Posts tagged “Sinn Fein”

The truth about the man who accuses Adams…

Tim Pat reviews ‘Voices From the Grave’ by Ed Moloney for the Irish Independent

Back in the sixties, when I was starting to research my book on the IRA, Andrew Boyd arranged that I be brought to Belfast’s Linenhall Library where I was sworn to secrecy, brought down to a locked basement wherein a locked steel box was opened and I was given access to the library’s collection of IRA documents — a few handbills and a copy of the booklet Operation Harvest, which was written by a former sub-editor colleague of mine on the Evening Press, Sean Cronin.

Such was the impact of the Special Powers Act and the state of republican documentation at the time. Consequently, as a writer committed to the principles of free speech, I must support the appearance of Ed Moloney’s Voices from the Grave.

But the support has to be accompanied by a health, or rather a provenance, warning.

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Irish mood picks up as sun shines down on Ireland

“This will take an awful lot of hardship.”

“It doesn’t take much.”

Both of the foregoing contradictory statements are true of Ireland’s economy and mood of the moment.

On the one hand there is the demoralizing game of pass-the-parcel being played by the politicians with the report of the popularly-termed An Bord Snip Nua which contains the horrific list of cuts which the economists say are needed to get the economy back on track.

On the other is the clearly observable mood of national cheerfulness brought on by a combination of welcome ephemera which have nothing to do with the economy.

The fine weather, the success of the rugby players and U2’s Barcelona opening are helping to offset the gloomy impact of the incessant flow of news bulletins about job losses and yawning trade deficits.

It is many years since Thomas Davis wrote that there was no nation on earth over whom music had such power over as the Irish. He was writing in an era of famine, but he had hit on an essential truth of the Irish character which has carried them through many a fearsome trial and may do so again in today’s circumstances.

Priceless gift

The race does have a priceless gift of being able to seize the moment if an instant of distraction or of uplift beckons. The sun appears briefly and, from God knows where, people flock to the beaches. A famous horse runs at a race meeting, and the punters forget the dole queues to spend money no-one knew existed.

The gift of laughter and an ability to make music out of spoons and bones helped the Irish to survive the horrors of mining or ditch-digging in disease-ridden swamps. The obverse side of the medal is of course depression and alcohol and substance abuse.

But here, in the now, where I am on the Aran Islands the sunshine is causing the Irish to revert to tradition attitudes. Instead of going abroad for the sun they are flocking to the Aran Islands to enjoy its spectacular beaches and incredible cliffs. In place of Germans and Scandinavians I now meet clouds of cyclists who pay me the compliment of taking me for an Islander and addressing me in half-forgotten, school book Irish.

But for how long will the sun shine? The sportsmen enthral? The day of reckoning can not be postponed indefinitely. And the passing of the parcel will have to stop sometime.

No soft words

The government somehow managed to get the IMF to tone down its recent report on the Irish economy so that while stigmatizing Ireland for creating the most overheated economy in the developed world, at the same time it still managed to sound vaguely complimentary about how it was dealing with the consequential crisis.

However An Bord Snip contains no soft words. It is the day of reckoning. It contains the precise recommendations for slashing welfare and public service budgets which the government hopes will induce the international financial community to keep Ireland afloat.

Various drafts of its real or imagined contents have been well leaked. They range from cutting children’s allowances, reducing the number of Gardai, dropping some 10,000 superfluous civil servants off the State pay roll to removing certain appendages from members of the Cabinet (a particularly well-received rumor this last).

For some weeks now the publication of the Report’s contents has been expected almost daily. But what has been received instead have been circumlocutory official statements to the effect that: “It is expected that the Report will be presented to the Minister for Finance tomorrow.”

‘Riot Police’

So far tomorrow has not come and the statements about ministerial, presentations are being (correctly) interpreted as code for “Jaysus lads. If we publish that any savings we might make will go on paying riot police.”

This is not an entirely unreal forecast. Already the elderly have taken to the streets over the withdrawal of medical cards and at least one section of the trade union movement, the electricians union, has shown its willingness to disregard government urgings for restraint by serving strike notice, not over the now universal pay cuts, but for a wage increase.

The gardai and civil servants unions might well be expected to respond with demands for thousands of job cuts by exercising the nuclear option. Realistically speaking, a government which has already been ravaged in last month’s local government and European elections could be looking at near total extinction in any forthcoming general election.

And, fears for a general election apart, there is the looming question of the re-run of the Lisbon Treaty. It is generally accepted that a central factor in the electorate’s rejection of the last Lisbon Treaty referendum, which made Ireland the sore thumb of Europe, was anger at the government’s performance.

Sinn Fein

But there were other considerations such as fears about abortion being introduced to the Republic, the ending of the traditional policy of neutrality and the unlikely, and un-lovely, shared attack on the Treaty from the left-wing Sinn Fein and the right-wing Libertas party.

Since that referendum the Irish government has managed to secure remarkable concessions on the neutrality and other issues from the European Parliament. Moreover both Libertas and Sinn Fein suffered reverses in the recent European elections so there were strong grounds for supposing that in the Lisbon Treaty’s Second Coming, next autumn, the measure would succeed.

Ordinary common sense would appear to dictate that it would pass, if for no other reason than that there is a general realisation that the Republic of Ireland’s continuation as a sovereign State depends on the support of the European bank, but if An Bord Snip were to trigger a bloody-minded reaction on the lines of the electricians action then anything could happen.

And so the Awful and the Cheerful reign over Ireland at the moment. I’m afraid that as the summer fades into winter that rugby alone, or even the exploits of the great Kilkenny hurling team, will not sustain the national mood. But Davis’s words still hold true and after all the Irish spirit did survive the famine and the awful effects of building the canals through the dreadful, fever-infested swamps of New Orleans.

- First published 6th July 2009 at

The tides of electoral change run over Ireland

The new celebrity politician of Ireland, George Lee, accurately summed up the implications of the rip tide that has run through the electoral triathlon, of which two legs have  been effectively decided.

In his victory speech, he said that the Government does not have a mandate to continue. The local government wipeout which seems to be in progress and the way the two by-elections to the Dail are going would certainly bear this out.

Nor are the early forecasts for the European Elections any more hopeful for the government. It’s too early to call these with certainty, but Fianna Fail could end up with no representative in the East (effectively with no one in Dublin), and Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou MacDonald could also struggle to retain her seat.

Both sides of the Irish Sea are swept these days with the prospect of electoral change, as England’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown could no doubt ruefully tell Ireland’s Brian Cowen.

But more soberly, what each leader could equally truly tell the other, is that electoral change could, very likely will, come without bringing major policy changes.

For the elephant in the Irish room the fact is, that to all intents and purposes, Dublin has ceded control of her economic affairs, no matter what new coalition of forces comes to power in the Dail, to the European Central Bank.  Whatever unpalatable medicine that institution chooses to dish out will have to be swallowed by us all.

Love affairs have to be paid for and Ireland’s fatal romance with the property developers has indeed proved a Liason Dangereuse.

The money for the dole and for bank bailouts has one thing in common – it has to be borrowed – and Brussels is the only place it can be borrowed from, that is if it can be borrowed at all.

A mini International Monetary Fund (IMF) regime of spending cuts and credit restrictions is already in place, and a much more stringent one, more closely resembling the full blooded IMF variety, is scheduled for the autumn budget no matter what government is in power.

However, despite the restrictions of the Brussels straight jacket, the Irish electorate have managed to make one important, independent statement.

It has said loudly and clearly that it is sick of greed, corruption, inefficiency and waste. In caning Fianna Fail as it has done, and may yet do further, it has issued a warning to the political class that some kinds of behavior can no longer be gotten away with.

The powerful Irish institutions of the Churches, the Banks and the body Politic are learning a new and threatening word, accountability.

There is a seeking of justice abroad; people want to see bankers in handcuffs for fraud, and clergy in jail for the horrors they inflicted on children in their care.

The electorate wishes to see decent people taken off dole queues to which they should never have been consigned by bankers and by developers’ greed and by political corruption.

All these goals may not seem important in Brussels, but they are also important to the people of Ireland, whose votes are being counted this weekend.

- First published 6th June 2009 at

Why life can defeat death in Northern Ireland

There are two time bombs ticking away in Northern Ireland. In fact some would argue three, given the potentially explosive effect of cross-Border shopping by the Republic’s citizens on the economy of the 26 Counties.

But in view of the serious situation created by the recent lethal Republican activity in the North I will leave this topic to another day and concentrate on two of the bombs: 1) The Real IRA, and 2) The demographic changes now occurring, which, though they could trigger dangerous reactions, might also bring about a peaceful de-fusing of all three challenges. Ironically they could very well achieve through life what the Republicans seek through death: a United Ireland.

Taking the Real IRA issue first. From the signing of the Good Friday Agreement back in 1998 the elephant in the room has always been the reaction of rejectionist, physical force republicans.

Were it not for the dead who died in the Omagh explosion we would have had to reckon with that beast’s strength well before the recent shootings of soldiers and a policeman reminded us that they haven’t gone away you know.

The debate, which was eventually won behind closed doors by the followers of Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and Gerry Kelly, was at times ferociously passionate, and always carried the whiff of Thermidor and the French Revolution.

Advocates of the settlement were sometimes met by strangers in darkened car parks and driven, in un-marked vans, to meetings they were not certain of returning from, at unknown destinations These meetings often took the form of intense confrontations between senior Provisionals over the merits of the proposals in settings such as the kitchens of farm houses in Fermanagh, Tyrone and South Armagh.

But as the raised voices quietened, finger wagging stopped and jaw muscles relaxed it appeared that the doves had convinced the hawks and that not alone would there be peace, but, it was claimed by the doves, that this time, miraculously, there would be no split. Michael Collins’ experience would not be revisited.

Alas the republican doctrine of continuity, of a rising in every generation is not that easily by-passed. The rejectionists argued that A) When it came to the crunch the Unionists would never honour their side of the bargain B) That the British would shrink from forcing them to do so and C) That the British had no right to be involved in Irish affairs anyhow.

As we know a split did develop in the republican family. Some members rejected the Good Friday Agreement as roundly as did Cathal Brugha and de Valera the Treaty which Michael Collins had achieved. However, this time though there were Cathal Brughas a plenty there was no de Valera, no political rejectionist of a stature who might have mobilised a significant section of public opinion in favour of rejecting half a loaf in favour of no bread.

What did remain were those isolated farm houses, a limited degree of military expertise and the ABC view of Irish history. Most of the Provisionals’ top guerrillas and bomb makers went with the peace party. Omagh disrupted the Real IRA’s hopes of either persuading them to change sides or of fairly speedily replacing their expertise with their own. Now it would appear that a little of both may have occurred, with the Continuity IRA, hitherto one of the lesser republican groups, appearing on the scene, subsequent to the shooting of the two soldiers, to kill a policeman either acting in tandem with the RIRA or merely by coincidence.

In seeking guidance as to whether hawks or doves will win the battle for hearts and minds which will undoubtedly be played out in the coming months it may be instructive to examine two tipping points in the IRA’s history. One is the shooting of three off-duty British soldiers at a pub in Ligoniel, Belfast in March 1971, the other the IRA’s promulgation in 1950 of what became its Standing Order No.8 which laid it down that henceforth action was to be directed solely against Crown forces, no hostilities were to be waged against the Republic’s security forces.

It was issued, not out of altruism, but because the IRA of the time realised that after the deaths, hunger-strikes, jailings and gun battles of earlier years that the southern population would not tolerate violence directed against either its police or army.

In the case of Ligoniel the deaths of the three young Scottish soldiers, two of them brothers and teenagers, were marked poetically by Seamus Heaney with the line “their bellies full of beer and bullets” and politically by the North’s going over the cliff.

The sympathy which many, including nationalists felt for the dead soliers was overwhelmed by the huge loyalist political convulsions which led to Brian Faulkner’s becoming Prime Minister and internment being introduced to Northern Ireland a few months later. Standing Order No. 8 however helped to greatly curtail IRA violence in the South.

Inevitably some security personnel lost their lives, but, over the 30 years of “the troubles”, the South, compared to the North, remained a haven of tranquillity.

The recent shootings were directed at the Adams party’s influence over the Republican family as much as at their direct victims. The RIRA also sought to provoke a Ligoniel type backlash amongst loyalists. This has been unequivocally rejected by contemporary loyalist leaders.

In their own way Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness have met the challenge by issuing a contemporary version of Standing Order No. 8. McGuinness, by branding the RIRA as “traitors to the Irish nation.” Adams by making the historic declaration that in his view the shooting of soldiers is as reprehensible as the shooting of policemen. Policemen will still examine their cars for bombs before getting into them. Will be well advised to vary family routines, such as driving children to school, or partners to supermarkets. But those precautions may not be long lasting.

For what Adams, McGuinness, and, let it be acknowledged their Unionist counterparts, may have done is to establish as a functioning tenet of daily political life the reality that though the fundamentalists may legitimately claim to be the Keepers of the Sacred Flame of Irish Physical Force Republicanism the majority want to see approaches to power take place only with a ballot box in one hand and—a ballot box in the other. And what has the demographic time bomb to do with all this? A very, very great deal is the answer.

For, largely over-looked in the welter of publicity produced by the recent killings, we now have to hand the findings of the Department of Education’s 2008-2009 Schools Census. This confirms statistically something which I have long believed to be the case, based on my own observations and research. Namely that the Catholic school (and university) population was increasing while that of the Protestants was declining. The statistics given by the Department for the current school year are that currently the Catholics number 50.9 per cent, Protestants 40.7 per cent and the accompanying graphs illustrate clearly that Catholic gains and Protestant decline are an accelerating trends.

These schoolgoers have one thing in common. They will all be entitled to vote when they reach 18. A Catholic majority therefore is not a Six County electoral mirage. It is a clearly visible prospect on the political horizon. In the circumstances there is a clear cut political, as well as a moral, imperative for the Republican extremists to allow life rather than death to achieve their objectives.

- First published 18th March 2009 at

Splinter groups aim to weaken Sinn Fein’s leadership

From an article in today’s Washington Post assessing recent developments…

Historian Tim Pat Coogan, who has written a history of the IRA, said it is unclear whether Continuity IRA and Real IRA are cooperating or competing with each other. But he said that with these attacks, both splinter groups aim to weaken Sinn Fein’s leadership.

“They are trying to make trouble for Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. They think they were sellouts” for dropping the fight to force Britain out of Northern Ireland, Coogan said in a telephone interview from Dublin.

Although these splinter groups have few members, he said, it does not take much to do damage “if you have an isolated farmhouse at the end of the lane and you get some guns.”

“It has been known for some time that they were gaining strength,” he said about the dissidents, noting that Orde had called for special intelligence reconnaissance teams to return to Northern Ireland and that there had been a surge in attempts against the police.

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