Every now an then a moment happens which crystallises a situation. Sinn Fein have done Trojan work in rebranding themselves as a democratic, left wing party fit for office. Mind you, the Trojans lost… They are like us all looking forward to Christmas, but then the ghost of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe comes clanking in, a modern Jacob Marley, to puncture the illusion.
Yesterday on the main Sunday news program a shiny new SF candidate for the Dail (lower house of parliament) was asked, by the presenter and then by all four other guests, if she would condemn McCabes killing. The reason for this was the imprisonment of his killer, again. Pearse McAuley was convicted of manslaughter of McCabe, having shot him three times in an armed robbery. He served his time, and was released., being driven from his prison by a Sinn Fein TD Martin Ferris, himself with significant form in the terrorism stakes.
He was this week convicted of a brutal and prolonged attack on his wife, and sentenced again. Presumably Ferris was too busy to ferry him back to pokey. Hence his name and his actions were in the news.
Louise O’Reilly was asked about this and refused to condemn it, thinking it ‘hilarious’ and suggesting that the issues around water charges were of greater import. Here is a report. After an outcry on social and other media, she eventually, 6h later and on mature reflection (and one imagines a few irate calls from HQ as to the damage she was doing) issued a clarifying tweet. Typical of SF there was a truculent whine involved, in suggesting she was hustled into her nondenial by being bullied.
During the week another of the new shiny democratic SF TD’s, their deputy leader MaryLou McDonald, was exercised about McAuley’s sentence. She, quite correctly, suggested that 12y for stabbing and beating your wife was too short. A slight problem however for SF is the juxtaposition of one prominent SF member suggesting that a sentence for a major assault was too short while another was unable to condemn the same vicious thug’s killing of a man. Mary Lou flailed badly over the Mairia Cahill affair, where an alleged rape victim, allegedly raped by the IRA, was persuaded to not go to the police but to let the IRA deal with the rapists. Scant sympathy for now Senator Cahill was evident from any in SF.
A further wrinkle in the issue is that the victim of McAuley’s beating, his wife, was a SF councillor. Mairia Cahill was a thorn in their side. Jerry McCabe was a policeman. The outrage and sympathy and speed of condemnation of a crime seems to be related in some way to the closeness of the victim to SF.
Here is the thing. SF have moved far from their past. That is to their credit. But as De Bert said, a lot done, more to do. The next election will see them do well, but perhaps not as well as they feel they deserve. The most recent opinion poll suggests that they will get 27 or so seats, a solid parliamentary block but in a 158 seat parliament. They are polling well on the back of a solid organization and a clear left wing economic policy. But until such time as the instant and immediate and genuine response of any SF candidate to any murder of any policeman anywhere, anytime, is “that was wrong, and I unreserevedly condemn it and those who planned and undertook it” , then they are not fit for power or even IMHO parliament.
Saying “that was war” doesn’t cut it. Murdering RUC men in 1973 was as wrong as in 1993; killing gardai in 1980 was as wrong as 1996. To suggest that SF are singled out for this line of questioning is correct- so long as they equivocate they will and should be so singled out. There is a reason nobody asks a FG or Renua or Social Democrat candidate to condemn killing of policemen. We know, by their actions and approaches, that it would be akin to asking “do you believe in the number 3”. SF would suggest “Well, 3 is time dependent sometimes its 2 and in the unfortunate circumstances of a wartime situation in northern Ireland it can be 4”.
We have a host of parties standing in the next election. It is not difficult to see every shade of political opinion on the ballot sheet. Only one party has a problem, a legacy one hopefully, with condemnation of killing. There is zero need to vote for them until such time as they internalise and then externalise an abhorrence of and condemnation of killing. Leaving aside the circumstances in Northern Ireland, it should be instant and crystalline to have any candidate for parliament condemn the killing of Jerry McCabe. For so long as SF members refuse to do so, for so long as they cling to the notion of the Northern Ireland conflict as a “war”, for so long as they remain a party which wont ditch its past, they cannot be embraced as the future.