Sunday 20 January 2019

In spite of spats, Leo is following Micheal's tough line on Sinn Fein

by Jim Cogan
by Jim Cogan
Eoghan Harris

Eoghan Harris

Hurricane Ophelia hurt but Hurricane Regina Doherty was full of hot air. She told Morning Ireland that Fianna Fail had never raised pensions and could not be trusted on them.

But Willie O'Dea caught her out on the pensions charge only a few hours later on Sean O'Rourke.

Doubtless Doherty was trying to roll back some of the damage Micheal Martin had inflicted on Leo Varadkar's spin machine at the Fianna Fail Ard Fheis.

But she could hardly have capped The Week in Politics' crappy and distorted coverage of the Ard Fheis.

You will recall the Ard Fheis voted overwhelmingly against coalition with Sinn Fein, with only two delegates in favour of such a deal.

But Justin McCarthy's video report - at least the edited version - seemed blind to these brute facts.

Out of the five delegates he vox-popped, two favoured a Sinn Fein deal, one leaned to that side "if the arithmetic was right", but only two represented the massive majority of delegates who said no.

The ragged report was reinforced with hammy riffs on Halloween horrors - coverage more suitable for a Sinn Fein Ard Fheis in the light of Prime Time's harrowing report on the murder of Paul Quinn.

For 16 sickening minutes, Paul Murphy's film forced us to face the fact that a foul evil exists in South Armagh - and allows us to address the following question to every Sinn Fein member.

How can you stay in Sinn Fein having heard Breege Quinn speak about her son's smashed body?

Sinn Fein members can't salve their consciences by pointing out that their party condemned the killers as criminals who should face the courts - presumably unlike the murderers of Tom Oliver.

Because Conor Murphy, a Sinn Fein MLA, claimed Quinn was a criminal and that IRA had no involvement.

Paul Quinn was beaten to death only 10 years ago. Given that his ghost will not go away in our lifetime, how can a faction in Fianna Fail still talk about a deal with Sinn Fein?

Barry Cowen rightly laid down a hard political marker on the matter when speaking to Niall O'Connor of the Irish Independent: "A coalition or any other agreement with Sinn Fein is a non-runner in every shape or form."

Cowen also called out any foolish Fianna Failers still waiting in the long, long grass, reminding them their rumps were revealed when the Ard Fheis motion reduced it to short grass.

"This shows the party is firmly behind the position expressed by the leader. It has closed firmly the notion of any deal, as well as the troublemakers within the parliamentary party."

Right now, any lurking "apologists" lack a leader. Eamon O Cuiv has credibly rejected Sinn Fein, and John McGuinness is seen as a me fein maverick.

But a lingering problem is that any apologists may be looking for future leadership from Justice spokesperson Jim O'Callaghan, who recently moved a supply and confidence deal with Sinn Fein.

Micheal Martin slapped him down swiftly. But coming on top of his lacklustre performance in the Justice portfolio, it throws some other problems with O'Callaghan's political persona into sharp relief.

Unlike his sister Miriam, he lacks the common touch. In addition he has what I can only describe as a Law Library aura.

This may go down well in leafy Dublin suburbs but on television his remote persona may detract from Fianna Fail's appeal to working class voters.

A female Fianna Fail friend of mine from a humble northside home goes so far as to claim that O'Callaghan has "a Fine Gael face".

In retrospect, I believe Martin made a mistake in moving a combative provincial solicitor like Niall Collins aside to make way for a Dublin barrister like Jim O'Callaghan.

Provincial solicitors like Niall Collins and Charlie Flanagan make the best Ministers for Justice. Their legal status arouses no class antagonism and they tend to be shrewd, rounded and racy of the soil.

In my view, barristers are bad news in Justice because they convey the impression that their real life is down in the Four Courts rather than in the Dail.

This perception is pointed up by the row about whether a judge or a layperson should chair the Judicial Appointments Commission.

Jim O'Callaghan first championed a judge, then suggested the compromise of a retired judge.

In doing so he appears to be looking after a closed legal shop and this is not good for Fianna Fail.

In contrast, Charlie Flanagan shrewdly reflects public opinion in rejecting O'Callaghan's compromise.

But there was also good news this week. In spite of spats about spin, the Taoiseach seems to be finally following Martin's tough line on Sinn Fein in the North.

Clearly sceptical of Coveney's "carrot" policy, with its litany of broken promises about "imminent" breakthroughs, the Taoiseach has recently taken two important initiatives of his own.

Two weeks ago, in staffing up what Martin - with some justification - sees as his spin unit, the Taoiseach appointed former senator Jim D'Arcy as his special adviser on Northern Ireland,

Significantly, Martin has not criticised D'Arcy's appointment, and most likely agrees with it.

That's because D'Arcy is supremely fitted for the task. A savvy border politician, he somehow combines his unrivalled contacts in both DUP and Sinn Fein camps with a deep loathing of tribal murder gangs.

D'Arcy would not disagree with the brutally honest briefing Irish government "sources" gave the media last week.

These sources said that shadowy forces had stopped Michelle O'Neill from completing a deal with the DUP that had come close to fruition in private talks.

Gerry Adams responded angrily, rejecting the charge that sinister forces were shaping Sinn Fein's strategy.

But as Suzanne Breen pointed out in The Belfast Telegraph, shadowy IRA figures stymied Martin McGuinness in 2014.

Although McGuinness had reached a deal with Peter Robinson on welfare reform the same shadowy IRA figures forced him to renege on it.

Breen's question: if McGuinness with his IRA medals could be stopped by the Seven Samurai what chance had someone like Michelle O'Neill who has no medals at all?

Given that grip, it was good to see the Taoiseach supporting Martin's policy of offering no safe house to Sinn Fein as long as it failed to engage fully in the Northern talks.

The Taoiseach's stick got more results than Coveney's carrots. Adams was forced to deny a wrecking strategy. But now he'll have to back words with deeds.

The proof that Adams was feeling the pressure could be heard in his bitter complaint about Varadkar. "He should behave as a Taoiseach should behave."

Let me translate what he means by that as follows:

"I am shocked that Leo Varadkar is following the same line as Micheal Martin and putting the Irish Republic ahead of my strategy of parking Stormont so as to build up a head of sectarian steam while we concentrate on securing power in the South."

Sunday Independent

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