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Eoghan Harris: 'The North had no choice on SF in government - but we do'

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Cartoon by Jim Cogan

Cartoon by Jim Cogan

Cartoon by Jim Cogan

Last week revealed that most of the Irish media still don't get why Sinn Fein is not a normal, acceptable coalition partner in the Republic.

Media millennials, who missed the IRA murders of 1,800 people, including 400 Roman Catholics, might have some small excuse for invincible ignorance.

But there is none for experienced reporters affecting to see no problem with the fact that the Provisional IRA still exists - according to the International Monitoring Commission, the PSNI and the Garda Commissioner.

Southern media has even less excuse for evading that truth following the revelation by the respected journalist, Sam McBride, in his best-selling book, Burned, that outsiders still influence Sinn Fein policy.

Last week, on Newstalk, Senator Michael McDowell, a former justice minister, told Ivan Yates that Sinn Fein decisions are not made in the Dail or Stormont, but by a small number of people, mostly in Belfast.

He said: "Sinn Fein TDs are told what to do. They are not a regular political party and are not fit for government."

Logically, if the Provo IRA still influences Sinn Fein policy in Northern Ireland, it would also influence Sinn Fein in government down here.

Last week, Brendan Howlin joined Micheal Martin and Leo Varadkar in rejecting coalition with Sinn Fein, because of the danger of outside influences on Sinn Fein cabinet ministers.

"I think that there are other controlling forces that would cause problems to a party in government - that would cause me anxiety, to be honest with you."

Why don't these forces cause our gullible media the same anxiety? Why are reporters demanding FG, FF and Labour "justify" keeping Sinn Fein out of government - citing the same two facile reasons?

First, they say if Sinn Fein, in government, is good enough for Northern Ireland, it should be good enough for the Republic.

Second, they ask what's the problem with articulate deputies like Pearse Doherty and Eoin O Broin?

Let me begin with four major differences between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland.

First, the Irish Republic is an independent, sovereign State. Northern Ireland is not. It exists under the joint tutelage of London and Dublin, because of its dysfunctional past.

Second, NI is not a normal polity and cannot be used as a democratic yardstick for the Republic, because it was brought about under threat of force.

Third, NI is the only state in Europe - and possibly the world - where coalitions are compulsory. That is, in itself, evidence of the dysfunctional nature of NI's political culture.

Finally, SF ministers at Stormont can only do a limited amount of damage because the secretary of state retains the ultimate right to suspend the Stormont Executive.

That's the kind of safety net needed when dealing with a delinquent party like Sinn Fein - which is only in government because Tony Blair wanted to prevent more IRA London bombs.

But there is no such way to suspend the Irish Government if SF cabinet ministers started tampering with democratic norms to advance its dangerous premature pressure for a united Ireland.

Once SF is in power here, they cannot be moved on until the next election. But there are three bigger reasons to reject giving SF a grip on the Republic.

First Sinn Fein, influenced by the IRA, could not be included in an Irish Government without corrupting the moral life of the country, by giving retrospective sanctions to the IRA terrorist campaign it has never condemned.

Second, the gardai still have open files on several murders perpetrated by Provisional IRA members in this jurisdiction.

These murders include those of Private Patrick Kelly, Brian Stack, Joseph Rafferty, and that of Detective Sgt Jerry McCabe.

In the Jerry McCabe case, a number of fugitives are still at large. Sinn Fein has consistently declined to assist gardai with information on them.

How could Ann McCabe hope to get justice from an Irish Government that included Sinn Fein, a party with members and supporters still sheltering her husband's killers?

Finally, Sinn Fein cabinet members could not be trusted with security matters, especially as many of their former comrades are still active in criminality.

In sum, as soon as an IRA-influenced Sinn Fein enters a future cabinet, this State ceases to function as a proper democracy and becomes a rogue EU state.

Last Tuesday, these problems seemed remote from Sean O'Rourke's mind when he repeatedly pressed Micheal Martin on why he rejected SF in government.

"Ah, seriously, up to now it was because of the shadow of the gunmen. Martin Ferris, Gerry Adams and whether he was, or wasn't, in the IRA. OK, Dessie Ellis is probably still going to be there. But can you honestly say that people like Eoin O Broin, people like Pearse Doherty who has had a stellar performance in Opposition, particularly where he has highlighted the failings of the insurance industry - that they're unfit to be in Cabinet?"

Let me remind O'Rourke that both Eoin O Broin and Pearse Doherty find themselves ducking and dodging on IRA-related questions about the past.

In September 2017, when the Irish Independent pressed Eoin O Broin on whether the IRA murderers of Tom Oliver - a father of seven killed in Co Louth in 1991 - should be prosecuted, O Broin did his best to support Gerry Adams, who was against any prosecution.

After acknowledging the needs of victims "on all sides", Broin added, "But I don't think the peace process benefits from the prosecution of former combatants, be they loyalists, security forces or republicans."

Pearse Doherty also has problems with past loyalties. In November 2013, on The Last Word, he told Matt Cooper he had "no reason to disbelieve" Gerry Adams when the latter said he wasn't in the IRA.

More recently, in November 2018, Pearse Doherty - along with SF deputies Martin Ferris, Dessie Ellis and Sean Crowe - turned up to support John Downey appearing at the High Court in relation to the murder of two UDR soldiers.

But while Micheal Martin puts clear blue water between him and Sinn Fein, some FG ministers still seem to be making eyes at Sinn Fein deputies.

Last Wednesday, on The Tonight Show, Regina Doherty repeated praise for Pearse Doherty and Eoin O Broin she had made earlier on Sean O'Rourke's show.

Doherty said her problem was with SF "policies" rather than moral issues about their "past".

Lisa Chambers, on the panel, flatly said Fianna Fail's problem with Sinn Fein was moral first, policy second, and called out Doherty for trying to have it both ways on Sinn Fein.

"To be fair to Micheal Martin, he's not spouting messages of adoration on the one hand and then taking it away on the other."

Ivan Yates was even more dismissive: "The fact of the matter is that 3,500 Sinn Fein votes are going to decide the last seat in Meath East and you're making a play for transfers. It's as naked and transparent as that."

Sunday Independent


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