“Martin’s uncompromising criticism of Sinn Fein put it up to the other parties to respond…”

In case you missed it, I got a mention (€) in yesterday’s Irish edition of The Sunday Times by Sarah McInerney:

“Fianna Fail has spent the past three or four years building a political presence in the north, consistently critiquing Sinn Fein on the justice issue,” he said. “It’s a long game plan. Martin has been trying to build a narrative bridge between the north and south so whenever things go wrong in the north, he’s there, and he can take that material and chuck it at the Shinners in the south.

“Fianna Fail will use it on the doorsteps, saying to people, ‘This is really what Sinn Fein is all about’ — turf wars, drugs money, the IRA, all of that dirty stuff that might affect people in working-class Dublin areas and might give them pause to think about who these nice shiny new Sinn Fein councillors and TDs actually are, and who they’re attached to.”

Martin’s uncompromising criticism of Sinn Fein put it up to the other parties to respond. On Monday evening, Labour leader Joan Burton said the IRA was “an insidious threat . . . to the whole of this island”.

On Tuesday, Fitzgerald did an about-turn. In a lengthy statement, she said she had asked the garda commissioner to conduct a “fresh assessment” on the status of the IRA. “There is no doubt that people who have been associated with PIRA have been — and continue to be — involved in the most serious crime and neither Gerry Adams nor Sinn Fein can wash their hands of responsibility for that,” she said.

“What steps does Sinn Fein take to ensure that they do not benefit in any way from the proceeds of crime? Will he apologise for the fact that people who PIRA trained to kill may be continuing to do so in whatever capacity? And will he explain what parts of smuggling and money laundering ever honoured the legacy of 1916 which his party wish to hijack?”

The justice minister spent most of Tuesday afternoon doing the rounds of TV and radio interviews, attacking Sinn Fein. Some in the party admitted to being a little uncomfortable at the optics. “It was all a bit cack-handed,” said one senior Fine Gael figure. “Frances has been good up to now, but this was not good. She was caught on the back foot, and everyone could see it.”

Fealty said Fine Gael’s relative inexperience in dealing with Northern Irish issues was revealed last week. “This has caught them totally off guard,” he said. “The government hasn’t given a lot of thought to Northern Ireland. Resources in the Department of Foreign Affairs have been taken away from the north and redeployed to Europe. That has been their priority, and understandably so, but now we’re seeing they’re exposed on this issue.”

Sinn Fein was also exposed. On Wednesday, former justice minister Michael McDowell said the Irish and British governments allowed the IRA to continue as an “unarmed and withering husk” after it officially disarmed in 2005.

Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern confirmed this the following day. Sinn Fein’s claim that there is no longer an IRA structure, even one without any military purpose, was looking increasingly incredible.

Still, Adams stuck by it. “I don’t agree with the PSNI chief constable’s claim that the IRA exists — even in the benign way he paints it,” he said in a statement on Wednesday. “There is nothing more Sinn Fein can do.” On this last point, the Sinn Fein president might be right. Short of announcing that the IRA does, in fact, still exist, there are “very few plays left” for Adams, said Fealty.

“His best hope is the rope-a-dope strategy,” he said, referring to a boxing tactic used by Muhammad Ali against George Foreman in 1974, in which Ali allowed himself to be pummelled on the ropes by his opponent until Foreman was exhausted — at which point Ali came out fighting, and won. “I think all Adams can do now is put the gloves up,” said Fealty.

This is what Adams has done during his tenure as a Dail deputy, when he was hit with sex abuse claims involving the IRA, one involving his own brother. Thus far, it’s worked. Sinn Fein has proven largely immune to levels of negative publicity that would have destroyed other parties.

So how much will it suffer if the Northern Irish assembly collapses? In the wake of Hamilton’s comments, Mike Nesbitt, leader of the Ulster Unionist party (UUP), stormed down the steps in Stormont to make a “significant announcement”. The news that the IRA still existed, with a command structure, had “shattered trust”, he said, and the UUP intended pulling out of the executive.

The assembly can survive without the UUP, but the party’s stance puts huge pressure on the Democratic Unionist party (DUP) to take an equally unforgiving approach. DUP leader Peter Robinson is due to meet British prime minister David Cameron to discuss the issue “very soon”.

Fealty said there is an inevitability to the outcome, however. “If you look at what Robinson has been saying in the past few months, warning about Stormont collapsing, it’s clear that’s where it was going because both Sinn Fein and the DUP wanted out,” he said.

“But, until now, Robinson was comfortable in the knowledge that he would be controlling the crash. Now, Nesbitt has grabbed the steering wheel, and Robinson is no longer in charge. Robinson will slow down time, as he always does, but the UUP’s exit means the end will come somewhere between the middle and the end of the month.”

In the absence of the Northern Irish assembly, direct rule will return and the UK government will put in a raft of controversial budget cuts — which Sinn Fein has been opposing — wreaking hardship on northern citizens.

Perhaps, Sinn Fein is not too worried. “If you were to be cynical about all this, the collapse actually suits Sinn Fein,” said Fealty. “If there’s nothing to do in the north except a bit of backroom negotiations, that gives Sinn Fein the chance to concentrate all their efforts on the election down here.

“They’re already shipping some [Almost all? – Ed] of their talent down south. I’m not saying they masterminded this whole thing, I don’t think they did. But it could work out quite well for them, in the end. [Comment added]”

(I am, mostly, still on holiday so try to, mostly, play the ball rather than the man, whilst I’m gone?)

  • the rich get richer

    Michael Martin and Fianna Fail would be expert in locating/dealing and appropriating dodgy money.

  • Jag

    “What steps does Sinn Fein take to ensure that they do not benefit in any way from the proceeds of crime? ” says FG’s Frances Fitzgerald. Did anyone think to ask Frances if she ever assaults her husband.

    Southern politicians have overplayed their hands on SF this past week. Of course SF deserves a battering for the killing of Kevin McGuigan, if for no other reason that next time a kill/no-kill decision arises within PIRA, they think on and reflect on the consequences this time round. But the principal dimension of the political attacks in the South is SF’s prospects in the forthcoming election.

    As for Sarah Mc, how rich it is of her to write about how Southerners are basically ignorant over the goings-on in Northern Ireland. She herself is so ignorant that she needs rely on Mick’s analysis to carry the above report. Is it any wonder her newspaper has lost 10% circulation in the past year.

  • mickfealty

    The term ‘amateurs’ comes to mind…

  • Zig70

    FF presence? What presence? Where are they? Did they open an office? I read a better analysis in the business post which seemed to suggest the sos put her foot in it, maybe to get away from this hole or maybe to give her something interesting to do. The amount of print in the south about us is significant. Really all of this FF negativity can be batted back with a combination of ‘what did you do during the war?’ ran some rusty guns over the border, so they actually agreed with armed insurrection? Also, what did FF do with their militia post agreement? Same thing? What would the ‘republican party’ do now? Negatives don’t make a good leader to me.

  • Gingray

    Mick I was surprised you didn’t make it onto Inside Politics given that they had an entire pod dedicated to this.

    Martin at least is consistent in his attacks on Sinn Fein – the rest tho is reactive with one eye on next year’s elections. Can’t see it hurting them too much. You mention shipping their talent down south, and not for the first time, who do you mean? Can you name names?

    The uup play is an easy win, Stormont would have collapsed anyways but they have vote winner in the Unionist community if there is an election. If we have direct rule, it’s cost them nothing.

  • Pasty2012

    Mr Martin will however have to answer the Questions as to Why he is so cosy with the Unionists for his own Political opportunity. He seems to believe like the DUP and UUP that no one will notice that they are themselves in very close relationships with Unionist Terrorists in order to push parades through Nationalist Areas, does he really believe the electorate in the South are so stupid that they will not see through his actions.

    Mr Robinson has stated””In the coming days, we will hold fast to the fundamental principle that those who are in government in Northern Ireland cannot also be involved with those who engage in paramilitary and criminal activity,” he said.

    Note Mr Robinsons “”that those who are in government in Northern Ireland cannot also be involved with those who engage in paramilitary and criminal activity,” Yet every day the DUP Ministers and Councillor’s take part in Meetings with the UDA and UVF who have Murdered people continuous and who have yet to Decommission any weapons.
    The DUP and UUP position and the support they receive from the likes of Martin can be seen for what they are Hypocritical.

  • Robin Keogh

    It is crucially important for FF to find anything it can to distract the Southern electorate and it is most necessarry for MM because his career hinges on the outcome of the next GE. He and FF have adopted a direct action policy regarding competition from SF, hence the constant deliberately incorrect statements. The UUP/DUP but more especially the TUV are as cosy to loyalist terrorists as anybody could be but not a word from the Dublin 4 doyens terrified of the SF advance. They absolutely ignore statements from the SOS, PSNI and the Gardai that Sinn Fein have no links to the current criminal idiots causing mayhem on the streets. It is an intentional policy to manipulate awful murders for selfish political gain which might badly backfire come polling day.

  • barnshee

    There are no” parades through Nationalist Areas,” Twadell is a road with Prods on one side and Nationalists on the other Its a “no prods passing the end of my street protest”

  • Croiteir

    They opened an office in Crossmaglen Zig – don’t know if it is still there as the funding for it would be a drain on a party which never seems to get involved on the ground. This is just a joke. They are the epitome of the hurler on the ditch at best. I see them as cynically using the death of people in the north for electoral purposes vampires sucking up tragedy for their own sustenance. The duplicity is repulsive.

  • Croiteir

    Just a question Mick – with two members of your team inextricably linked to FF is there a sub plot to all the posts recently that seem to be bigging up MM? I ask in the interest of transparency?

  • Zig70

    Did that not close again? It wouldn’t take much to run candidates in the upcoming assembly elections. They are going to get panned anyway first time out. It would give Martin a much needed ability to say he was doing something constructive rather than sniping. The big risk of his current strategy is that he may have annoyed any potential northern voters by the time they get it together.

  • mickfealty

    No. But i have been tracking Martin very closely over the last three years on this matter. It’s fag to get good content on NI politics which is not processed to hell by party hacks and managers. It doesn’t help that we have to guess at the domestic arrangements between the house sharing couple at Stormont.

    It strikes me as fresh, clear and (for me at least) goes straight to the heart of the matter.

    As for Johnny and David, I think if you find any bias in favour FF in any of their out put, here or in the wider media, I would love to see it!! I suspect I’m far more guilty of that than they are.

  • mickfealty

    Ah, yacannot play every week. But thanks for the heads up, I’ll look back. I’m sort of on hols and mostly eavesdropping during the week.

  • mickfealty

    In the actual interview, I did made a clear distinction between political presence and electoral presence. Not doubt for sound reasons of concision Sarah didn’t transmit that distinction. I also noted that if the institutions collapse for a long time, 2019 will be the next elections. How spooky is that?

    Who’d have thunk it, eh? http://goo.gl/ACgLA5

  • chrisjones2

    “The assembly can survive without the UUP”

    It doesnt have to. They are pulling out of the Executive not the Assembly

  • chrisjones2

    “through Nationalist Areas”

    many of them are shared areas

  • the rich get richer

    Is that like Gaa managers are amateurs ? ?

  • chrisjones2

    “It is crucially important for” SF “to find anything it can to distract the Southern electorate “from the IRAs involvement in murder and in depositing carcinogenic and mutagenic chemicals in the water supply from its huge fuel laundering operations

    I am sure it was mistake that you missed out that bit

    Now Robin – we know you are opposed to charging for water but are you opposed to poisoning it and covering up the IRAs role in this?

  • mickfealty

    That’s very good question, and I would love to hear an answer to it without someone getting cut on the barbarish axiom by which it is formulated.

    In a sense FF are insulated from any direct sectarian pressure by not having reps in NI. This gives them the luxury of making arguments based on an ‘equality before the law’ arguments that might be more difficult for SF or even the SDLP MLAs to do in such a pure way.

    The discourse which is presently dominant prefers not to talk about such problems as though they did not exist because they seem so intractable. The question is would FF be so free with council and Assembly seats to defend.

    I’m not sure. But the truth is they may not be able to until 2019, and not just because that’s when Martin says they are coming north. If the DUP and SF let the Assembly crash over the budget, that may actually be the first opp they have to get north.

  • mickfealty

    I’m watching you Chris…

  • Croiteir

    I suspect so too,vis-a-vis favour for FF, which prompted the question, I also have been following the FF and the north story and have come to a different conclusion than you seem to have done.

  • Brian Walker

    Mick. I’m not sure that ,” the collapse actually suits Sinn Fein,” said Fealty. “If there’s nothing to do in the north except a bit of backroom negotiations, that gives Sinn Fein the chance to concentrate all their efforts on the election down here”

    Pressure from all other parties – including the two governments – however opportunistic would surely be bound to have an effect. This time the Brits and unionists would not depicted as being be on one side and pan-nationalism on the other,as it was in the beginning,If Sinn Fein were not competent enough to keep their their place in government in the north why should they be trusted with a place on the south? I think that would play.

    It might of course be be different if they could manage to palm the whole thing off on unionism.

    Much depends on the DUP keeping discipline, not rushing things and presenting a reasoned limited case to the two governments, built around a revived IMC. The two governments would then have to state what sort of response to its findings would be required from Sinn Fein and whether Sinn Fein would be prepared to play ball. This is I think substantially new territory.

    The agenda will doubtless be widened to include the money , as Brian Feeny argues today in the Irish Times

    http://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/british-and-irish-governments-should-focus-on-ira-s-400-million-global-assets-1.2332550

    No, I think l the squeeze on Sinn Fein is real this time and should be applied steadily and with minimum histrionics,, leaving them room for them to respond.

  • mjh

    “….the UUP’s exit means the end will come somewhere between the middle and the end of the month…”

    Does Peter Robinson really intend to leave the political stage dancing a jig to Mike Nesbitt’s tune?

  • Kevin Breslin

    These issues distract the electorate anyway, Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil will argue about them, and any swing voter pondering their choice between the two will see nothing positive coming from either.

    Whataboutery about loyalists and the unionists and the Secretary of State doesn’t mean much to an electorate who know even if Sinn Féin were to get senior roles in government they will not have any say over what loyalist communities do in the North or what the British government does about them either.

  • Kevin Breslin

    The SDLP approach to “equality before the law” attracts attention for doing the wrong thing.

    Demanding for example Dolores Price should be put on trial rather than detained is something that requires “equality before the law” but are usually seen as a sectarian defense by the other side. Putting Dolores on trial like anyone else hurt no one but the dissidents who’d use her internment for propaganda purposes.

    Indeed the perception that opposing internment is sectarian dates back to the civil rights movement and “self hating Protestants” like Austin Currie who get films made about them.

    Demanding Equality before the law when it comes to internment is viewed simply a “shallow Irish Roman Catholic” thing to do that opposes the Über-narrative of “equality before the law” benefiting those who can tolerate a few selective inequalities before the law when it comes to their own prejudices about people they find to be distasteful rather than objectified unprejudiced due process.

  • Brian Walker

    Mick I’ve now done what I should have done first and read the McInerney article. Apologies I disagree with your assessment below, as my own comments bear out. I bet the Assembly will survive. Where else have unionists got to go and for minority non-militant parties to flourish? Still, it’s a nice bet.. No wonder you were quoted!

    Fealty quote…
    .. until now, Robinson was comfortable in the knowledge that he would be controlling the crash. Now, Nesbitt has grabbed the steering wheel, and Robinson is no longer in charge. Robinson will slow down time, as he always does, but the UUP’s exit means the end will come somewhere between the middle and the end of the month.”

    Lay odds?

  • Nevin

    “Martin’s uncompromising criticism of Sinn Fein put it up to the other parties to respond.”

    I disagree. Micheál has been playing the same tune for some time to little or no effect. I think it was Scotsman Kevin Geddes’ blunt speaking that put the cat among the pigeons. There must have been a series of ‘uncomfortable conversations’ during the following two days before the Chief Constable engaged in what I described as a damage limitation exercise. He was quickly followed by the Secretary of State and later by others who tried to steady the ship. It would be interesting to know who the Chief Constable spoke to before he appeared at his press conference; I wouldn’t expect Kevin to appear in this role again.

  • Zig70

    Nice link, had to read it a couple of times. To my way of thinking it is a mistake to see the UUP as moderate. It is the mistake the SDLP made. Liberals need a competent middle ground otherwise hope is difficult. A combination of cultural blindness from liberal unionists and hope thinks they will fill that role, but I don’t see any evidence that they would. It will be interesting to see how Martin deals with them when not insulated by the border.

  • Zig70

    Maybe a separate piece to get punters to put it on the line. Are paddy power giving odds? I’ve told the missus it is going down so my reputation is already sold. I am depressed slightly at the prospect as I don’t see any agreement following.

  • Zig70

    Actually, to my way of thinking, FF would do more damage to SF if they rounded on the UUP or DUP especially as SF still have to maintain some working relationship. Nama may be still to play out and SF always fall short on criticism of loyalists and the OO due to their recent past.

  • Steve Larson

    Martin and FF building in the North, lol.

    Some FF activists have been building in the North and dragging Micheal Martin and FF along. they aren’t making friends with Micheal for doing it. It is not that along ago that he used describe Northern Ireland as “another country”.

    FF’s Northern narrative will fall down because people see the Shinners doing the work on the ground and they work exceptionally hard in their areas.

    In Dublin, FF don’t really exist on the ground anymore. Look at the large areas in the city that do not have FF representation or a constituency office for the party. Who will spread this message, a few UCD students going in to areas for their first time in their life a few weeks before an election?

    Robinson has taken the sting out of this by in all intent backing SF on this. It leave FF, FG and Lab. at odds and marks the end of it.

    An election may come early as the DUP seek to seize the initiative but it will be part of normal politics and electoral planning.

  • Steve Larson

    Lead in your water supply might explain your posts Chris ;).

    Will mutagenic chemicals in the water supply create a super human type of Unionist?

  • Steve Larson

    Micheal Martin is more comfortable with Unionism than the Shinners or even the SDLP. Micheal hasn’t an ounce of interest in the North.

    He is only looking at it as a way to present FF as going back to its nationalist and Republican roots and as a stick to beat SF with before elections in the south.

    I do not believe he gives one hoot what goes on in the North and I’ve spoken to friends in Cork FF who say the exact same.

  • Steve Larson

    It is a no drunks and hoods and sectarian thugs passing the end of the street protest.

    If the Orange Order marchers, bands and friends cut out the drink and drugs before heading back it would change things as well.

    At this stage it is too far gone I think. Chalk it down as another Drumcree where initial scummy behaviour and Orange violence wrote it off as a route for a generation, maybe for good.

  • Steve Larson

    FF make the Medellin Cartel look like amateurs when it comes to dealing with cash.

  • mickfealty

    David’s list of bills is very clear on where the deficit is. It’s a lack of ideas to bring to fruition, rigid politics on a system that is already about as rigid as it can get. Add to that the usual capture by civil servants a la Yes Minister and we have virtually no new policy initiatives since 2002.

    If you go in on a boast of having a battle a day you can only thrive on the basis of enmity. The real problem with the UU walk out is that the party’s positioning is too close to the TUV and UKIP and too distant to the SDLP to get a future call from the electorate as an alternative arrangement to the current dramatis personae…

    It doesn’t mean you cannot disagree or attack, just that you have to create electoral permission to work together for a term and then get re-elected on the bases of what you’ve achieved.

  • mickfealty

    I’m strictly doing ball by ball cricket commentary on it. Not doing predictions.

  • Thomas Girvan

    You have a very long memory.
    It has been a few years since anything remotely like that happened at the Ardoyne shops.
    Still you don’t want the facts to interfere with bigoted propaganda.

  • Kevin Breslin

    To paraphrase O’Neill here

    “Same Rivers, Same Mountains most of the same water pollution.”

  • Nevin

    Steve, nationalist parties can assist one another in anti-unionist activities but will tear strips off each other in competition for the nationalist vote.

    Also Irish governments raise no objections when paramilitaries are part of restorative justice programmes in the north but would stamp heavily if there was a move to extend such a practice to their own jurisdiction.

    During the course of my research into the operation of the BIIC Joint Secretariat I noted the presence of Irish officials from the departments of justice and foreign affairs yet they all used dfa dot ie email addresses. Those from justice seemed much less complacent about the influence of paramilitaries in community programmes than their foreign affairs counterparts.