Monthly Archives: December 2014

Irish Times Confusion Over Impact Of Mairia Cahill On Sinn Fein

I have heard more than one unkind soul mutter in recent months that the Irish Times is slowly evolving into the house journal of Sinn Fein while others of a more cynical mind suggest that any softness shown towards the Provos in that organ is more a case of opportunistic expediency, i.e. covering the collective ass in case editor Kevin O’Sullivan might soon have to deal with Tanaiste Adams, or even Taoiseach Adams. If so then they are in good company as the good folk in RTE can attest.

The evidence of recent weeks though suggests otherwise, and that like most of the Irish media, when it comes to an issue to beat Mr Adams with that doesn’t seem to imperil the blessed peace process, like the disappearance of a widowed mother-of-ten, the Irish Times can give as good as anyone. The Mairia Cahill scandal coverage showed us that.

But what are we to make of the contrasting stories that appeared last Thursday and Friday analysing the results of an Irish Times/IpsosMRBI opinion poll on whether support for Sinn Fein was affected one way or the other by the Mairia Cahill sexual abuse scandal.

The first story, filed nearly at midnight on the Thursday, carried a headline and an opening paragraph that said support for Gerry Adams had declined while SF had failed to score an expected rise in support at the expense of Fine Gael and Labour. That story carried no byline. But the message was clear: Mairia Cahill had damaged Sinn Fein.

By the following day however all had changed. ‘Cahill controversy has little impact on SF support’, trumpeted the headline over a story written by Stephen Collins, the paper’s political editor and date stamped at 03.00 a.m. on the Friday, less than four hours after the first story appeared.

Collins went on explain that while the Mairia Cahill scandal had “some impact”, a majority of people said that it would not affect the way they would vote.

So there you are, Sinn Fein, You can breathe easily now.

So how does one explain the difference between the two stories? It is of course perfectly possible that Stephen Collins took a fresh look at the numbers and came up with a different conclusion than his anonymous colleague did a few hours earlier.

The other explanation is that once the first story appeared on the paper’s website the phones between Sinn Fein’s Dail offices or wherever their PR people hang out at that time of night and the Irish Times’ office were red hot.

That, of course, would be a very cynical conclusion to arrive at and as regular readers of this blog know well, doesn’t deal in cynicism. Does it?

Here’s the first story:

Irish Times/IpsosMRBI poll: support for Gerry Adams declines in wake of his response to Mairia Cahill allegations

Thu, Dec 4, 2014, 23:38

Sinn Féin’s failure to make ground at the expense of the Government parties during the recent furore over water charges can be attributed to the party’s handling of allegations of rape and cover-up made by Mairia Cahill. Public support for the party fell by two points at a time when it should have risen and satisfaction with the performance of Gerry Adams, who directly challenged Ms Cahill’s version of events, fell by nine points.

A worrying aspect of this controversy, from Sinn Féin’s point of view, is that one-third of those questioned in the latest Irish Times/ IpsosMRBI opinion poll are less likely to vote for the party because of the way the Cahill case was handled. The strongest negative reaction came from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael supporters. But one in ten Sinn Féin followers also expressed reservations. Instead of consolidating recent gains, a loss of public trust caused a surge of support towards Independents and Others.

The damaging public reaction to Ms Cahill’s shabby treatment probably reflects the nature of the offence; its immediacy and the self-serving quality of the denials. By contrast, the questioning of Mr Adams some months ago in relation to the decades-old murder of Jean McConville had no impact on party support. But the justifications offered by Mr Adams and Sinn Féin in the Cahill case – and the handing of sexual crimes involving other IRA members – chimed in the public mind with previous Catholic Church scandals. In those instances, the effects were both corrosive and persistent.

Sinn Féin has its troubles, but water charges are likely to cause a serious drag on Government support as it prepares for an election. Fewer than 50 per cent of householders have indicated a willingness to pay the charge, in spite of a series of reductions introduced by the Government parties and a capping of the charge for a number of years. One-third of those questioned said they will not pay and resistance is most entrenched in Leinster and Munster.

Those who say they “can’t pay” inflate the figure for those who insist that they “won’t pay” in this exercise. Nearly 70 per cent of top earners are willing to fund water and sewage services, compared to 40 per cent at the lowest income level. Eleven per cent of households remain undecided. The financial viability of Irish Water and its ability to meet EU rules regarding Government subsidies could be threatened if this level of resistance persisted for a number of years.

Participation in public protests has been high, but there is obvious concern in relation to militant action. While one-quarter regarded a protest involving Tánaiste Joan Burton at Jobstown as peaceful, some 60 per cent did not. Women, in particular, took a negative view of what happened during the protest.

Will RTE Tell The Story Of Charles Haughey & The Peace Process?

RTE today (Dec 4th) announced details of its three-part drama on the life and times of Charlie Haughey, the controversial Fianna Fail leader and former Taoiseach who, inter alia, was accused of helping to found the Provisional IRA back in 1969/70 by arranging arms shipments and cash payments to the fledgling group.

In an extraordinary twist to his career Haughey was sacked from the Fianna Fail cabinet over the gunrunning allegations but escaped conviction in the Arms Trials of 1970 (there were two of them that year) when he was acquitted of charges of illegally importing arms for the use of defence groups in Nationalist parts of the North. Nonetheless his political career appeared to be over and he seemed consigned to the political wilderness.

However he made a slow but certain comeback, trading on his robust nationalism and distrust of the British which was immensely popular with the Fianna Fail grassroots, and in 1979 succeeded his nemesis, Jack Lynch as Taoiseach.

Charles Haughey in his prime

Charles Haughey in his prime

His subsequent career was as turbulent as his early years. His elevation to Fianna Fail leader re-opened deep party divisions over the North between those in the party who shared Haughey’s nationalism and others led by Desmond O’Malley, whose disdain for anything but the most cautious approach to Northern Ireland was shared by the Irish bureaucracy, especially the Department of Foreign Affairs, and the other main political parties, Fine Gael and Labour, and by the bulk of the media.

That, along with unanswered questions dating back to the Arms Trial era, made Haughey a hate figure for the Irish establishment, particularly amongst the mainstream media.

There were also many unanswered questions about the source of his apparent great wealth. In 1969, he bought Abbeville a splendid Georgian mansion with generous stables and grounds at Kinsealy on the northern outskirts of Dublin, and had a lifestyle to match, sailing around Ireland on his yacht and spending summers on a private island – all achieved with few clues as to the source of his wealth. It eventually emerged that a number of wealthy businessmen had been subsidising his lifestyle for decades.

Haughey in the grounds of his beloved Abbeville

Haughey in the grounds of his beloved Abbeville

He also had a love life to match and reserved a suite at the Berkeley Court hotel near Landsdowne Road rugby ground for trysts with his lover, the journalist Terry Keane, the wife of the former Irish Chief Justice, Ronan Keane. In May 1999 she revealed on RTE’s Late Late Show that she and Haughey had conducted a 27-year old extra-marital affair.

On the Monday morning following Keane’s confession I had an appointment with Haughey at Kinsealy for one of our frequent chats about the early years of the peace process and while I was strongly tempted to turn the car around and drive back to Belfast, I perservered.

I was glad I did as to cancel would have sent the very worst message. The meeting was nonetheless difficult because there was an elephant in the room that neither of us could acknowledge and it was a strain pretending this was another normal encounter; at one point his charming wife Maureen served us coffee and biscuits and I thought I was going to die.

The series begins on January 4th and according to RTE the €4 million production is “one of the most most expensive and ambitious dramas RTÉ has ever made.”

There is little doubt that Haughey was one of the most colourful if roguish figures ever to walk the Irish political stage and the RTE drama would be amiss if it failed to fully reflect Haughey’s rascally side.

But, I wonder, will RTE at least pay him some tribute for the hugely important initiating role he played in the North’s peace process? I ask this question because Haughey has been written out of the narrative by the establishment media and that came home to me when Albert Reynolds died in August this year.

Reynolds succeeded Haughey as Fianna Fail leader and Taoiseach and took over a peace process that Haughey had begun, something that was symbolically signaled by his retention of Martin Mansergh, who was the contact man between Haughey and Gerry Adams, via Fr. Alec Reid, as his Northern adviser. In normal circumstance Reynolds would have run from Mansergh, who was despised by his erstwhile colleagues in Stephens’ Green, like a scalded cat.

Martin Mansergh

Martin Mansergh

To judge by the media coverage surrounding Reynolds’ passing one could be forgiven for thinking that he and only he had created the peace process. That is such a gross distortion of the truth that it cries out for correction.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not diminishing Reynold’s contribution. He steered the process towards the Downing Street Declaration which obligingly opened the door to Adams & Co accepting the principle of consent, as they always were going to do, and that led a few months later to the IRA ceasefire of August 1994.

So he played a hugely important role. But my point is that none of this would or could have happened but for Haughey.

Let me explain: the effort by Gerry Adams and Fr. Reid to open a dialogue with the Irish government began in 1986 and reached a high point in the Spring/Summer of 1987 when Fr Reid sent a 13,000 word letter to Haughey outlining the peace process strategy and the concessions that the Provos were prepared to make.

After much harrying from myself, Haughey eventually gave me a copy of that letter (he was most unwilling during our relationship to surrender material or to claim credit, unlike many other participants) and it became for me the Rosetta Stone of the peace process which deciphered the heavily coded language of that exercise.

I was able to use it as a guide while writing the first edition of my account of the IRA’s journey to the peace process, ‘A Secret History of the IRA’ and after Haughey died I was free to publish it in full in the second edition.

Adams and Fr. Reid had approached Haughey when he was in opposition. They noticeably did not even try to begin a dialogue with the then Taoiseach, Garret Fitzgerald, presumably because they knew what sort of reception they would get.

But they reached out to Haughey not just in anticipation that he would soon be back in government, which he was later in 1987, but also because of his robust nationalism: they knew that of all of Ireland’s then political leaders, Haughey was the only one inclined to give them a hearing, which he did.

Albert Reynolds

Albert Reynolds

To be sure Haughey did get cold feet later on. That happened when Adams asked for face-to-face contact instead of channeling their discourse through Fr Reid. Not unnaturally Haughey feared that if he agreed, the contact would eventually be leaked and become public and the consequences of secret dialogue being exposed between the IRA’s leader and the man accused of bringing the modern IRA to life would be disastrous, not least for him.

(I remember around this time being phoned by Mansergh who asked me if I was hearing anything about the Provos re-thinking their campaign. I hadn’t and told him so but in retrospect his call suggests he and Haughey may not have been entirely convinced by Reid’s assurances about Adams’ bona fides and maybe even feared a trap. If so, they were wrong; Adams was certainly capable of dissimulation but only with those less powerful and predisposed to trust him.)

Sensibly, Haughey then suggested that the dialogue could happen but only if SDLP leader John Hume agreed to act as his proxy. Hume was not told about the prior contact between Haughey and Adams and agreed to meet Adams under the impression that this was the start of what later became known as the peace process. For years afterwards Hume continued to believe that he had initiated Adams’ journey to the 1994 ceasefire and the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Thus did the Hume-Adams talks begin, in reality a substitute for the Haughey-Adams talks and these contacts continued after Reynolds became Taoiseach, with the Irish government in the happy position of being able to enjoy complete deniability of the contacts while reaping the rewards.

Here’s the point I am trying to make: Albert Reynolds was a very clever and astute politician but he had no interest at all in the North until he became Taoiseach and had no track record worth talking about on the North until he discovered a half-formed peace process on his desk when he became Ireland’s leader. Until then he was a dance hall owner, pet food factory boss and a political mover and shaker who was firmly on Fianna Fail’s country & western wing.

I don’t think that if Fr. Reid and Gerry Adams had knocked on Albert Reynolds’ door in 1987 seeking talks about making peace they would have got any better a response than if they had they knocked on Garret Fitzgerald’s door, or Dessie O’Malley’s. Like those two, Reynolds, in my estimation, would have politely but firmly shut the door in their faces.

And the peace process would have been dead before it had a chance of taking a breath.

And that, in a sentence, is Haughey’s contribution to the peace process. By not shutting the door in the face of Fr Reid and Gerry Adams he opened the way to the Downing Street Declaration (DSD), the 1994 ceasefire, the Good Friday Agreement and IRA decommissioning. Without Haughey, who died in 2006, none of this, in my view, would have happened. He didn’t take the process to the point of the DSD for sure but he enabled Reynolds to do that.

Haughey’s role in the peace process has more or less been written out of the record by Irish journalism. The question is, will Ireland’s playwrights and screenwriters do the same in this RTE drama?

The theatrical attraction of the story – the man accused of being the IRA’s midwife helping to precipitate its demise – is intrinsically, even irresistably attractive. But to do so will require courage, in particular to challenge the shallow consensus on Haughey reflected in the following judgement delivered by Ireland’s self-anointed historian laureate, Diarmuid Ferriter:

He (Haughey) was a very promising minister in the ’60s, but once he became leader all he was concerned with was staying leader. It was always about the cult of leadership. His sense of himself was much more important than any vision he had for the country. People say he discovered fiscal rectitude in ’87, and people talk about his contribution to Anglo-Irish affairs, but really if you try and look for any consistency in his affairs after the late ’70s you can’t find it because it’s just about him.


Killing Black Men Is What American Cops Do…….

From the Gawker:

By Albert Burneko

In July, New York police officer Daniel Pantaleo choked unarmed black man Eric Garner to death, in broad daylight, while a bystander caught it on video. That is what American police do. Yesterday, despite the video, despite an NYPD prohibition of exactly the sort of chokehold Pantaleo used, and despite the New York City medical examiner ruling the death a homicide, a Staten Island grand jury declined even to indict Pantaleo. That is what American grand juries do.


In August, Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson shot unarmed black teenager Michael Brown to death in broad daylight. That is what American police do. Ten days ago, despite multiple eyewitness accounts and his own face contradicting Wilson’s narrative of events, a grand jury declined to indict Wilson. That is what American grand juries do.

In November 2006, a group of five New York police officers shot unarmed black man Sean Bell to death in the early morning hours of his wedding day. That is what American police do. In April 2008, despite multiple eyewitness accounts contradicting the officers’ accounts of the incident, Justice Arthur J. Cooperman acquitted the officers of all charges, including reckless endangerment. That is what American judges do.

In February of 1999, four plainclothes New York police officers shot unarmed black man Amadou Diallo to death outside of his home. That is what American police do. A year later, an Albany jury acquitted the officers of all charges, including reckless endangerment. That is what American juries do.

In November of 1951, Willis McCall, the sheriff of Lake County, Fla., shot and killed Sam Shepherd, an unarmed and handcuffed black man in his custody. That is what American police do. Despite both a living witness and forensic evidence which contradicted his version of events, a coroner’s inquest ruled that McCall had acted within the line of duty, and Judge Thomas Futch declined to convene a grand jury at all.

The American justice system is not broken. This is what the American justice system does. This is what America does.

The Atlantic‘s Ta-Nehisi Coates has written damningly of the American preference for viewing our society’s crimes as aberrations—betrayals of some deeper, truer virtue, or departures from some righteous intended path. This is a convenient mythology. If the institutions of white American power taking black lives and then exonerating themselves for it is understood as a failure to live out some more authentic American idea, rather than as the expression of that American idea, then your and my and our lives and lifestyles are distinct from those failures. We can stand over here, and shake our heads at the failures over there, and then return to the familiar business, and everything is OK. Likewise, if the individual police officers who take black lives are just some bad cops doing policework badly, and not good cops doing precisely what America has hired and trained them to do, then white Americans may continue calling the police when black people frighten us, free from moral responsibility for the whole range of possible outcomes.

The murders of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, Sam Shepherd, and countless thousands of others at the hands of American law enforcement are not aberrations, or betrayals, or departures. The acquittals of their killers are not mistakes. There is no virtuous innermost America, sullied or besmirched or shaded by these murders. This is America. It is not broken. It is doing what it does.

America is a serial brutalizer of black and brown people. Brutalizing them is what it does. It does other things, too, yes, but brutalizing black and brown people is what it has done the most, and with the most zeal, and for the longest. The best argument you can make on behalf of the various systems and infrastructures the country uses against its black and brown citizens—the physical design of its cities, the methods it uses to allocate placement in elite institutions, the way it trains its police to treat citizens like enemy soldiers—might actually just be that they’re more restrained than those used against black and brown people abroad. America employs the enforcers of its power to beat, kill, and terrorize, deploys its judiciary to say that that’s OK, and has done this more times than anyone can hope to count. This is not a flaw in the design; this is the design.

Policing in America is not broken. The judicial system is not broken. American society is not broken. All are functioning perfectly, doing exactly what they have done since before some of this nation’s most prosperous slave-murdering robber-barons came together to consecrate into statehood the mechanisms of their barbarism. Democracy functions. Politicians, deriving their legitimacy from the public, have discerned the will of the people and used it to design and enact policies that carry it out, among them those that govern the allowable levels of violence which state can visit upon citizen. Taken together with the myriad other indignities, thefts, and cruelties it visits upon black and brown people, and the work common white Americans do on its behalf by telling themselves bald fictions of some deep and true America of apple pies, Jesus, and people being neighborly to each other and betrayed by those few and nonrepresentative bad apples with their isolated acts of meanness, the public will demands and enables a whirring and efficient machine that does what it does for the benefit of those who own it. It processes black and brown bodies into white power.

That is what America does. It is not broken. That is exactly what is wrong with it.