Will Sinn Fein MP’s Take Their Seats At Westminster After The Next General Election?

Interesting piece from the New Statesman’s George Eaton today speculating that Sinn Fein may take their seats at Westminster after the next general election so as to take advantage of a possible hung parliament. In this context Martin McGuinness’ increasingly warm relationship with British Queen Elizabeth takes on added and intriguing meaning. Cue sound of rolling graves in the republican plot at Milltown cemetery.

Will Sinn Fein MPs take their seats after the next election?

Some suggest the party could change its stance in the event of another hung parliament.

Some suggest the party could change its stance in the event of another hung parliament.
Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness address the media in front of the Houses of Parliament on July 2, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.

The next parliament looks increasingly likely to be even more divided than the last. After several polls putting Labour and the Tories neck-and-neck, MPs speak of the possibility of neither being able to form a majority (326 seats) – even with Liberal Democrat support. In these circumstances, the small parties from the rest of the UK would take on a new significance.

The Tories are already talking informally to the Democratic Unionist Party (the largest non-English party with eight MPs) about the possibility of a post-election pact. The SNP, which is likely to return with an enlarged parliamentary party, and Plaid Cymru will increasingly be pressed on how they would act in in another hung parliament. More than at any point since the 1970s, all parties could hope to pocket concessions from the government in return for their support on key votes.

It is this that has prompted some to ask a question that would once have seemed unthinkable: could Sinn Fein MPs take their seats after the next election? The party’s Westminster representatives (of which there are five) have long refused to sit in the Commons on the grounds that this would legitimate a constitutional settlement they oppose and require them to swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen. But one Conservative minister told me yesterday that sources have suggested this could change if Sinn Fein stood to wield influence in a hung parliament.

The party has already moderated its stance by allowing MPs to sit alongside peers for a speech by Irish president Michael Higgins and has also banned members from serving in both the Northern Ireland Assembly and at Westminster. The 2012 handshake between the Queen and Martin McGuinness was another landmark moment.

In response to the suggestion that Sinn Fein MPs could take their seats after the next election, a party spokesman told me: “Sinn Fein is an abstentionist party and there are no plans to change that.” But consider how many other times the party has changed its approach and the possibility no longer seems as implausible as it once did.

Guardian Column On Mairia Cahill Flawed By Lack Of Disclosure

UPDATED 2:34 pm EDT

The sun rises each morning and sets each evening and with the same certainty whenever Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams is in trouble Guardian columnist Roy Greenslade can be relied upon to come riding to the rescue.

Roy Greenslade

Roy Greenslade

So has it been in the wake of the Mairia Cahill scandal. Today, Guardian readers, or at least those of them able to navigate that paper’s new impenetrable website, woke up to see another Greenslade apologia for Sinn Fein featured in the paper’s Comment section entitled ‘BBC programme on IRA rape allegations flawed by lack of political balance’.

The thrust of his complaint was that because the BBC Spotlight programme on the Mairia Cahill affair had failed to mention that she had briefly been a member of the republican dissident group RNU (membership fifteen plus the chairman’s dog) all her allegations re her rape, the cover-up and her interaction with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams should be taken with a pinch of salt.

Translated this means the following: only people who are signed up supporters of the peace process and Sinn Fein’s role in it are entitled to criticise/scrutinise either Gerry Adams or Sinn Fein and/or to allege that their rape a) happened, b) was covered up by SF and the IRA and c) the leader of that party insinuated that the victim enjoyed the experience.

And since supporters of Sinn Fein and the peace process are unlikely to think, never mind utter such unkind thoughts everyone should keep their mouths shut. Therefore by definition anyone who does speak out must be an enemy of peace and the process which brought it about, i.e. Sinn Fein’s part in it and should be ignored.

The resulting silence in the media, the absence of any probe into Sinn Fein and the IRA’s more seedy secrets, especially in the past, is exactly what the Provos and people like Roy Greenslade want. The cudgel”enemy of the peace process” has been used in an effort to silence journalism about a party and political leadership that is in government in one part of Ireland and may soon be in the other part.

A political party with a controversial past, that has allegations against it that might make Richard Nixon blush, that is on the cusp of real power in the South (as opposed to the Lilliputian state North of the Border) is exactly the sort of party that should be scrutinised by the media.

Ask an awkward question of Sinn Fein or the IRA, highlight an unfortunate fact or unearth an embarrassing secret from the past and the reporter who does that immediately gets accused of being “an enemy of peace” and the effect at the least is to intimidate others into silence. That is what Roy Greenslade is doing in his column today.

Doubtless when or if Gerry Adams becomes Tanaiste in Dublin the same weapon will be used to gag anyone in the media brave or foolish enough to question the new coalition government’s policies, especially the U-turns it will doubtless perform.

But coming back to Roy Greenslade. He complains about the lack of political balance in the BBC’s reportage of Mairia Cahill. What about his lack of political disclosure? What about the Guardians failure to acknowledge that when their columnist writes eloquent defences of Sinn Fein and its leader he is not exactly neutral, that he has, in fact, a record of association with that organisation every bit as damning as Mairia Cahill’s with RNU.

Back at the time of the Gibraltar shootings in 1988, Greenslade was a regular contributor to the Provo paper An Phoblacht-Republican News. How do we know that? Well his now Guardian colleague Nick Davies disclosed this nugget in a book called Flat Earth News. According to Davies, Greenslade was managing editor (news) at the Sunday Times at the time but in his spare time and unknown to his editor at the Times, contributed to AP-RN under the pseudonym George King.

Nowadays Greenslade is a professor of journalism at the City University of London. I wonder if any of his lectures cover the subject of the ethical conflict caused when a journalist misleads his employer and his regular readers by penning articles in a political journal under a false by-line?

The links don’t end there. In March 2012, the Independent‘s Stephen Glover put Greenslade’s Provo associations under a microscope and came up with this:

The connections endure. Last June (2011), Mr Greenslade spoke at a Sinn Fein conference in London on the 30th anniversary of the hunger strikes, and he wrote an article on the same subject for An Phoblacht . He has had a house in County Donegal for many years. One friend is Pat Doherty, from 1988 until 2009 vice president of Sinn Fein, who has been named as a former member of the IRA Army Council.

In fact Pat Doherty was for many years the IRA’s Director of Intelligence  and Brendan Hughes, who spoke about this for his Boston College interviews was his deputy.

And there was more to come. When convicted IRA member John Downey walked free from a court in London earlier this year after charges of carrying out the Hyde Park bombing had been dropped because of promises made under the ‘On The Run’ scheme, it was revealed that Greenslade had put up surety for Downey’s bail.

In explanation he told the Irish Post in Britain:

“I do not believe in neutrality,” the professor said. “All of my lectures stress that claims towards neutrality and impartiality and objectivity are bogus.”

And while he now tells his students about his republican views, he admitted that “for a long period, during the war, I was not transparent”.

And this is the guy who dares criticise the BBC for lack of balance!?

It is about time that the Guardian faced up to its Roy Greenslade problem and brought transparency to his columns. The fact is that when it comes to Sinn Fein, Gerry Adams or anything to do with the Troubles or peace in Northern Ireland this guy has a dog in the fight which he never tells his readers about.

Isn’t it about time that Guardian editor, Alan Rusbridger moved to protect his readers’ interests and insisted that a health warning accompany Greenslade’s articles on Ireland. Something like: This writer is not neutral about Sinn Fein or Gerry Adams, in fact he supports them.

That would do nicely.

Why Gerry Adams Will Never Quit As Sinn Fein Leader

There is an interesting piece in today’s Belfast Telegraph by Liam Clarke in which the writer lists the scandals enveloping SF President Gerry Adams in a miasma of rotten cabbage in the past few years.

They range from the disappearance of Jean McConville and Richard O’Rawe’s allegation that a deal to end the 1981 hunger strike and save six prisoners’ lives was sabotaged for political and electoral gain, to the cover up of child sexual abuse, one involving his brother Liam, the other the grand-daughter of the man who, according to Mairia Cahill, swore him into the IRA way back in the mid-1960′s, a figure who was in this writer’s certain knowledge, a close personal friend.

One common feature in the response to all these episodes is the savage and remorseless character assassination of those at the centre of the allegations. Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price were thus dismissed as dissident-friendly enemies of the peace process as was Richard O’Rawe, while myself and Anthony McIntyre who assisted both of these stories into daylight, are either bitter opponents of the IRA’s cessation and are, “touts” and “British agents” or are obsessed with bringing about the disgrace of Mr Adams (I rather think after this last week, the allegation of being obsessed with Gerry Adams’s downfall is an accolade that must now be awarded to the South’s media and political establishment; it certainly dwarfs anything the pair of us could manage!).

When his niece Aine Tyrell went public with her allegation that Gerry’s brother Liam had abused her as a child, the Sinn Fein president accused her of lying about his part in the matter; and he went on to bitterly contest in court the claim that he had known all about the allegation years before and had failed to warn the authorities, while angrily contesting well sourced claims that he had known about and perhaps had even helped his brother get jobs around children.

Mairia Cahill’s claims of an IRA/Sinn Fein cover up of her rape and a charge that Adams’ attitude towards her was, to say the least, callous and unfeeling have likewise been met, according to her interview with Liam Clarke, with bilious character assassination. Anonymous claims have surfaced via pro-Sinn Fein blogs that she was, as she told Liam Clarke, “everything from an MI6 agent to being out to undermine Gerry Adams”.

In addition attempts have been made to blacken the rape victim’s name by claiming that she was never raped at all but had a failed liaison with the man she claims was her abuser – in other words she is a woman scorned out for revenge!

There is a theme running through the response to all these scandals which is pretty difficult to miss, aside from the fact that Gerry Adams’s rejoinders are simply not true (one could start with the uncontestable fact that Brendan Hughes, Dolours Price, Anthony McIntyre and Richard O’Rawe had/have nothing but contempt for the dissidents and move on from there).

Most ordinary politicians in a normal society would be lucky to survive just one scandal like these four; Adams has survived three and if he survives the Mairia Cahill storm it will be because a) he again marshalls all his party resources behind himself in a vicious, no-holds barred assault on his enemies designed partly to silence the current critic and deter future one, and b) no-one in Sinn Fein has the courage – I was going to say balls but then remembered Mary Lou – to plunge the dagger.

This man will fight to the last man and woman in his party to stay in charge and, off the top of my head, I can think of three reasons why.

The first is that being the elected leader of Sinn Fein affords him protection from prosecution over the disappearance of Jean McConville (as well as a catalogue of other potential criminal charges) since to haul him into court on a charge of murdering the widowed mother-of-ten while he still presides over the republican bit of the peace process would cause a crisis in the process from which it would be fortunate to survive. (For instance could SF afford to stay in the power-sharing government while the reformed police force which they helped to create threatens to send their leader to jail and a life of disgrace? The dissidents would have a field day over Albion’s perfidy, Adams’ naivete and the joy of hardline Unionists while the SF electorate would likely desert in droves if there was no appropriately robust response)

As soon as Adams leaves or is ejected from the leadership of Sinn Fein he is in real danger of that sort of outcome because his arrest and conviction will have fewer negative implications for the peace process. He will instantly be transformed into yesterday’s man, a symbol of a difficult past that needs to be resolved, even in such regrettable ways, while his successor will be able to soldier on, if that is the right phrase, regretting what has happened but determined to keep the ship of peace on an even keel, etc, etc. Soon you would hear erstwhile associates mutter: “Well, he did bring it on himself!”

The second reason has to do with legacy, and IRA leaders are no less prone to be anxious about how history views them than any other public figures. Within a year to eighteen months, and assuming he recovers from Mairia Cahill without too much damage to SF’s standing in the polls, Gerry Adams could be Tanaiste in a cabinet in which Sinn Fein shares power.

Meanwhile across the Border in the Northern Assembly, Martin McGuinness will presumably continue being deputy to Peter Robinson or whoever takes over from him in the DUP and thus Sinn Fein will hold the post of deputy leader in both states and have bums on cabinet seats (and ministerial cars) in both jurisdictions.

It is not Irish freedom for sure but as sure as hell it is one impressive, and during most of the Troubles an unimaginable conclusion to the Northern violence. It is an outcome which deserves the adjective, historic. And for someone who refuses to acknowledge his own very considerable abilities as a military tactician and strategist in the IRA during the 1970′s it is the only set of laurel leaves he dares accept.

If anyone seriously thinks Gerry Adams is going to step down and allow someone else to take his seat at this jamboree, to steal his tropies, then they really need their heads examined. It ain’t gonna happen!

Which brings us neatly onto the third reason and that is this: Sinn Fein is his party, his creation, his idea. It was he who led the republican movement into politics, who schemed the entry into electoral success, who plotted, persuaded, planned, inveigled, duped, bullied, lied and deceived the IRA into a ceasefire and then into the Good Friday Agreement, IRA decommissioning, the acceptance of the consent principle, the PSNI and so on and so on. And it was he who gave all the newbies their chance, who selected them and eased their way past older,  reliable friends from IRA days.

When I began research into my study of this process, ‘A Secret History of the IRA’, I was inspired to undertake what was clearly a daunting task by an admission one of Gerry Adams’ most trusted and closest advisers had made to a friend we shared. “If people knew what we were trying to do”, he told our mutual friend back in the 1990′s, “we’d be found in a ditch with our wrists tied behind our backs.”

It was an enormously dangerous enterprise that he and a few colleagues embarked upon in the early 1980′s. One false step and they were all dead men. It was why I wrote in ‘A Secret History of the IRA’ that he deserved a share of the Nobel Peace Prize given to John Hume and David Trimble; in fact deserved it more than they.

Anyone who thinks that Gerry Adams would give up another of the peace process’ glittering prizes – a Sinn Fein hand on the tiller of state in both parts of Ireland – to Johnny-come-lately figures like Mary Lou McDonald and Pearse Doherty, people who couldn’t distinguish the smell of cordite from peat and who many in the IRA sneer at privately as carpetbaggers, then they are living in fantasy land.

As I wrote above: It ain’t gonna happen.  They will have to carry him out of there.

Apology

Got my wires crossed there, mixing up Frank Cahill with Joe Cahill in a story about who allegedly recruited Gerry Adams into the IRA. Frank Cahill was Mairia Cahill’s grandfather, Joe Cahill her great-uncle. Both men appeared to have been involved in IRA recruitment, hence the confusion. According to Brendan Hughes in his Boston College interviews Joe Cahill swore him and several others into the IRA after a series of grueling sessions designed to separate the wheat from the chaff. Thanks to Dixie Elliott for pointing out the error. That Frank Cahill was also involved in this part of the IRA’s business nonetheless adds an interesting new dimension to the Cahill family’s role during the Troubles.

A Question To The Irish Times & RTE Arising From The Mairia Cahill Scandal

There are many questions arising out of Tuesday evening’s BBC Spotlight expose of the Mairia Cahill scandal, especially concerning the alleged IRA/Sinn Fein/PSNI cover up of her rape by an IRA member in West Belfast when Mairia was just sixteen years old. (The programme can be watched in the US on the BBC iPlayer via Hola.org)

Mairia Cahill. She was raped by an IRA member when she was sixteen and alleges an extensive IRA-Sinn Fein cover up, assisted by the PSNI. But neither RTE nor the Irish Times have breathed a word about it.

Mairia Cahill. She was raped by an IRA member when she was sixteen and alleges an extensive IRA-Sinn Fein cover up, assisted by the PSNI. But neither RTE nor the Irish Times have breathed a word about it.

But one immediate concern is this. The programme was extensively flagged in other media over last weekend and, following broadcast, the issues it raises have been the subject of not inconsiderable debate in the wider media. The BBC has for example, in this report, zeroed in on one troubling question, viz the role played by Gerry Adams. Neither RTE nor the Irish Times can claim ignorance about the programme, yet as of 4.15 pm EDT on Wednesday, not a word has appeared on either’s website.

One would think that the embroiling of a major political leader in the Republic, for the second time in four years, in a sexual abuse scandal involving a minor and allegations of a cover up might be of interest to the island’s premier media outlets. All the more so since the opinion polls suggest that Mr Adams may well be leading his party into government within a year or so and that he himself may become Tanaiste in that government.

For the Irish Times and RTE to continue a silence about this affair serves only to foster suspicions either that they have as media organisations been co-opted by Sinn Fein or they are so afraid of being implicitly tarred with the anti-peace process brush they so liberally applied to those involved in the Boston College archive affair that they will not raise any issue that causes discomfort to the leadership of that party.

Either way they have ceased in their primary function of informing their audiences about matters of genuine public concern. Shame on them both!

p.s. Needless to say Niall O’Dowd’s IrishCentral.com site, normally attuned to every quiver and tremble involving Sinn Fein has also managed to ignore the story today.

p.p.s. A colleague has been in touch to make this valid point: if a scandal like this involved the Catholic Church and touched damagingly on one of its leading figures, say a bishop or archbishop, both RTE and the Irish Times would have been all over the story by now. Surely, someone will ask these two outlets to explain their double standards. Or is that a silly question?

p.p.p.s. You won’t believe this but someone has just told me about this story which was put on the RTE website earlier this evening. You couldn’t make it up!

UPDATE - The Irish Times posted a story, under Gerry Moriarty’s byline at 1.00 a.m. GMT on the paper’s website, an unusually late time to file a story that had been available since late Tuesday night/early Wednesday morning. At 2.42 a.m. GMT a search of RTE’s website failed to turn up any story referencing Mairia Cahill.

The Disappearance Of Brendan Megraw

News is just breaking that human remains have been found in a bog in Co. Meath that may be those of 23-year-old Brendan Megraw who was abducted from the Twinbrook area of south-west Belfast in April 1978 and whose body has been missing for some thirty-six years.

Martin McGuionness - IRA Chief of Staff when Brendan Megraw was disappeared

Martin McGuinness – IRA Chief of Staff when Brendan Megraw was disappeared

The IRA has admitted abducting and killing him and have claimed that he was a member of the British Army’s, Military Reaction Force. The MRF, as it was more popularly known, was an early undercover military unit which both patrolled Belfast in civilian cars – sometimes opening fire on alleged targets – and recruited double agents in Loyalist and Republican paramilitary groups, christened ‘Freds’.

The MRF was believed to be the brainchild of British Army commander Brigadier Frank Kitson and modeled on counter gangs he set up during the Mau-Mau uprising in Kenya, some of whose members were disaffected Mau Mau activists.

The group was the target of a spectacular counter intelligence operation masterminded by Gerry Adams in 1972 which ultimately led to the MRF’s disbandment and replacement. A forensics intelligence operation mounted by the MRF and using a cut price laundry service in West Belfast called the Four Square Laundry was discovered by the IRA which in October 1972 ambushed a laundry van in Twinbrook, killing one British soldier. IRA claims to have killed other agents, some in a massage parlor in North Belfast, were denied by the British.

The MRF was disbanded in May 1973 and replaced by a squad called the Special Reconnaissance Unit (SRU) but neither it nor its successor, 14th Int, ran agents as the MRF had. That limitation was corrected when the Force Research Unit (notorious for running UDA intelligence chief Brian Nelson and IRA spy catcher Freddie Scappaticci) was set up in the late 1970′s.

Brendan Megraw - disappeared by the IRA in 1978, his remains may have been located in a Co. Meath bog

Brendan Megraw – disappeared by the IRA in 1978, his remains may have been located in a Co. Meath bog

The fact that the MRF had ceased to exist four years before Brendan Megraw was abducted and disappeared raises the obvious question: if the allegation of MRF membership was true why had it taken the IRA so long to track him down?

One other unanswered question is why the IRA chose to disappear Brendan Megraw rather than publicise something the IRA would normally claim as a coup by leaving his body in a public place. What was the IRA trying to hide when it decided to disappear his body? It is worth noting that Megraw was twenty-three when the IRA killed him so he was just 17 or 18 years old when, allegedly, he was in the MRF. What damage could a 17/18year-old do to the IRA?

Mystery also surrounds the mechanics of Brendan Megraw’s disappearance. Prior to the establishment of the IRA’s Internal Security Unit, tracking down informers and double agents was a somewhat haphazard business with the initiative often resting with individual intelligence officers. Creating the Internal Security Unit was supposed to centralise and rationalise the whole job of spycatching but it is not clear whether it was functioning as such in 1978.

The spycatching unit was part of a widespread re-organisation of the IRA plotted and planned in the internment cages of Long Kesh and led by the triumverate of Gerry Adams, Ivor Bell and Brendan Hughes. The changes were given a boost with Adams’ and then Bell’s release from Long Kesh in 1977 and their elevation to the Army Council and to key posts on GHQ. The process accelerated when Gerry Adams succeeded Seamus Twomey as Chief of Staff in December 1977 but in February 1978 he was arrested and held for a year on remand in the wake of the La Mon firebombing.

Adams was succeeded by Martin McGuinness who was Chief of Staff when Brendan Megraw was abducted and then buried in a secret grave in April 1978.

Normal IRA protocol for the killing and disposition of victims dictated that final approval of the sentence handed down came from “GHQ”, i.e. from the Chief of Staff. In the cases of the early and first disappeared victims the local decision, i.e. by Belfast Brigade in the cases of Joe Lynskey, Seamus Wright, Kevin McKee and Jean McConville, to consign the victims to secret graves was normally endorsed by “GHQ”.

That raises an intriguing question about Brendan Megraw’s disappearance. Was the same protocol followed in the decision to hide his remains in a Co. Meath bog? Martin McGuinness was Chief of Staff when he was abducted so what role, if any, did Northern Ireland’s current deputy First Minister play in the disappearance of Brendan Megraw?

When one is dealing with Northern Ireland’s past, these are the sort of questions that will be asked and must be answered. But don’t hold your breath!

Peter Taylor On The IRA’s Lost War: When Yesterday’s Heresy Becomes Today’s Conventional Wisdom

Don’t get me wrong. I’m delighted to see that the BBC’s Peter Taylor has finally come to terms with reality and pronounced the British and the Unionists the victors in their war against the IRA.

He will broadcast this analysis in a BBC documentary to be screened on Monday evening. I am delighted not at his conclusion but at his honesty in eventually saying something that has been obvious to anyone with half a brain for years. He is doing his job as a journalist, telling the truth to shame the devil, unlike the bulk of the Irish media.

Given his status, the respect grassroots republicans have for him and his impressive track record reporting on the Troubles from the 1970′s onward, Taylor’s conclusion will be a devastating blow to the SF leaders who prior to this were able to isolate the one or two journalists saying the same by dismissing them as “anti-peace process” whose reports gave aid and comfort to dissidents.

What are they going to say to this programme? Peter Taylor is a dissident? Peter Taylor wants to return to conflict? Peter Taylor is an enemy of the peace process?

There’s no doubt in my mind that the prospect of being maligned in public in such a bullying way by the likes of Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness or Mary Lou McDonald terrified many of my erstwhile colleagues and shaped their coverage of events over the last twenty years.

I am not condemning them – the experience, as I can testify, is distinctly uncomfortable and lonely and I can understand their temerity – but rather reproaching them. Journalists should never be frightened of telling the truth; otherwise what is the purpose of their professional lives? If they believe and know they are right then vindication will come, even if it takes years.

What Peter Taylor apparently says in his documentary, according to this Belfast Telegraph report below, has been evident for most of the last two decades. Is it too much to hope that Ireland’s media might pay some attention? Or is that a silly question?

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