3 February 2005 Edition
Arch-reactionaries are Bertie's new admirers
BY Mícheál MacDonncha
The heated exchanges between the Taoiseach and Sinn Féin in the Dáil last week provided a rare flash of steel in the normally dull corridors of Leinster House. Bertie Ahern's string of baseless allegations against Sinn Féin were straight out of the same bag of tricks deployed by the Fianna Fáil Press Office before the EU and local elections last year.
We saw it all in the run up to those elections. So-called 'security correspondents' in the media joined with politicians in the anti-Sinn Féin chorus. Mary Lou McDonald was targeted in a most personal manner. But it did not work.
Mary Lou is now MEP for Dublin. Sinn Féin surged ahead in the local elections and it currently has the support of over 340,000 voters on this island and the figures are growing all the time.
After those elections, there was something of a lull. For a time, Sinn Féin's political opponents concentrated on attempting to pick asunder the party's policies. That had little impact. It was only a matter of time before they came back to the old chorus of 'violence' and 'criminality'. This would have happened whether or not the Northern Bank had been robbed.
Against this background, it was laughable how the media rolled over like puppy dogs in the face of Bertie Ahern's "standing up" to Sinn Féin. They swooned because they were hearing what they wanted to hear. Firstly, the Taoiseach "having a go" at the Shinners, without the restraint of Peace Process negotiations, and secondly Ahern's language, which was devoid of his usual wooliness. But of course, few of them analysed the absurdity of what Ahern actually said.
Republicans in the 26 Counties who have faced Fianna Fáil in elections must have been laughing all the way to their leaflet drops at the Taoiseach's notion that he chose not to fight Sinn Féin. Feigning hurt at the ungrateful Shinners, Bertie lamented:
"If I had wished to fight his political party in a party political way, I certainly would not have done what I have been doing in recent years, such as doing everything possible to bring his party into the centre by ignoring all kinds of things... If I had only been interested in a political fight, I would not have taken those actions... Before we began taking those actions, the Deputy's party was a party with 2% support, but now it has a strong political mandate because people on all sides of this House, from the Labour Party to Fine Gael to Fianna Fáil to the Progressive Democrats to the Green Party, all worked to try to bring Sinn Féin in."
It will come as startling news to Sinn Féin candidates North and South that Fine Gael, Labour and the PDs, along with FF itself, stood aside and let Sinn Féin win seats in Leinster House, Westminster, the Assembly and local councils. Of course, all these did help Sinn Féin in the sense that their anti-republican nonsense and their gross mismanagement of the country created a desire for political change that republicans are mobilising effectively.
Sinn Féin members on the ground see the current attacks on the party as another opportunity to set out our stall and fight back at our opponents. When the party's Dáil leader, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, not only defended the position but threw Ahern's allegations back in his face and exposed their party political nature, he struck a chord with broad republican opinion.
What Ahern really demonstrated was his own lack of respect for that section of the Irish people that supports Sinn Féin. For now, it's a good opportunity for Fianna Fáil to try to eat into Sinn Féin potential for growth. But Ahern is a pragmatic political operator and he knows that when the process gets back on track he will have to tone down his rhetoric once again, swallow his anti-republican bile and get on with the job.
No doubt when we get to that stage, many of Ahern's new admirers, the arch-reactionaries and revisionists (especially in the Sunday Independent) who are trying to stage a comeback, will be disappointed again that he is 'appeasing' the Shinners. At the moment they are in raptures. None more so than failed Fine Gael Dáil candidate Brian Hayes. In the last General Election he lost his seat in Dublin Southwest, where Seán Crowe won a seat for Sinn Féin. Now Hayes sits in the Senate, where last week he welcomed the Government's attacks on Sinn Féin. He said of Michael McDowell's performance on Questions and Answers that he was "cheering him to the rafters".
"When Mr [Mitchel] McLaughlin asked the Minister whether Bobby Sands was a criminal, he did not hesitate because Mr Sands was convicted of a crime. He died on hunger strike but it was his own choice, even though it was a terrible tragedy for him and his family," raved Hayes. "Irish Americans should cop on to themselves and acknowledge their contribution to terrorism in this State over many years," he blurted.
Of course the revisionists have been down this road before and we beat them back. Every day in Leinster House, Senator Hayes passes the portraits of many Irish politicians who were labelled criminal — Eamon de Valera (repeat offender, jailed in England and Ireland), Arthur Griffith (Mountjoy lag, told Lloyd George handing up weapons before talks in 1921 would be 'surrender'), Cathal Brugha (planned to machine gun the British Cabinet in the House of Commons), Michael Collins ('took out' 14 British spies on one morning, price on his head).
Our only advice to little Brian is: "Don't go there."