Defenders of democracy must now unite against extremes of Sinn Fein
Micheal Martin and Leo Varadkar's clashes with Sinn Fein show democratic politicians must oppose the wreckers of peace, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards
So what was the Taoiseach playing at when he said in the Dail last week that Mary Lou McDonald reminded him of Marine Le Pen in her addiction to a script? Actually, though I'm no fan of her politics, I think Ms Le Pen should complain about being mentioned in the same breath as Mary Lou McDonald. After all, Le Pen showed commendable independence by standing up to her father; by contrast "I-believe-Gerry" McDonald is notoriously slavish towards her father figure/scriptwriter.
Indeed any implied comparison between the French National Front and Sinn Fein is unfair. The FN is a far right extreme nationalist party: Sinn Fein is an extreme nationalist cult masquerading as a party, which changes its political direction when it suits. Latterly they've rebranded themselves. "We get long lectures from Sinn Fein about its detailed positions," said Varadkar, to which McDonald replied: "They are the positions of nationalist communities and progressives in the North." Watch out, Alliance and Greens. No longer is Sinn Fein confining itself to destroying the SDLP, it has your electorates in its sights and is busy wooing your useful idiots.
As a cult, Sinn Fein reminds me of the Church of Scientology, which is brutal in its suppression of internal criticism through brainwashing and psychological abuse and pursues its ex-members and external critics with threats, harassment and lawsuits. Last month alone, its totalitarianism was highlighted when Limerick ex-councillor Lisa Marie Sheehy spoke of being forced out of the party after she was "undermined, bullied and humiliated"; expelled Tipperary councillor Seamus Morris said he had contemplated suicide because of "an intense, nine-month hate campaign of harassment and slander"; June Murphy, one-time East Cork councillor, spoke of a "nightmare" period of "systematic abuse" before she resigned in 2015; and Gerry O'Neill, one of three expelled Wicklow councillors, said the party had made a statement that was a "barrage of lies" and "codology" intended to obscure differences of opinion.
Ms Murphy also confirmed what close observers of Sinn Fein know: it is a culture of men which pretends to support women but in practice requires all of them to do what they're told. As Micheal Martin said, Gerry Adams stepping down wouldn't make him any more inclined to consider coalition since "it is very clear whatever Gerry says, Mary Lou will say". But back to the Taoiseach, who over a few days assailed McDonald for much more than her faithfulness to her scripts. Like her Sinn Fein colleagues, he said, she demonstrated "innate contempt for democracy and free speech". Was it "any small wonder," he mused, after constant barracking from McDonald, that there was no Northern Ireland Executive in place, "because this is the attitude of Sinn Fein, constantly hectoring, smart-aleck remarks, lack of temperance, lack of respect for other people, inability to listen to them, and inability to listen or to compromise?"
Was this onslaught, as the political commentator Pat Leahy suggested, an attempt to position Fine Gael as the main bulwark against Sinn Fein, thus marginalising Fianna Fail by exposing the cracks in its hostility to a possible alliance, the tossing of red meat to the Fine Gael grassroots or an expression of Leo Varadkar's belief that Sinn Fein is a threat to Irish democracy. Yes on all counts in my view. Others have suggested misogyny and irritation with Ms McDonald's ability to get under his skin.
I don't buy the misogyny allegation. To give Ms McDonald her due, despite stiff opposition from some colleagues, she is the only competition to Gerry Adams in her ability to infuriate right-thinking people with her churlishness, self-righteousness, doublespeak and hypocrisy (scrolling through her phone while shouting interruptions is spectacularly discourteous), but in the exchanges in the Dail, I think Varadkar got under McDonald's skin rather than the other way round. She was fuming by the time she was thrown out for ignoring the acting chairman's pleas to her to shut up.
Since Sean O'Callaghan died in August, I've re-read his memoir, The Informer, and was startled by how accurately 20 years ago he had predicted the trouble ahead. "My main fear for the future of Northern Ireland," he wrote, "lies in my belief that the essential aim of the IRA peace strategy has been to radicalise nationalist sentiment, particularly in Northern Ireland but also to some degree in the Republic… Sinn Fein are convinced that the future of Irish nationalism resides with them. If they are right, then the future is bleak and any prospects of a rational accommodation with unionists is all but impossible."
All Sinn Fein's politicians are required to retrospectively endorse - even celebrate - the actions of the IRA in mercilessly murdering, robbing, intimidating and cheating in their lust for island-wide power. Since their defeat by the security forces, with their movement still run centrally by the rump of the IRA leadership, republicans have continued to poison Northern Ireland by waging cultural and propaganda wars on unionists, fomenting the tribal hatred that has destroyed the centre, and taking every opportunity to extinguish trust and undermine democracy.
O'Callaghan went on to say that "the challenge that faces us in Ireland today [is] to defeat the forces of extreme nationalism. It will take the combined forces of everyone committed to democracy on both islands if we are to succeed."
It will indeed. But at least it's reassuring that the leaders of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail both recognise that the barbarians now at the gates of the Republic must be repelled.