3 March 2005 Edition
Mud thrown but none sticking
Following several weeks of the most sustained propaganda offensive against Sinn Féin in many, many years, people North and South are beginning to ask serious questions about the motivations and justifications of those who launched the latest effort at political demonisation.
Two weeks after people in the 26 Counties were solemnly assured by security and media sources here that a link would rapidly be established between money seized in Cork and elsewhere and the Northern Bank raid, we hear only silence.
Two weeks after the same public was assured by the same sources that a direct link between the Sinn Féin party and 'money laundering' would be clearly and devastatingly established, we have the same deafening silence.
The only Sinn Féin member arrested in the recent high profile, made-for-television swoops seems also to be the only one who was arrested in circumstances that did not include the seizure of significant amounts of cash. The former councillor was arrested in perfectly innocent circumstances at his own home. It is now being openly suggested that the only reason for this arrest was so that a 'Sinn Féin angle' could be provided in the story for television screens that night.
The same television screens pumped out pre-arranged shots of Michael McDowell, smiling like a Cheshire cat, jumping ungamely from his car to congratulate Garda top brass on the arrests. The stage managed nature of McDowell's propaganda operation was reminiscent of some South American dictatorship.
More sinister in its intent, though, has been the propagation of paranoid vistas of a republican 'state within a state' in the 26 Counties. This type of guff has been offered up as serious journalism over the past fortnight in the mainstream Irish media.
Some journalists, who on a normal day like to portray themselves as liberals, have actively promoted an appaling Irish form of McCarthyism where people are invited to contemplate the prospect of republican 'sleepers' operating at all levels of society and answering to a secret agenda aimed at attaining political power by undemocratic means.
All of this would indeed be funny were it not for two very serious aspects to the latest assault against an open political party. The first is that there may be very real negative consequences in the everyday lives of real people in the latest atmosphere. Hundreds of thousands of people across this country in all walks of life openly support Sinn Féin and many, many more openly express republican or nationalist opinions. One of the sinister messages being pumped out this week is that such people ought now to be regarded with suspicion, not only by people with different political opinions but by their employers and neighbours. There has been a conscious attempt to criminalise an entire section of the Irish people.
The other serious aspect of the latest events has been the posturing and cynical manoeuvring of the political and media establishment in regard to the foul and brutal murder of Robert McCartney in Belfast. The hypocritical droning of Aine Lawlor on RTÉ's Morning Ireland lecturing Gerry Adams about the people of Short Strand not wishing to "live under the shadow of the gunman" was one of the worst examples. This from the broadcasting institution which did little or nothing over 30 years to expose the fact that the people of Short Strand have constantly lived under the shadow of loyalist and official British gunmen and that but for republicans, the place would have been burned to the ground many times over.
Take for a moment the contrast in approach by establishment politicians and media in the 26 Counties to the people of Belfast's Markets and Short Strand and those from their own social and political hinterland in Dublin 4 in relation to two horrific murders. In both the Annabel's nightclub case and the murder of Robert McCartney, the families of the victims have been put through further distress and pain by the absence of eyewitness statements of what happened. This is despite the fact that in both cases it is known that there were many witnesses who could assist the search for justice. In the case of Belfast, though, Irish Government ministers are jumping up and down lecturing people on their 'patriotic duties' and indeed demonising the people of the Markets and Short Strand. However, in the Annabel's case, which has involved a number of accused men from solidly middle-class backgrounds, no such play is being made whatsoever.
The Dublin Government, chiefly Michael McDowell and opportunist political parties who claim to be the 'opposition' in Leinster House, have thrown a considerable amount of mud in recent weeks. The problem for them now is that none of it is sticking.
The sheer force, venom and over-acting involved in the recent political onslaught is now backfiring on its authors. Divorced as they are from the reality most people on this island inhabit, they have been stumped at the fact that recent opinion polls show Sinn Féin's support holding steady.
The array of crawthumping, Section 31 supporting, political failures who were consigned to the sidelines by the Peace Process have made a pathetic attempt to crawl out from under their various stones in recent weeks. We have seen the re-appearance once again in the Irish Times letters page of 'outraged from Foxrock', demanding flogging and hanging of anyone wearing an Easter Lily.
The difference between now and when these guys were in their heyday is that the rest of Ireland has moved on. A new generation from all classes in the South does not relate to their visceral hatred of all things republican and nationalist.
Sinn Féin too is now a much greater force in Southern politics. It was all fine and dandy throughout the '80s and early '90s spouting to ordinary people in Dublin that republicans had two heads. They can't accept that is the case anymore. They know what Sinn Féiners look like. They vote for them. They are represented by them.
And Sinn Féin has refused to go on the defensive. They know that their job is about seizing initiatives, not battening down hatches. They are refusing also to become internalised because they know that keeping in touch with the people is the way to counter these attacks. Sinn Féin has been out and about in every part of County Meath knocking doors and bringing the party's message to the electorate there.
Republicans have withstood much worse attacks that those of the past few weeks and now we see the tide turning on this latest black propaganda exercise. The people are not stupid. They too see the lack of evidence and they hear the deafening silence. In time, those who launched the latest unfounded attacks on Sinn Féin may rue the fact that they overplayed their hand. The people will give their verdict on them too in the fullness of time.