Sinn Féin's inconvenient truth: why the hard questions will keep coming
On the face of it, Sinn Féin is a highly attractive political alternative for a nation sick to the teeth of establishment politicians.
It has a front bench of young, able and articulate TDs, policies that resonate with voters ground down by austerity, and an energy at grassroots level that's the envy of its electoral rivals.
But Sinn Féin differs fundamentally from its opponents in many other ways, and these differences are far from flattering.
This week's report into paramilitary activity in the North revealed that, unlike every other political party in this state, the 'AC' running Sinn Féin isn't an ard chomhairle - it's an army council.
The puppet masters pulling the strings are the men who directed the IRA's 25-year terror campaign. And, yes, they are all men because no woman ever sat on the army council. Gender equality, quotas, and all the PC platitudes the party embraces apply only to the unimportant stuff.
The men who run Sinn Féin behind the scenes are men of a certain age and disposition. They are not men used to hearing the word 'no'. They are a clique accountable to themselves alone, a clique who for decades have ruled with an iron rod, tolerating not a whiff of dissent.
No wonder a Stalinist discipline prevails in Sinn Fein, with everyone rigorously adhering to the official party line. No wonder that, in his 33 years as party president, Gerry Adams has never once faced a leadership challenge.
Behind the party's democratic façade lies very dark corners. But some ask why anybody on this side of the Border should care? The politics of nimbyism has taken hold. Sure all that sordid stuff occurs up North, it's utterly irrelevant to Sinn Féin down here, we're advised.
IRA members killing Kevin McGuigan, himself an ex-IRA member, is seen as irrelevant to Southern voters. But it's not. Imagine this purely fanciful scenario unfolding next year.
Sinn Féin is part of a coalition government in Leinster House. A prominent party supporter is shot dead in Dublin. Gardaí launch a murder investigation. But senior IRA figures, who double as Sinn Féin members, have their own ideas.
They won't wait on police officers, prosecutions, courts and all that boring business. Their own alternative criminal justice system swings into action. They launch an investigation. They knock on doors, speak to witnesses, and take statements.
Then they assemble, mull over the evidence, and determine that a father-of-nine is 'guilty' and must be executed. He isn't brought in for questioning, allowed a lawyer, or even asked if he has an alibi. He's shot dead like a dog on the street in front of his wife.
Any political party whose associates were connected with such a scenario would be deemed unfit to hold office. Yet that's the sequence of events which played out in Belfast this summer, culminating in the murder of Kevin McGuigan.
This week's security report shows that Sinn Féin is still organically linked to the IRA, and not one that is a harmless old boys' association, but an IRA that will - when it deems necessary - settle scores down the barrel of a gun. This violence can spill into the South. Paul Quinn was beaten to death, not in a Northern republican heartland, but in a farm in Oram, Co Monaghan.
Paul was foolish enough to punch the son of a local IRA commander after a road-rage incident in 2007. What ensued stands in stark contrast to Sinn Féin's pious policies on youth in the community.
The 21-year-old was lured to a barn where a dozen men in black military-style clothing were waiting with iron bars and nail-studded cudgels. His mother Breege is forever haunted by the heart-breaking sight which confronted her in hospital in Drogheda.
"Paul was lying in the bed with a ventilator protruding from his mouth, his eyes half-open," she said. "His head was swollen and there were gashes on his face. His right ear was torn off. Every major bone below his neck was broken. The doctors said nothing could be fixed. I couldn't even join his hands to place a pair of rosary beads in them."
Those who wielded the iron bars and nail-studded cudgels remain within Sinn Féin's embrace. They'll be part of the party's canvassing teams in Border constituencies, Breege says.
Blips and bumps in the road to peace were to be expected in the immediate aftermath of the Troubles. But 21 years after the first IRA ceasefire, and 17 years after the Good Friday Agreement, we have a right to demand better.
Sinn Féin's stock response when allegations of violence and criminality are raised is 'No, nothing to see here, move along please'. To suggest, as the party does, that it's only unionist bigots in the North and propagandists for the establishment parties in the South, who have serious concerns about its credentials, is disingenuous. There's nothing anti-republican about holding Sinn Fein to account.
On Wednesday, the North's DPP ordered a police investigation into Freddie Scappaticci, the former deputy head of IRA internal security, more commonly called the 'nutting squad'. A long-serving British agent known as 'Stakeknife', he is allegedly linked to up to 24 murders.
The British state has always opposed disclosure of its dirty war. But it's not alone. Sinn Féin did everything possible to discredit those trying to expose 'Scap' as a British agent in 2003. Martin McGuinness denounced the "nameless, faceless securocrats" making allegations against an innocent west Belfast man.
Bizarrely, Gerry Adams rebuked journalists who had pursued the story. "The losers were the media folks because, in an unquestioning way, they took a line from faceless people," he declared.
The air of outraged innocence and instinctive cover-up continues in Sinn Féin today. But we cannot let such deceit and duplicity go unchecked. If we are in any way committed to truth-telling, we must keep the uncomfortable questions coming.