Tuesday 18 December 2018

Sinn Féin's relentless denials must alert us to the dangers

Like Paudie McGahon, Mairia Cahill has been a compelling witness about sexual abuse by IRA men
Like Paudie McGahon, Mairia Cahill has been a compelling witness about sexual abuse by IRA men
Paudie McGahon
John Downing

John Downing

Tánaiste Joan Burton chose an apt and important word when she spoke of an "insidious threat" from a residual Provisional IRA to democracy on this island.

"Insidious," the dictionary tells us, is a 16th-century Latin word. These days, it is mainly used as an adjective describing something which proceeds in a gradual and subtle way - but often with very harmful effects.

The almost 30 years of shocking war which mainly, but not exclusively, afflicted the north-east of this island, claimed the lives of over 3,500 human beings and blighted the lives of many in their extended families. Its impact on language was more than a clue to the attendant series of rolling horrors we still struggle to shake off.

We need only recall that limp euphemism, 'the Troubles' to give you a clear reminder of how language was often rendered meaningless. And through it all, Sinn Féin's mastery of the language of denial, equivocation, sophistry and downright dodging has been a major feature which remains with us.

Viewed from the south of the country, there is another alarming aspect to all this when it comes to the continuing growth of support for Sinn Féin in the Republic. It is that the people have not entirely believed Sinn Féin and the republicans in their various cover stories, equivocations and denials.

A survey for the 'Sunday Independent' in May 2014 showed people did not believe Gerry Adams's persistent denials about an alleged role in the 1972 abduction and murder of the widowed mother of 10 children, Jean McConville.

Soon after his release from questioning by the PSNI in the matter, the Millward Brown survey showed that one quarter of people surveyed accepted Mr Adams's denials, one third had no opinion and 45pc did not accept his version.

There is strong anecdotal evidence to suggest that a significant number of people in the Republic can accept and maybe even discount such cases as "something in the North during the Troubles". It is a horrifying reduction and trivialisation of heinous events.

But republicans - who are sometimes Sinn Féin and other times IRA as the need dictates - took the language of denial to new lows in late 2014 when very credible allegations of mishandling of sex-abuse allegations within the movement came to light.

Two very strong and credible witnesses, with strong links to republicans, emerged in Mairia Cahill and Paudie McGahon. Their stories were compelling for the Irish people. The Sinn Féin non-response was a marked contrast to their trenchant criticisms of the Catholic Church over sexual abuse just years previously.

But Gerry Adams, his deputy leader, Mary Lou McDonald, and others battered on, unfazed in their use of the language of denial and equivocation. The party's stock in the opinion polls fell back - only to recover later.

The insidious threat to our democracy persists.

Sinn Féin insists that the Provisional IRA "has left the stage". The PSNI disagree and its chief constable, George Hamilton, has been left in a position very similar to that of his predecessors.

He is walking a political tightrope, trying to match the demands of good policing with political demands that the fragile power-sharing administration must not be collapsed.

We have all been here before, most notably in 2004, when the Northern Bank was robbed, and in 2005 when Robert McCartney was murdered. This time we are again dealing with a murder investigation in a democracy where the police are entitled to give a measured and general indication of the trend of their investigation.

History teaches us that we will get the continued denials from Sinn Féin which have carried them thus far. It is clear that we must rely upon the PSNI in this matter.

Analysis

Irish Independent

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