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Eoghan Harris: 'Seamus Mallon knew that Sinn Fein poses a moral problem'

Eoghan Harris


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Seamus Mallon, like Micheal Martin, loathed the IRA on moral grounds and spent his life fighting its political wing, Sinn Fein.

Millennials raised on myth, rather than history, take Mary Lou McDonald's SF at its own Disneyesque face value, and cynical politicians pretend to do so.

Micheal Martin is the only politician who can be trusted not to take Sinn Fein into the bosom of the State.

Accordingly, it matters to Decent Ireland that Martin be treated fairly by media - which he certainly was not in the first leaders' debate on Virgin Media.

Martin turned in a phenomenal performance, given his other opponents seemed to be Pat Kenny and the production team.

Here I speak as a former television producer, as well as a media adviser to pluralist politicians as diverse as Proinsias De Rossa and Mary Robinson.

Kenny promised to talk as little as possible - then talked continually. Fine, if he talked equally over the two opponents.

But mostly Kenny talked over Martin. The reason I know this, is because I counted the interruptions on the recording. Twice.

Kenny interrupted speakers a total of 72 times. He interrupted Micheal Martin 48 times. He interrupted Leo Varadkar 24 times. That's a ratio of 2:1.

Kenny often interrupted just before the end of Martin's contributions, with the same spoiling effect as standing on the punchline of a good joke.

The other thing that caught my producer's eye was the use of split screen.

When you split the screen, you cut the impact of each speaker by half.

By my count, the split screen was used on 30 occasions throughout the debate. When Martin was speaking, the split screen was used 20 times.

This diminished the power and status and impact of his contributions some 20 times.

In contrast, when Leo Varadkar was speaking, the split screen was used on him only 10 times. Again a ratio of 2:1.

Kenny also blurred Martin's courageous stand on abortion, which the latter made much earlier than Leo Varadkar.

Martin wisely treated abortion as a freedom of conscience issue and allowed FF TDs to decide the matter for themselves.

But Kenny turned Martin's liberal stand into a conservative stand with the following twisty question:

"Micheal Martin may be a traditional man, a conservative with a small 'c' man. Your party, if it had its way, perhaps the Eighth would not have been repealed."

That negative spin could only be justified if Kenny had followed up by asking Leo Varadkar why he had lagged behind Martin. He did not do so.

Kenny carried out a similar sleight of hand when dealing with the media perception that Leo Varadkar lacked empathy.

His question diverted the perception from Varadkar himself to his "party" as "lacking empathy, not having the human touch".

As Leo Varadkar, alone, is being accused of lack of empathy, this was pretty wriggly from Kenny.

The wriggling got worse. Dealing with Sinn Fein in government, Kenny went so far as to put his own words in Micheal Martin's mouth, as follows: "You've said that basically Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O'Neill are puppets on a string by some dark forces."

As Martin began to protest at Kenny's wording, Leo Varadkar jumped in to try a little PC grandstanding.

Varadkar: "I think the puppets on a string remark was a little bit misogynistic, quite frankly."

Martin quickly corrected the record, saying: "I didn't use that phrase."

Kenny should have come out with his hands up, said it was his phrase, not Martin's, and accepted the latter's clarification.

But Kenny gave us the following waffly wriggler: "I used the phrase, but I think I took the meaning of what you were saying that there were forces controlling them." Enough already.

Kenny was also less than pressing when asking Leo Varadkar about whether he would go into coalition with Sinn Fein.

As a major current affairs presenter, Kenny well knows that in contrast to Martin's relentless rejection of coalition with Sinn Fein, Varadkar has only recently ruled out coalition - and is still given to glib bouts of dog whistling.

Varadkar was doing just that when he told Kenny he was in favour of a Border poll, but not within the next five years and "only because I think it would be defeated".

Kenny didn't ask him if that reply wasn't just a blatant attempt to have his cake and eat it - as well as a dog whistle to Sinn Fein.

Ditto the equally blatant bit of dog-whistling when Varadkar told Kenny that he had "nothing other than personal respect for Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O'Neill".

Kenny did not ask Varadkar how he proposed to separate the singer from the song - and the song from the shadowy conductors in the control room.

Reactions to the debate revealed both the double standard of millennials and loss of memory by former government ministers.

Millennials believe Trump lies all the time, but take Sinn Fein spokespersons at face value.

They abhor fake news but accept SF spin rather than the evidence in Sam McBride's book Burned.

Larissa Nolan, reviewing the debate on The Tonight Show, told us she wasn't into "conspiracy theories" about IRA influence on Sinn Fein.

Incredibly, she compared Sinn Fein being directed by the IRA to Fine Gael being controlled by "global forces".

Does she seriously believe vague global forces are the same as a real paramilitary force having a grip on a party in government in the Irish Republic?

In fairness, how can Generation X get a grip on reality when the older generation is losing theirs?

Mary O'Rourke declared Mary Lou McDonald to be the winner of the debate by virtue of not being there!

Asked by Sean O'Rourke if FF and FG were wrong to rule out coalition with Sinn Fein, O'Rourke replied yes, citing Fianna Fail's decision to go into government with the PDs in 1989!

Again, how can Mary O'Rourke compare going into government with Sinn Fein and going in with the Progressive Democrats - one of whose founders, Des O'Malley, so loathed the IRA that as Minister for Justice he had to carry a revolver for his personal protection?

O'Rourke wasn't the only Lenihan to get in the way of good politics last week. Conor Lenihan, returned from Russia, who also favours coalition with Sinn Fein, belatedly tried to jump on the FF bandwagon in The Irish Times.

The late Brian Lenihan Jr often talked to me about pluralism. He would never have gone into government with Sinn Fein. Brian had the same loathing for its links to violence as Micheal Martin and Seamus Mallon.

Mallon was our moral guardian. He was never fooled by Sinn Fein who feared his stony gaze.

In 2018, SF councillors voted to refuse him the freedom of Drogheda. The pettiness was because SF knew Mallon saw past the Disney facade to the darkness lying behind.

Here is one of his last warnings: "I don't think in the foreseeable future Sinn Fein will be seen as a normal political party.

"There are ghosts about, the unquiet ghosts of Tom Oliver, Brian Stack, Jean McConville, and God knows one could go on forever - they'll be clouded in these for the foreseeable future."

Sunday Independent