to be asked if she condemned such a callous killing. I'm confident most people will think it was her mealy-mouthed response that was incredulous.
Hours after her appearance on the show, in the wake of mounting criticism, Ms O'Reilly tweeted that "the killing of Garda McCabe was unjustifiable" and she "condemned it unreservedly".
The reason she hadn't articulated her condemnation during the programme was that it was "a difficult point to make when rounded on by four interviewers, two who are using issue for political point scoring" (sic).
I defy anyone to listen back to the show and come to the same conclusion. The questions about Garda McCabe came at the end of the programme. Before that, Ms O'Reilly had been an articulate and confident guest, well able to get her point of view across.
Additionally, Ms O'Reilly is not some political novice. According to her biography on the Sinn Féin website, she is "a trade union organiser and lifelong activist" with "extensive experience negotiating on behalf of workers in both the public and private sector". One has to wonder what her public service colleagues in the GRA and the AGSI think of her initial equivocation over the killing of one of their members?
Sinn Féin representatives regularly complain their political opponents use atrocities committed during the Troubles as a stock response to legitimate criticism of the government. This is certainly true. During leaders' questions, every time Gerry Adams complains about the health service or poverty, some snide comment about Jean McConville's murder is invariably used as a cheap device to change the subject.
However, the discussion about Jerry McCabe on Saturday wasn't sprung on Ms O'Reilly to trick her, or as some kind of deflection. It arose because one of his killers, Pearse McCauley, was sentenced last week for assault causing harm to his wife Pauline Tully, while Ms Tully had given a lengthy interview to Marian Finucane earlier that morning.
Given all of the media coverage about McCauley's latest brutal attack, Ms O'Reilly should have known a question about Garda McCabe's killing was likely. While the Sinn Féin candidate has blamed other guests, myself included, for her incoherence, I have an alternative explanation for her obfuscation.
In my view, she simply didn't know what the official party line was and assumed, incorrectly, she was precluded from condemning the killing. The fact that she was so willing to dodge the issue should be deeply concerning for voters and raises serious questions about her suitability to hold office.