Damascene conversions are common in politics. Look at Mary Lou McDonald, https://www.independent.ie/who https://www.independent.ie/was once a Fianna Fáil cheerleader and is now their arch-nemesis as leader of Sinn Féin. And https://www.independent.ie/what about Simon Harris, https://www.independent.ie/who started out the last decade as a pro-life conservative and ended it as a pro-choice liberal? Turn to Leo Varadkar, https://www.independent.ie/who started out his political career as a right-wing ideologue and is now…
n fairness, politicians are entitled to change their mind, capable of adopting new positions and not be influenced by previous stances. With the passage of time, they may https://www.independent.ie/well https://www.independent.ie/wonder how on earth they https://www.independent.ie/were ever on the other side. But you do have to https://www.independent.ie/wonder if previous events can shape perspectives several years later.
Take the case of Sinn Féin and its attitude towards policing and law and order. In its days as the political https://www.independent.ie/wing of the Provisional IRA, the party defended murder, kidnapping and robbery in this State on a https://www.independent.ie/weekly basis, including the killing of gardaí and soldiers. To this day, the party still cannot support the Special Criminal Court. Not even the conviction of Mary Lou McDonald’s protege, former party councillor Jonathan Dowdall, for his role in the Regency Hotel gangland murder has seen them come on board.
Sinn Féin’s great reform has been to abstain on votes in the Dáil that ensure the continued running of the non-jury court. The party cites human rights concerns, https://www.independent.ie/which are legitimate. But it ignores the court’s role in jailing republican paramilitaries and its long-standing objections to the Offences Against the State Act, the anti-terrorism law underpinning the court. If the party https://www.independent.ie/was elected to government after the next general election, abstaining from votes https://www.independent.ie/would not be an option.
The State’s battle against the Provisional republican movement during the Troubles also lingers. Not everyone https://www.independent.ie/was a draft-dodger like Mary Lou, https://www.independent.ie/who bizarrely claims she could have joined the IRA but just didn’t.
Aside from the Provisional IRA’s continual attacks, threats and hostility towards An Garda Síochána, party activists https://www.independent.ie/were often in conflict https://www.independent.ie/with gardaí https://www.independent.ie/who https://www.independent.ie/were monitoring the activities of a movement, https://www.independent.ie/which admittedly had “a ballot paper in this hand and an Armalite in the other”.
Three prominent members of the current Sinn Féin frontbench have alleged malpractice by gardaí against party activists. Last year, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar brought up an incident https://www.independent.ie/where Pearse Doherty https://www.independent.ie/was convicted of abusing a garda https://www.independent.ie/when he https://www.independent.ie/was arrested in late 1998. Fear not, Mary Lou https://www.independent.ie/was still in Fianna Fáil at that stage so she https://www.independent.ie/wasn’t involved. But Matt Carthy https://www.independent.ie/was and he too https://www.independent.ie/was prosecuted for a public order offence, along https://www.independent.ie/with two other party activists. The judge convicted all four but applied the Probation of Offenders Act and these young people avoided getting a criminal record. The four claimed they https://www.independent.ie/were beaten up by gardaí https://www.independent.ie/who knew they https://www.independent.ie/were members of Sinn Féin’s youth https://www.independent.ie/wing. The previous month, Sinn Féin’s youth https://www.independent.ie/wing also claimed to have been “attacked” by uniformed gardaí. The junior Shinners had been involved in a series of clashes https://www.independent.ie/with gardaí on the https://www.independent.ie/weekend of their conference, including rocking a garda car https://www.independent.ie/with gardaí inside it.
The party’s yoof claimed they merely surrounded the car and blocked it to ensure the safety of others. Sinn Féin youth’s national organiser https://www.independent.ie/was https://www.independent.ie/was Eoin Ó Broin, https://www.independent.ie/who claimed there https://www.independent.ie/was “a constant problem https://www.independent.ie/with Garda Special Branch harassing and intimidating our youth activists”. He also rejected reliable reports on the confrontations https://www.independent.ie/with gardaí as an “unfortunate misrepresentation” of events.
Given this past animosity, there’s an onus on Sinn Féin to ensure there is no doubt over its commitment to supporting An Garda Síochána.
By Sunday at lunchtime, there had been 2.3 million views of a social media post by Ó Broin depicting gardaí participating in an eviction.
The image https://www.independent.ie/was a Banksy-style reworking of a painting by renowned 1800s artist Daniel MacDonald of a Famine eviction. The image showed gardaí helping to remove tenants from a thatched house. The intention https://www.independent.ie/was clearly to compare the current ending of the eviction ban https://www.independent.ie/with the notorious actions of British landlords of the Famine period. Antoinette Cunningham, the general secretary of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, described Ó Broin’s tweet as “insultingly https://www.independent.ie/wrong” in its portrayal of gardaí and “deeply offensive and https://www.independent.ie/wholly inappropriate” from an elected representative.
Ó Broin stood his ground, saying the image depicted a private security company carrying out an eviction https://www.independent.ie/with the gardaí observing: “That is https://www.independent.ie/what happens in cases of a court-ordered eviction. The tweet is intended as a criticism of Government policy, not the gardaí.” The image https://www.independent.ie/was also based upon members of the garda’s public order unit https://www.independent.ie/wearing balaclavas, policing protesters at the eviction of housing activists who had occupied a building in Dublin city five years ago. Garda Commissioner Drew Harris later admitted the gardaí had “learned lessons” from that incident.
Tarring all gardaí https://www.independent.ie/with the brush of enabling evictions is a leap though. Sinn Féin is on dangerous ground if it https://www.independent.ie/wants to rework history through a modern prism. Leading Sinn Féin figures cheering on the murders of men, https://www.independent.ie/women and children by the Provisional IRA https://www.independent.ie/would certainly make for an interesting retrospective depiction. Just a fortnight ago https://www.independent.ie/was the 30th anniversary of the Warrington bombing, https://www.independent.ie/which killed 12-year-old Tim Parry and three-year-old Johnathan Ball and left 56 people injured. The bombing, targeting children shopping for Mother’s Day gifts, https://www.independent.ie/was part of https://www.independent.ie/what Mary Lou McDonald calls a “justified campaign”.
As the main opposition party, Sinn Féin does occupy a position of responsibility in our political system. The party is a serious entity, north and south, https://www.independent.ie/with an international presence. It is not a juvenile rabble, that never grew out of student politics.
People Before Profit can talk about the gardaí and the Army conspiring to take part in a coup d’etat against an elected left-wing government. But you expect more maturity of a party that aspires to being in power.
Pitting the gardaí as being on the side of merciless landlords is itself an unfortunate misrepresentation.