Tuesday 17 September 2019

Diary of a dark week - fudge, fog, feeble silence

Eoghan Harris

Eoghan Harris

Sunday - On this day, August 23, 1939, Stalin's Soviet Union and Hitler's Nazi Germany signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop plan. Appeasement was in the air.

But the Sunday Independent headline today, "Tissue of Lies", is not appeasing. The comprehensive coverage of the PSNI Chief Constable's statement comes to two conclusions.

First, the IRA has morphed from a paramilitary terrorist force into an armed mafia - Rafia IRA - whose victims are mostly Catholics and civilians.

Second, there is a crossover between Rafia membership and Sinn Fein.

Fine Gael, the traditional party of law and order, must take a firm stance on this.

Likewise, RTE should be probing the Rafia's crimes. But the omens are not good.

Both FG and RTE were reluctant to raise the dark side of Martin McGuinness's Presidential bid. And dilatory in responding to Mairia Cahill's revelations.

But I am still shocked by the feeble response of Simon Coveney and Frances Fitzgerald on RTE.

Liam Cosgrave's hard-line Fine Gael is a lost memory of moral clarity. Ditto Barry Desmond's Labour Party.

Can we expect RTE to reject the notion of a Rafia attached to Sinn Fein? No. Precedent suggests RTE will retreat into 'nothing to see here' mode, plus two tried and tested tropes.

First, to treat politicians challenging Sinn Fein as motivated purely by partisan politics. Yet Micheal Martin sat on Maria Cahill's story for months, until she asked him to go public.

Second, to demand critics produce "evidence" of Sinn Fein-IRA links, ignoring endless exposes by security correspondents like Paul Williams and Jim Cusack.

It also means ignoring the testimony of relatives of murder victims like Joe Rafferty, Robert McCartney and Paul Quinn, as well as rape victims like Paudie McGahon and Mairia Cahill.

The next three days will discover who can be trusted to defend Irish democracy.


The Irish Independent tries to shock Fine Gael out of its shaky stance. "Coalition cowers in face of new IRA threat." Pages of powerful coverage probe the crimes of the Rafia IRA.

Jim Cusack calculates Rafia rackets are worth at least €800m.

"To maintain its massive criminal operations the IRA has used pure unadulterated terrorism against the Catholic community in the Border area."

Finally, Micheal Martin says what Enda Kenny should be saying. The Rafia IRA's function is "to support Sinn Fein's political project by funding intelligence gathering and community control."

RTE TV News fails to follow up on Martin, although he is only a few hundred yards away. TV3 covers it at 12.30.

But Tommie Gorman in Belfast doesn't miss Martin's incisive intervention. He carries a clip from it in his report on Six One.


The Irish Independent continues its campaign for clarity. Meantime, on RTE Radio, David Davin Power surfaces to put his special stamp on the story.

Referring to criticism of Frances Fitzgerald, he tells Aine Lawlor there has been "strident adverse comment in one particular newspaper group".

Here's a question. Why should taking a strong stance against the Rafia IRA be dubbed "strident"?

David Davin Power likes the "strident" phrase so much he repeats it on Six One News. So far, so predictable.


On Morning Ireland, Simon Coveney struggles - not surprisingly - to make sense of the following loaded question from Fran McNulty:

"And isn't the Justice Minister publicly calling on the Garda Commissioner to pursue this issue, the very definition of political policing?"

McNulty then raises the traditional RTE trope about evidence. "You, your department, no government agency, no government inquiry has proven a link."

On RTE Radio, Aine Lawlor's first question to Joan Burton refers to the UUP withdrawal from the Northern Assembly and finishes thus:

"Doesn't it prove that Sinn Fein is right when they have been warning that this argument about the status or otherwise of the IRA has the potential to do serious damage to the peace process?"

Further on, another Lawlor question implies we should accept what Gerry Kelly says as gospel - and seems confused about what Det Superintendent Geddes said:

"So why again this storm of criticism about Sinn Fein from politicians if those are the facts - from Gerry Kelly, a former IRA man, and from Superintendant Geddes of the PSNI?"

Lawlor also follows McNulty's trope, badgering Burton to provide "evidence" of a Sinn Fein-IRA link. "Where is there any evidence that link exists ?"

Finally, Lawlor raises a standard RTE News trope: that any moral criticism of Sinn Fein-Rafia links must be politically motivated.

"Is there a risk of politicians here in the South, you, Micheal Martin, Alan Kelly, Frances Fitzgerald. Is there a risk, as Sinn Fein claim, that politicians here in the South are playing politics with this in an effort to nobble Sinn Fein because they're so popular in the opinion polls?"

Meantime, the Irish Times muddies the waters with a misleading heading on an article by Michael McDowell, 'Abolition of Provisional IRA was never on the cards'.

This gives the impression that McDowell and the two Governments accepted the continued existence of an armed Provo IRA.

But McDowell's actual article shows that as Minister for Justice at the time, he categorically rejected the IRA continuing as an armed force.

Naturally RTE presenters were happy to run with this new hare. Which raises the question: what do RTE researchers do all day?

If they did a bit of digging, they would have come across a review in The American Interest by Mitchell Reiss, US Special Envoy in Northern Ireland, a crucial player in the final decommissioning talks.

The following quote is worth reading closely for two reasons. First, it proves that McDowell took a hard line on the IRA. Second, it shows Sinn Fein's bluff can be called. "In July 2005, the IRA had finally agreed to decommission all its weapons. At the last minute, Adams called No. 10 to demand that some of the weapons not be destroyed so that the IRA could arm itself against possible attacks from dissident members. Unless this was allowed, he threatened, decommissioning would not proceed. The Blair government conceded, but wanted to check with Dublin. Irish Justice Minister Michael McDowell refused to acquiesce in the backsliding, despite enormous pressure. Powell told Adams of the problem, and Adams gave way. Decommissioning took place as planned."


Micheal Martin calls for the return of the International Monitoring Commission - the solution that has been staring everybody in the face since it was first suggested by Ed Moloney.


The Taoiseach continues to observe his vows as a Trappist Monk.

Sunday Independent

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