Wednesday 20 November 2019

Eoghan Harris: Leo Varadkar's risky Feile launch only helps Sinn Fein

Feile an Phobail cartoon.
Feile an Phobail cartoon.
Eoghan Harris

Eoghan Harris

Leo Varadkar was wrong to launch Feile an Phobail but the pundits didn't tell you why.

The Taoiseach's spinners persuaded them to spoof about the 'symbolism' of the Orange Order visit and play down the darker symbolism of the Feile launch.

Here are some reasons why you should be worried and why Fine Gael should be afraid, very afraid.

Feile an Phobail's roots mean it could be properly titled Feile na Provos.

As Danny Morrison explains on YouTube, Sinn Fein/IRA set up the Feile in the wake of the Gibraltar setback to boost morale.

Most participants enjoy it as a community festival but Sinn Fein has always used it as a political carnival to cover a political project.

The project this year, as every year, is to normalise the Provo narrative of the armed struggle.

This year's theme is The Great Escape, celebrating a Provo IRA gang's escape from the Maze as if it were just a jolly caper.

Austin Stack rained on that parade by pointing out that in breaking out, the IRA had killed a prison officer - just as they had killed his own prison officer father, Brian Stack.

Part of that Provo group later killed Garda Gary Sheehan and Private Patrick Kelly near Ballinamore, Co Leitrim, in 1983.

Going on my own appearance at the Feile, we can be sure the Taoiseach's audience included men with grey hair and morals who helped shield the killers of Jean McConville and Detective Sgt Jerry McCabe.

But for all their briefings about 'symbolism' last week, the Taoiseach's spin doctors forgot some other symbolisms.

Last Thursday, the day the spinners announced Leo Varadkar's launch, was also the 22nd anniversary of the IRA's murder of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe in Adare, Co Limerick.

Even today, a number of IRA fugitives are at large with the connivance of the republican movement.

Last week had some sad symbolism for Jean McConville's family, too.

In Dublin, the heroic Magdalene women were meeting to tell harrowing tales of abuse.

A Taoiseach with good authority would have reminded his West Belfast audience that the IRA's abuse of women took more lethal forms - like the murder of Jean McConville, which led to the sexual abuse of her orphaned son, Billy, who died last May.

Still acting with good authority, the Taoiseach could have told his audience that when Sinn Fein collapsed the Assembly last January, it hurt Billy McConville.

Sinn Fein's staged collapse deprived victims of child sex abuse like Billy being paid the compensation awarded to them by the NI Inquiry.

Billy would not have ended up being abused in care homes if his mother Jean had not been abducted, tortured and murdered by the IRA.

But that was not all. She was posthumously slandered and disappeared by men and women who reported to Gerry Adams.

Good authority also meant reminding his republican audience that when Jean McConville's remains passed through the streets, the people of West Belfast shamefully did not turn out in respect.

As a Magdalene woman remarked about the sadistic nuns: "I often wondered why were they so cruel?"

Finally, the Taoiseach might have added that the people of West Belfast could be asked the same hard question about cruelty.

Naturally, I would not ask the Taoiseach to act with good authority if I had dodged it myself when I spoke at the Feile in 2005.

Bracing myself to do my duty, I told top Provos like the late Martin Meehan, and the people of West Belfast, why it was wrong to support Sinn Fein/IRA, which had wrecked civil rights and the SDLP in a futile campaign.

In sum, I challenged the Provo narrative in a robust fashion guaranteed not to get me any applause.

Sadly, Leo Varadkar seems to think leadership is about applause rather than good authority.

Driven by a passion for popularity, he's leading Fine Gael down a primrose path that may end in a precipice.

Here he is helped by a mesmerised media which simply lay down last week.

RTE repeatedly recycled the rubbish that a visit to the Orange Order 'balanced' launching a Sinn Fein propaganda event.

Recently, I asked rhetorically how many Orangemen would it take to balance the Pope? No amount is the answer.

How can reaching out to the Orange Order be 'balanced' by launching a festival which glorifies the IRA's bloody exploits?

The Orange Order's members never did what nationalists did - vote for a party controlled by a sectarian murder gang. Had they done so, the Assembly would have a large loyalist party like Sinn Fein.

But rather than challenge the Taoiseach's spinners, the pundits preferred to marginalise Austin Stack for asking awkward questions.

RTE raised no problems. Even the normally alert Micheal Lehane succumbed to Belfast locationism in a soft chat with Leo Varadkar.

The two exceptions were Kevin Doyle in the Irish Independent - who covered all angles - and Shane Coleman on Newstalk, who let Stack say his piece.

Coming back to the topic the following day, Coleman and his co-presenter Kieran Cuddihy came up with two crucial insights that should cause concern in Fine Gael.

Coleman asked Cuddihy if he could see Seamus Mallon launching the Feile. No, he certainly could not.

The second eureka moment came when Coleman, referring to Varadkar's weird Olly Murs remark, observed that Varadkar seemed to have no "natural boundaries".

As Austin Stack pointed out, Leo Varadkar's launch was the latest step in what he called Fine Gael's 'romance' with Sinn Fein.

Last week, Mary Lou McDonald told The Irish Times she wanted to form a coalition with either Fine Gael or Fianna Fail.

Fine Gael's response took two forms: a rush of words ruling out any deal and one major deed that contradicted the words.

Charlie Flanagan, Heather Humphreys and Paschal Donohoe huffed and puffed but their verbiage was belied by the big deed - Leo Varadkar launching Feile an Phobail, something which I am certain Enda Kenny would never have done.

To launch it without a speech challenging the false Provo narrative of a necessary armed struggle sent out a craven signal of appeasement that clearly gave enormous satisfaction to Mary Lou McDonald.

No wonder she and Sinn Fein were gushing approval like geysers. Leo Varadkar has made it clear that he personally will not baulk at doing business with McDonald if needs be.

The rump of the law-and-order wing of Fine Gael are still in deep denial about how Varadkar has dissolved the difference between old Fine Gael and Sinn Fein.

But Fine Gael ministers, for all their fulminations, are too deeply invested in Leo Varadkar to draw back.

Fine Gael is like a film about a few tipsy students picked up by the flash driver in a limo who tells them he will take them to a great party over the mountains.

Along the way, he picks up a rougher group, who smile reassuringly at the students but without the smile ever quite reaching their flat, fanatic eyes.

The students fall silent. Maybe it will all end well.

Sunday Independent

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