Sinn Fein’s contradictory stance between moral certitude of the Provisionals and its modern promises to Ireland

In 1997 Ray Burke informed RTE after his hour long session in the Dail that ‘the line is in the sand, from this day on this is D day, I move on’. Within a month he resigned as Minister for Foreign Affairs following an allegation of corruption which led to the setting up of what became the Flood Tribunal.

Burke was jailed for tax fraud in 2004.

By contrast the retribution of the state seems to hold little fear for Sinn Fein, in the sense that it does not by its own lights represent disgrace but can be represented publicly as some form of repression.

The casting of critics as enemies has its origins in the midst of the IRA war against the British.

Attempts to suppress any political representation of the party or of the political thinking behind IRA military actions were widespread and invasive in both jurisdictions.

What the liberal press (or indeed liberal bloggers) might have to say about internal house keeping matters has never particularly worried the faithful.

Indeed there is ample evidence that criticism from these quarters serves to motivate activists to engage more robustly with the electorate.

However we’re heading into week three of the Mairia Cahill story, which despite its unpromising prognosis may be an indication that the story is not going away anytime soon. Thus far Sinn Fein have made several attempts to draw a proverbial line in the sand. And yet the tide presses forward.

One of the most acute observations of the last week comes from the writer Martina Devlin. Despite writing a column for the much hated Irish Independent Ms Devlin is most certainly not one of the usual Provo hating suspects:

Sinn Fein has lost its deft touch and is stalled at a crossroads – left there by a woman who has toppled the republican tradition’s sacred cow of silence.

Mairia Cahill is eloquent, believable and utterly determined. Exactly the sort of woman, in fact, that Sinn Fein normally would run for office.

She is forcing it to confront its past – something the party steadfastly avoids, if it can. Yet if Sinn Fein wants to be considered seriously by voters as a potential party of government, its past cannot be wrapped in prevarications.

This is precisely marks the real problem Sinn Fein now faces.

Ironically the military discipline which underpinned the IRAs long war of attrition against the British state in Ireland was in part inculcated into the younger generation of Adams and McGuinness by ‘old soldiers’ like Joe Cahill.

Cahill was at least as responsible and probably more so than Adams for the hard edge of the Provisional’s first onslaughts. And he was one Adams’ most ardent supporters through the various splits within the movement right up to the decision to go on ceasefire in 1994.

But after 75/6 Adams became one of the critical architects of the long war strategy. Critical to that became the need to strengthen the moral framework within which IRA volunteers would operate. One of the key lines from the Green Book (attributed by some to Adams and Seamus Twomey), provided it:

The Irish Republican Army, as the legal representatives of the Irish people, are morally justified in carrying out a campaign of resistance against foreign occupation forces and domestic collaborators. All volunteers are and must feel morally justified in carrying out the dictates of the legal government; they as the Army are the legal and lawful Army of the Irish Republic which has been forced underground by overwhelming forces.[emphasis added]

Contrary to common myth very few IRA volunteers were actual psychopaths. Most were ordinary men and women who opted into the Fenian tradition of physical force tradition of Irish Republicanism.

The core purpose of the Green Book therefore was to provide a legitimising psychological structure and moral authority to volunteers send out to kill or maim often at very close quarters.

After the IRA’s first act of decommissioning in April 2002, Phil Mac Giolla Bhain noted in the Magill Annual of that year how it marked a departure between old and new discourses:

The recent decommissioning event has caused a creeping moral ambivalence to seep into the belief system of IRA volunteers. This is no small matter. The Garda special branch approached social scientists in Maynooth in the 1980s with a simple question: “How do we beat the IRA?” The answer was simple: “Destroy their belief system.”

One of the main casualties for the republican movement in entering this process was the belief system that equipped volunteers to sustain their operational effectiveness as much as did the guns. The ‘event’ now opens the door guarding that moral certitude slightly. Doubt may creep into those who spent their youth preoccupied with the guns and their deadly use.

All of which works pretty well, whilst: one, the war remains ongoing; and two, the IRA remains dealing with hard core security related issues. In fact this is pretty much the position of the old IRA during the war of independence. What complicates matters for the Provisionals is their chosen long war scenario.

Denying civilians access to the statutory authorities in the relative short term of the earlier troubles is one thing. Denying it for a generation forced the modern IRA into a social task which as Adams has rather belated admitted for which it was ill-equipped.

This relates to a point dealt with a slightly more abstract way made by Gladys in her 2008 tome Evangelicalism and Conflict in Northern Ireland:


Evangelicalism and Conflict in Northern Ireland – Gladys Ganiel

Sinn Fein is somewhere between no change and some change. Although as noted in The Irish Times Inside Politics podcast this week, it’s not something the party themselves are inclined to share with political journalists.

So Martin McGuinness, with a public profile to protect, says he believes Mairia Cahill was raped, whilst Seamus Finucane (occupying a similarly senior but private position within the party) makes it clear he does not share the deputy First Minister’s public view.

In this matter, it is the military voice which carries the internal authority. Almost all the party’s public statements on the matter have sought to brand Cahill rather than Adams as the liar between two irreconcilable accounts.

It all adds up to a disconnected ragbag of responses designed to try and see the story out until such times as it definatively goes away. In the meantime, journalists are being repelled with the proverbial wall of silence.

One of the oddest stories of the week sought to brand Joe Cahill as an abuser in the London edition of the Daily Mirror.  It’s not one which took hold in Ireland north or south. But in a week where Westminster declined to wrap Kincora into the more powerful Woolf Inquiry, it was an odd incursion into the fray.

Unlike Burke’s Fianna Fail, in this case the IRA and its Green Book ethic remains in charge. There is little chance that the new generation will rebel. The idea that Mary Lou harbours a serious ambition to take over from Gerry is challenged by her utter fealty to him in what are by her own principles are indefensible circumstances.

As Dan O’Brien noted last Sunday, Sinn Fein’s political culture owes a lot to the length of its long war in Northern Ireland:

Being at war requires, perforce, the nurturing of military values and practices ­- obedience, secrecy, suspicion and summary justice. These are the exact opposite of the values and practices that make for high-quality democracy ­ – the questioning of authority, transparency, trust and the rule of law.

The North’s long war lasted from the late 1960s into this century. Two generations went from youth to middle age knowing nothing else. That deeply embedded a martial culture in the republican movement. It is far from clear that that has changed a great deal.

If you believe her account Mairia Cahill’s rights as a woman came nowhere next to an IRA’s volunteer’s right to carry on ‘the dictates of the legal government’. Dictates which had no provisions for rights of victims. In this case the victim in the eyes of the Provisionals had zero rights, nor will she in perpetuity so far as they are concerned.

Not that those actions don’t have serious contemporary consequences for the Republic. But like the Catholic Church denying its own culpability in spreading the problem by shipping offending priests out of the parish Sinn Fein plainly resents external interference in what it regards as its own and no one else’s affairs.

We just don’t know who these abusers are, whom they’ve abused or whether or not they comprise another Father Brendan Smyth. It’s also important to note that the Church back then had hit its heights, and was already in decline. By contrast Sinn Fein is rising in popularity and will not willingly concede anything to history.

Martina Devlin again…

[Sinn Fein] now accepts that she was abused but denies the cover-up – a shift in position. When you’re telling the truth your position doesn’t alter. Confirmed Sinn Fein supporters may well dismiss Mairia Cahill’s testimony, but anti-austerity voters inclining towards the party will have second thoughts.

Especially if more victims emerge. I have no doubt there are other women with reservations about how they were dealt with by the republican leadership when they made complaints.

Machiavelli noted that “a prince, so long as he keeps his subjects united and loyal, ought not to mind the reproach of cruelty”. And cruelty is a good word for what the movement has subjected Ms Cahill to in the last week.

Much as it may shock an Irish media become accustomed to think otherwise, the party we call Sinn Fein today is a creature wrought from the Provisionals not the other way round. Dominant within the movement since the mid 1970s Mr Adams did not get to where he is today by being kind to children and small animals.

Two things strike me about this episode. One is just how all over the place the party has been in its response. And two, just how strange the man who has been at the head of the party might actually be if Ms Cahill’s recounting of her meeting with him is in the least bit reliable.

Ms Cahill’s demand remains a simple one to Gerry Adams: to tell the truth. That appears to be the one thing Mr Adams cannot give her, or indeed anyone else caught up in the nightmare of child sexual abuse. Which, if this ‘operation’ proves to be a more successful line in the sand than Burke’s, will still not be a great a result for anyone.

In those immortal words, “Houston, we have a problem…”

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  • Johnny Irish

    The truth needs told by all.
    Maria needs to explain how the IRA became involved.
    This happened because she approached them. What did she want them to do with the alleged abuser?
    All organisations, armies etc treat sexual inappropriateness the same . They try to get rid of it. Be this the catholic church, IRA, British army, political party’s.
    Its how things were done before the new understandibg and appreciation of victim’s rights!!

  • mickfealty

    To my knowledge that’s not what she’s ever said Johnny..

  • Johnny Irish

    Mairia reported the abuse to Cuman na Ban. It is obvious they would report the matter to the IRA. Actually, it would have been imperative for them to do so.
    Perhaps she was just naive but what did she want cuman na ban to do about the allegations ??

  • Michael-Henry Mcivor

    The British army carries out internal courts for British army rapists and suspected rapists- the British army has got a long history of allowing rapists back into its ranks-the British army is happy with sex offenders in its ranks-

  • Johnny Irish

    Its not just the British army MH. Its most , if not all large organisations historically. BBC who made the programme were guilty of covering up allegations against their presenters in former decades. Culminating in the Saville saga.
    Political party’s in the North and South who have eagerly jumped into bed with this woman and exploited her should look in their own closets and see how they dealt with such allegations in the past !
    I believe that what Mairia said happened to her did happen.
    Its her motivation I suspect and the timing of this issue. There will be an early election for the N of I assembly as the DUP and SF have given up. Elections are also in the near future south of our enforeced border..
    Timely for the opponents , afraid of the rise of SF in working class areas of Ireland to exhibit feigned disgust.
    They have no interest in this womans plight just how much they can discredit SF.

  • mickfealty

    If we are to be scrupulously fair and accurate about it, you might say that CnB were informed of it via a private conversation with a member. Not quite the same as ‘reporting’ it…

  • mickfealty

    Not what Mary Lou’s been saying about the Church:

    We demand of the church or any other private institution that they respect the laws of the land @MaryLouMcDonald on sheltering abusers(2011)— Irish Pol Quotes (@IrishPolQuotes) October 23, 2014

    There’s an unresolved tension here between SF’s prescription for everyone else in Ireland and what it will accept for itself…

  • Brian Walker

    How impressed is the wider public with any of this? Standing
    back for a moment, In the south the long war is accepted as a regrettable but
    perhaps necessary evil that directly touched only a minority “down here” and only
    marginally affected the domestic political agenda. And anyway it’s over sure it is. “Sinn Fein” has of course a much longer provenance than what was really a new insurgent Northern dominated movement in 1969-70 with only ritual links to the old prophets in smoky back rooms in places such as Ton St, Maghera, Ballinamore, Gardiner Place and Tralee. The split defined the change. Despite the northern new departure of that time, throughout the island it’s clear that the Troubles have not irretrievably tarnished the old appeal of freedom struggle and brief nationalist unity achieved under the Sinn Fein label from 1917 which led to the foundation of the independent state. This gives it a platform of historical legitimacy.

    Yet despite the insistent tradition of continuity, it’s surely better to think of Sinn Fein as a label, or as we say these days, a convenient “brand” representing yet another new departure,on which to hang militant populism with a flavour of fundamentalist nationalism. The financial crisis and the collapse of Fianna Fail was a great gift and the continuing disillusion with the politics of government which is not unique to Ireland is another bonus.

    How much better today to call yourself Sinn Fein than fly by nights like the Clann na Poblachta of the 1940s when the main parties were still so sensitive to the fact that they were the bitterly divided successors of the Sinn Fein split of 1922 and the brand remained unattractive for a couple of generations. But after 1969, the careful avoidance of a serious challenge to the southern state and the toleration of the “southern bolthole” by the majority made the adoption of a distinct southern political strategy called Sinn Fein viable again as a marginal movement with hopes of more. To some perhaps many, the brand today offers a sense of direction out of the confusion and complexity for which parties in government bear responsibility. Sinn Fein is able to behave as parties of opposition usually do, to advocate courses they know will never be adopted even by themselves, should they win a share of power. To adapt Danny Morrison, they can only do this once . If they gain office they will acquire responsibility and a record.

    The parallels with the Catholic Church over abuse are intriguing. The Church’s Irish leader was allowed to depart with dignity and while the organisation
    is certainly undergoing quiet transformation, the last time I looked, it seems pretty
    intact and not exactly over –repentant.

  • Jag

    The GA speech in Belfast this morning has now been published

    Don’t think it draws a line under the episode or adds any new dimension to the events of the last fortnight (and it really is 14 days since the BBC programme was previewed). MLM, Pearse Doherty and Martin McGuinness were part of the united front this morning.

    I think SFers are still digging, for example GA says

    “The Taoiseach has claimed that sexual abusers were ‘moved’ – his words, not mine – to “Dublin, Donegal, Louth”.”

    No, Gerry, your word was “expelled” and you haven’t filled in the blanks as to where they’ve been moved to, how many were expelled, whether or not they were monitored or God forbid, they re-offended. Meanwhile you cross your arms, tut tut that it was wrong, issue generalised and meaningless apologia, call for others to bring matters to the authorities, but your position to critics is “prove it”.

    Never mind, the media, including the Irish News is doing the job for you.

  • Michael-Henry Mcivor

    In that speech Gerry Adams told the Taoiseach to go to the Garda with all the information that he says he has- If he does not does that mean that Kenny is On The Run from the truth-

  • Johnny Irish

    Not what was meant and you well know it !!
    Mairia has been used by politicians of such extremities from each other and from her own political views.
    The only common denominator is that they all have a self serving interest in the demise of SF !!
    I would not trust any of them to have a sincere care for mairia’s wellbeing

  • Johnny Irish

    And in fairness neither you nor I were there Mick!
    Mairia came from a republican environment. She chose to confide/re[port her allegations to two women she knew to be CnB.
    She would have known that such people are duty bound to report the allegations to the IRA.
    What did she wish them to do with these disclosures ?
    She needs to clarify this. indeed she needsto be asked about it.
    Mairia’s motivations arouse my suspicions. Nothing else.
    I believe the woman !!
    She deserves proper justice as do all other victimised people!!

  • Dixie Elliott

    I see the shinners are moving in a new direction….Over on Jude Collins’ blog someone called Alex claimed that Mairia Cahill left SF in 2004 because of their endorsement of policing structures. Yet Alex seems not to realise that SF didn’t support the PSNI until 2007.

  • Dixie Elliott

    “Mairia’s motivations arouse my suspicions. Nothing else.I believe the woman !!”

    Mmmm How can you be suspicious of someone if you believe them? Are you really Alex from Jude Collins’ part of the World Wide Web?

  • Dixie Elliott

    I seen comparisions made between SF and the Catholic Church in regards to the cover up of rape and abuse however the Catholic Church didn’t set out in what is an obvious campaign of smear and innuendo against their victims which clearly is the case in regards to SF….

  • Dixie Elliott

    From todays Sunday Life…

    “Provo F is a relative of a senior Sinn Fein figure in the North West who is alleged to have paid off two of his female victims. Sources say an attempt to pay off a third male victim was rejected and this man has now made an official complaint to the PSNI…”

    This story has been doing the rounds for a few years now and it was only a matter of time before it broke.

  • Michael-Henry Mcivor

    Provo F- the Sunday life -Lol-

    Any date for the trail or did the secret source not know-

  • Robin Keogh

    How do you k now that GA would have full details of who was moved to where?

  • babyface finlayson

    There is no reason to suppose the Taoiseach has not passed on the information he has.

  • Dixie Elliott

    You really are a buffon if you haven’t yet realised that the Mairia Cahill case and others like Martin Meehans daughter started out as victims who at the time remained anonymous.

    Then again you have no problems with a rape case being heard in a Diplock Court….

  • Michael-Henry Mcivor

    Is the date of that trial going to be kept secret as well Dixie-most of these reporters sit on their arse in a hotel writing out yarn after yarn-a date would prove if this is a bar yarn or not-

  • Dixie Elliott

    Stop talking crap and start answering me do you accept Diplock Courts yes or no?

  • Robin Keogh

    It is perfectly reasonable to cast your critics as enemies when some of those critics deliberately lie in order to destroy you. The SF message of social democracy is getting through to the electorate, their opponents cant beat them fair and square so they resort to unsubstantiated allegations and historucal assumptions. It is this that galvanises SF activists and it is also this type of behaviour that is leading a section of the electorate to believe quite rightly that the traditional parties are terrified of SF in Gov, nothing to do with the past but everything to do with losing their power and influence which they have used for decades to swindle the Irish people leading to the almost total destruction of the economy.

    The tide will always push forward when something or someone causes a powerful tsunami. I am not referring to Miss Cahil, I refer to the personnel at independent news and media who’s collective sense of integrity is at best questionable and at worst deliberately subversive. 26 anti SF articles today, 26. Not even in the worst days of the Catholic Church abuse controversies did the Sindo manage to fire so many dud missiles, and they have yet to publish a poll, which is pretty incredible considering most other papers managed it this week. Mind you, maybe they need a bit longer to rig it, we might get it next weekend. This is not the cry of an abused shinner, this is analysis based on considered opinion. The level of hatred the Sindo hols for Adams and SF is unparrelled in print media history, it exagerates sensationalises, and blatantly prints shrouded lies in its efforts to pull the party apart. Moreover it actively practises censorship whereby it refuses to publish letters from the public that openly disagree with their position on SF and Adams.We all know as a fact of life that selfish interests can have huge influence over governments and big business, they can and do manipulate for their own ends in every corner of the globe in every realm of the social world. In Ireland, Independent news and media are the archetypal model of twisted reporting, extreme bias and outright hostility; not for the good of the people but to suit their own selfish goals.

    Week three of the Cahill circus will just be a continuation of the same accusations, with demands for answers that even if they come will never be accepted. SF’s politcal and media opponents on issues such as Cahlil and the IRA etc will except nothing more from GA than information that will garauntee either his arrest and imprisonment or his politcal destruction. Thats the goal, thats the plan, thats the ultimate end… nothing less. That was the goal with the McConville saga recently that went on far longer than three weeks; it failed and if we are lucky this latest escapade will fall flat too.

    Of course SF are changing. They are evolving from a party that was wrapped up in conflict to a serious political challenger in a time of peace. A portion of the party are connected to that black time but a far greater portion are pushing forward with the promise of social democracy and progressive policies including equality and politcal acountability in public service. Efforts to drive a wedge will fail simply because the newbies accept the past as an issue that may never be resolved while at the same time believe that SF offer hope for the future on all levels political and social. This is a perfectly reasonable position for an individual to occupy. Moreover, it goes to the heart of contemporary politics in almost all democracies that people who were once revolutionaries can and do move into responsible politics. The negotiations leading to good Friday and Saint Andrews were structured to ensure that all combatants in the conflict could move into a normal functioning polity and play their part in that construction. It can not be a surprise to any reasonable person that loyalists and republicans operated self policing and self moderating in the past. It can also not be a surprise that crimes such as Maria has described including other offenses including mild to serious anti-social behaviour would have occured within those societies without the proper judicial structures to deal with them adequetely. Whether one believes this behaviour was justifiable or not at the time of the conflict and in the years immediately following its end, it is ridiculous to suggest that GA alone can provide full and accurate information in all and every case.

    What other modern politcal society will without question believe an accuser, unconditionally accept allegations that have failed in the courts and mobilise an hysteric bias the way the Irish media and political establishment have done. This isent to state that Maria is not being truthful, but it goes right to the core of the real motivations of our political and media elite. The reality is that our judicial procedures simply do not operate in this way and suggestng that the IRA’s so called Kangaroo courts somehow justify the vultures in their denial of due process to Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein is simply crass, irresponsible and manifests the deep hatred that many feel toward the republican community. This hatred will not destablise SF it will only serve to polarise politics further and weaken the integrity of Irish democracy. SF’s acceptance of Maria’s claims regarding her rape are right and proper givin the firewall of unconditional acceptance that was immediately erected by the media and politicians as soon as the story broke. However, in relation to the kangaroo court and other aspects of the saga, no person can adjudicate on that given the contrasting stories between maria and those who have been accused other than a court of law, which I hope will eventually answer all these questions to everybodys satisfaction particularly Maria herself.

    “I’ll take Maria Cahill’s word anyday over the hands or the heads of people like you and your organisation” Thats a quote from the week in politics today and it shows that as far as Fianna Fail are concerned, the actual truth matters not a jot. The job is Get the Shinners, or more accurately Get Gerry Adams; any which way we can, it doesnt matter, just destroy them. It will fail, not because SF might be politically savvy enough to make it over the line and form a successful popular government, we wont know that for a while yet. It will fail because it is a fundamentally flawed premise upon which to build a credible and effective machine to stop your opponent. Hate eventually failed in the conflict and it will fail in politics too.

  • Robin Keogh

    So many commentators have been twisting the truth and manipulating statements to fit their own narrative and with respect Mick you are doing it yourself here. SF have called for people with info to come forward and for those accused to face the juducial process. Which is exactly the same as what MLM has said regarding the church in your qutoted tweet above. There is not one shred of evidence that SF as an institution has as a matter of policy attempted to cover up abuse or shelter abusers, The flawed decisions individuals might make are not proof of institutional wrong doing, no more than your shrouded untruths should be used to implicate other slugger headline contributors (who genuinely try to stick to the truth) as equally morally disfunctional.

  • Robin Keogh

    The date on that blog is incorrect. Its commonly known that Mairia left the republican movement in 2006 in protest at SF acceptance of policing arrangements. Dixie, if you really want to get to the bottom of IRA activities its important to try question people who were clearly part of the broader republican family and had easy access to senior republican members. With that in mind maybe start with Mairia herself.

  • Robin Keogh

    How is it smear to accept the claims of a rape victim about her abuse? The questions over other parts of her account are relevent when one considers the rights of those accused to have their side of the story heard. Choosing who to believe based on the evidence and the results of a trial is not smear its simply logic.