The primary task of the political establishment of this State over the past 30 years has been to keep us out of the Northern conflict.
To this end the reality of the conflict was downplayed as much as possible. State censorship and self-censorship was the order of the day. The Republican movement found itself subjected to a ferocious exclusion from political life and this was extended to republican ideology as well.
Not only the IRA and Sinn Fein felt the chill wind of 26-county self-interest but also many figures who were not associated with the Republican movement, such as John Hume and Mary McAleese.
In hindsight, it was a wise policy for the people of the South – possibly the only feasible one. Any policy which lent support to the Provo’s armed struggle could well have precipitated an island-wide civil war with disastrous consequences for us all.
Added to that was the reality that the Republican movement could not wage a campaign against the British government alone – any form of military action was bound to include a sectarian conflict with the Unionist people.
In the battle against the Provisional IRA, a huge propaganda effort, both State and non-State, in Ireland and Britain, was launched to convince the broader public that the IRA was a criminal conspiracy and that their campaign had no political legitimacy.
So the events of the past few years have come as a great surprise to the general populace as the reality surfaced.
It was, after all, a war. Prisoners were released. The Republican movement displayed political and military discipline. Doors were opened all over the place and the members of the IRA Army Council walked in.
But the old ideology remains. Michael McDowell indulged in a mighty bout of it when he attacked Sinn Fein in his speech in Dublin South-East.
What he did, essentially, was attack Sinn Fein for having the hallmarks of a movement that has just emerged from conflict. He attacked the military connections, the suspicion of authority, the underground connections.
All of this is true. That’s because there WAS a conflict.
He also went far beyond that. He said that Sinn Fein “funds itself from smuggling, racketeering, protection rackets, and taxing the drugs trade in our cities”.
This is pretty wild stuff. He didn’t offer one scrap of evidence for any of this. His claim must mean that the Sinn Fein party is on the take from drugs dealers around Dublin. It must mean that publicans have to hand money over to Sinn Fein to keep their premises intact.
If Sinn Fein is doing this, why haven’t the CAB moved against them? Why haven’t the newshounds of the Independent News and Media group (who have a pathological hatred of Sinn Fein) come up with the pictures and the stories?
This is smear politics. It’s a bad start to the election campaign, particularly here in Dublin, where Sinn Fein might be in the running for a number of seats.
Sinn Fein are not angels. But the charge of self-interest has never stuck to the activities of the Provos and it won’t work now.
Michael McDowell is sliding back into conflict denial.
If he knows something specific about the activities of Sinn Fein he should let us know what it is. Otherwise, he should shut up.
|As Well As That. . .|
Anti-Northern bigotry is rife here
When Republicans in Tallaght put up murals to commemorate the hunger strike last year, local FG man Brian Hayes accused Sinn Fein of trying to import ghetto politics from the North.
A story in the Irish Times last week about whether Sinn Fein would win a seat in North Kerry appeared in the Northern section on their website.
A Sunday Tribune columnist castigated Sinn Fein as ‘fascist’ for wanting to remove Unionist paraphernalia from Enniskillen Town Hall (even though the SDLP also supported the motion).
What all these things have in common is the antipathy for things northern (this includes Sinn Fein in North Kerry apparently) and a complete lack of sympathy, if not outright hostility, for the position of Nationalists in the North among a large section of the Southern population.
When politicians and journalists tap into this they are tapping into ignorance and fear – the classic symptoms of prejudice.