Mick rightly highlights the get out of jail success of Gerry Adams and Peter Robinson this year but the dark side of Sinn Fein still lurks. Musing on the WilkiLeaks cables on the Northern Bank robbery and the size of the IRA’s investment portfolio, that scourge of Sinn Fein Ed Moloney wonders what’s happened to it, suitably adjusted for inflation.
Just how much money the IRA has, or had, in that investment portfolio is not disclosed in the WikiLeaks cable, but the last time I spoke to Irish officials about this, in 2007, they estimated the fund probably amounted to some €300m (£255m) – although they conceded this might be a gross understatement of the true figure.
Sinn Fein, according to WikiLeaks, benefited electorally from a property bubble which its partners in the IRA helped to create and from which it gained financially, and will now take to the hustings in the Republic next spring on a platform of indignant, principled opposition to the spending cuts brought about by the very same bubble.
And yet the electoral authorities north and south of the border have never been able to lay a finger on the Sinn Fein leadership for serious discrepancies in election expenses, nor has anyone else over their life styles. Police raids north, south and in Britain and the limited successes of the assets recovery agencies have never led to the top. This of course has worked in the interests of the peace process. Time for a review in this new era of transparency? Has MI5 anything to say about this now? It seems unlikely.
Our thinking on this is deeply conditioned, almost too obvious to spell out . On the one hand, we tend to believe without hard evidence, the extent of republican financial and other skulduggery. We deplore corruption and croneyism at Westminster and Leinster House among conventional politicians and demand transparency. And yet we are fatalistic about the prospects for revealing the truth, if that is what it is, about Sinn Fein’s background. Surely now, when SF may be poised to make significant gains in the Dail is the time to give them equal treatment? Or do the governments lack the hard evidence to back their diplomatic exchanges?
Will Fianna Fail at bay ask tough questions and will some answers leak out during the election campaign? Somehow I doubt it. Many parts of the past are likely to stay buried and this feels like one of them. Laundering money is much easier than concealing bodies forever.
A more transparent example of anomalous Sinn Fein behaviour is pointed out by Maurice Hayes, once the top civil servant at the NI Dept of Health and Social Services.
What will surprise observers south of the Border is the pragmatic ease with which Sinn Fein — who anathematise all cuts in the South and are prepared to picket the Dail and bring masses on to the streets at the mere mention of retrenchment — cannot only accept the loss of jobs and curtailment of public services in the North, but can stand solidly with the DUP in taking credit for having done a good job for the people of Northern Ireland (which, in fairness, they have).
No doubt Gerry Adams will be able to explain this to the electors of Louth when the time comes.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London