Friday 24 May 2019

Garda chief fails to clear up confusion left by letter

Illustration by Jim Cogan
Illustration by Jim Cogan
Eoghan Harris

Eoghan Harris

The most frightening play I ever saw was Max Frisch's The Fire Raisers, an allegory on the rise of Hitler.

Biedermann, a decent, bourgeois businessman, reads in the papers that two arsonists are in town, talking themselves into people's homes.

He is confident that he could never be taken in by such conmen. Then Schmitz and Eisenring turn up at his door.

By turns bullying and seductive, they talk Biedermann into letting them spend a night in his attic.

Before long Biedermann becomes accustomed to the arsonists coming and going. He avoids asking them why they are packing his attic with petrol cans, and supplies them with matches.

By degrees Biedermann goes into a denial that ends with his downfall.

Last week proved that the peace process is producing the same moral fog among the O'Biedermanns of the Irish Republic.

Last Tuesday, with the exception of the Irish Independent, most of the media spun the story towards the North and Peter Robinson's reactions.

But there was a marked reluctance to respond robustly to revelations about the influence of the IRA in the Republic.

Suzanne Breen, in the Irish Independent, summed up the passivity of the political and media response in the Republic.

"In any other European democracy, Tuesday's report would have caused a crisis. A party in government in the North is intrinsically linked to a murder machine. And that party could be in government in a few months' time."

Jim Downey, in the same paper, was equally scathing. "In the 45 years since the foundation of the Provisional IRA, doublethink has existed in every part of the Sinn Fein-IRA spectrum, from the highest level down to the humblest voter."

Most worrying of all was the muted reaction of Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan, and to a lesser extent by Frances Fitzgerald.

Here I have no agendas. Last year I was the only journalist to publicly call for O'Sullivan to be appointed Garda Commissioner.

Recently I argued that Frances Fitzgerald was best fitted to follow Kenny.

Last week forced me to revise these references. Because neither the Garda Commissioner nor the Minister for Justice gave a sufficiently robust response to the revelations.

Last Wednesday, in Athlone, Fitzgerald told RTE News she found the revelations "disturbing".

But so was the letter that the Garda Commissioner, standing beside her, sent to Sinn Fein last February.

It said: "An Garda Siochana hold no information or intelligence to support the assertion of Mr Cusack that 'the Provisional IRA still maintains its military structure and confines its criminal activities to fuel laundering, cigarette-smuggling and counterfeiting'."

Last week, the PSNI/MI5 report contradicted the Commissioner's position.

Given that context, Frances Fitzgerald was far too fast supporting the Commissioner's cavalier dismissal of Jim Cusack's story about an IRA mole in the Gardai. Did she not read the Smithwick Report?

Fitzgerald called for "evidence". How can the Gardai mount a credible hunt for Provo moles when their own Commissioner has created a climate of confusion about the role of the Provisional IRA in the Republic?

Last week, the Garda Commissioner was still hair-splitting. She harped on the irrelevant point of the Provo IRA Army Council not meeting in the Republic rather than on their malign influence.

She told us: "They do not meet to direct military operations and I think that's a very important distinction to make."

No, it's not. The surreal implications of that style of thinking is that as long as the IRA Army Council meets a few yards north of the Border we have nothing much to worry about.

The hard truth is that the Commissioner is trapped by her letter of last February. And so was last week's Garda report.

How can the Gardai admit the Provo IRA is in control of crime in the Louth-South Armagh area without contradicting the letter from their own Commissioner?

That letter lay like a shadow over last week's debate in the Dail.

Micheal Martin, in a compelling contribution, castigated the culture of crime, rape and murder which could be traced back to the Provisional IRA.

Listening to him with angry agitation was the Sinn Fein politician who had looked for the Garda letter in the first place, Deputy Padraig Mac Lochlainn.

Gone was the affable aura as he shouted that Martin was "a gurrier", "a political gurrier" and "the prime gurrier in these Houses".

Go to the Oireachtas website and look at Mac Lochlainn's contorted face as he continues to shout at Martin. Without its smiling mask, Sinn Fein is not a pretty sight.

But Micheal Martin kept his cool. "That is the type of intimidation that these people engage in when they are challenged."

To his credit, Enda Kenny robustly defended Micheal Martin, and the democratic civilities that should be the norm in Dail Eireann. He told the Sinn Fein shouters that despite differences between him and Deputy Martin "we don't descend to that level".

Thankfully, the Taoiseach seems to have a firmer grip than the Garda Commissioner on the gravity of a report which recorded the belief of IRA members that the IRA Army Council influences the politics of a major party in Dail Eireann.

Crucially, he cut to the core problem - the pressure to put up with a permanent IRA presence as the price of peace. "There may have been a time when living with constructive ambiguity helped the peace process but that time has passed."

And he starkly summed up the situation along the Border. "The legacy of the IRA has poisoned society in many cases around the Border."

The venom will not stop at the Border. If an antidote is not found it will eventually poison the whole body politic.

That is why the Minister for Justice must make it clear that the Gardai are Guardians of the Peace, not of the "peace process".

Sunday Independent

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