Mary Lou McDonald can hardly be expected to condemn the IRA outright

Posted By: June 04, 2020

Deaglán de Bréadún. Irish News. Belfast.Wednesday, June 3, 2020
ONE of my favourite Simon and Garfunkel numbers is ‘The Boxer’, with its narrative about a young man who has to leave his home and family to go looking for a job in New York at a modest wage.
It’s been playing in my head recently because, when we finally get this virus under control, there could be an awful lot of jobs lost.
There was, however, a significant opportunity advertised last week, although it wouldn’t be a position that just about anyone could fill. The Fine Gael party advertised for a General Secretary who “will be expected to demonstrate high-level expertise in the leadership, development and management of a complex organisation in a fast-paced environment”.
READ MORE: IRA campaign was justified says Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald
That sounds quite demanding, especially since it is stated that Fine Gael has “over 25,000 members”. The ad also mentions that Fine Gael was “founded in 1933”, although in reality its ideological and political roots go back much further.
A leading party figure and former government minister, the late Patrick Lindsay, insisted in an interview with myself that there were more people from his side of the house in the General Post Office during Easter 1916 than from any other. He was probably right. Michael Collins, one of the most ruthless and effective guerrilla leaders in history, continues to be a Fine Gael hero. A close associate of Collins, Eoin O’Duffy, later headed-up the Army Comrades Association, commonly-known as the Blueshirts, which had obvious similarities to the Blackshirts in Italy and the Brownshirts in Germany. The Monaghan man and former Garda Commissioner also became the first president of Fine Gael on its foundation although he only lasted a year in the job. Interestingly, when I took a looked at the official party website there were pictures of all the leaders since 1934, but O’Duffy didn’t feature.
Every party has a past, including the one most closely associated with the professional classes in Irish society. Luckily for Fine Gael and indeed Fianna Fáil, a lot of the material from their past that might be exploited by their opponents has become somewhat dated with the passage of time.
Sinn Féin is more vulnerable to attack because the material is far more recent: it’s only twenty-odd years since the IRA ceasefires and it took another decade or so for decommissioning of weapons to come about. Nevertheless, Mary Lou McDonald’s party is in a strong position on both sides of the border. The latest Red C poll in the Business Post, published last Sunday, has SF at 27 per cent, well ahead of Fianna Fáil on 15 per cent. Given that it is the fourth successive survey with broadly-similar results, there may be grounds for speculation that Sinn Féin could gobble-up Fianna Fáil at the next election to Dáil Éireann.
Fine Gael, meanwhile, is at 35 per cent, having emerged from the doldrums since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and his colleagues have received considerable praise for their handling of the crisis, although that bubble might burst when we get back to “normal” politics.
It was significant that the Sunday Independent, which has traditionally held Sinn Féin very much at arm’s length, recently devoted two broadsheet pages to an interview with the Sinn Féin leader. Tough questions were asked but it was nevertheless a reflection of how SF has become a central part of the political scene in the Republic, getting more votes than any other party in the February 8 general election.
Inevitably, issues have been raised by the interview, such as her statement that the IRA campaign was “justified”. It’s true that terrible things were done by the IRA in those days, but how could someone in her position condemn the whole thing outright? You don’t hear Fine Gael condemning the assassinations carried out on the orders of Michael Collins and neither would you expect Fianna Fáil to condemn Eamon de Valera for his role in the Civil War or for the executions of republicans during the second world war.
The Sinn Féin leader is clearly not going to fall in with the wishes of her critics and denounce the IRA: such an action could create serious dissent within her party and be quite damaging to the peace process, which should not be placed in jeopardy. That’s not something that could be justified.