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At Last Some Truth-telling About SF And Being In Government……

Comes courtesy of Harry McGee in The Irish Times today (Sat, Aug 7):

For those without a subscription, here it is:

For Sinn Féin, the reality of government won’t be change, it will be compromise

Sinn Féin’s rhetoric is populist but is not achievable in government

By Harry McGee

In the early 1990s, a representative of one of the ratings agencies arrived in Dublin to meet experts and academics while reporting on how Ireland was performing economically. Among those he met was a senior political journalist. A general election was imminent and the opinion polls were suggesting that the Labour Party would do well.

The ratings agency guy said it seemed to him from the election rhetoric that a Labour-influenced government would fundamentally alter the course of Irish economic policy. The journalist dismissed the suggestion out of hand. “Labour is not going to change anything. No matter who is in power, it will all remain the same.”

The reply might have had more than a sprinkle of cynicism but the net point was strong. Reinventing the wheel is not a regular occurrence in settled democracies. New governments – even those with a radical change agenda – find that the faster they try to go, the faster their wheels spin in the mud. The superstructure of the Irish State budges haltingly and slowly.

There’s been a long history in Irish politics of new brushes sweeping suspiciously like the old brush. When it looked like the radical new party Fianna Fáil could gain power in 1932, the government party Cumann na nGaedheal went full throttle with negative campaigning.

“The gunmen are voting Fianna Fáil, the communists are voting Fianna Fáil,” read one of its posters. Another focusing on Eamon de Valera, read: “Devvy’s Circus, absolutely the greatest road show in Ireland today – Señor de Valera, world famous illusionist, oath swallower and escapologist. See his renowned act. Escaping from the straitjacket of the Republic. Frank F Aiken, fearsome fire-eater. Shaunty O’Kelly, the man in dress clothes. Monsieur Lemass, famous tightrope performer, see him cross from the Treaty to the Republic every night.”

The scare tactics did not work and failed to halt the Fianna Fáil juggernaut. The fears stoked were unfounded. Fianna Fáil had new policies – especially on housing provision – but little that could be classified as revolutionary in the context of the age.

And so it is with Sinn Féin. The next general election is not due to take place until 2025. Before that are the local elections and the European elections in 2024.

Before a vote is cast Sinn Féin is on a winner. It had dismal showings in both polls in 2019. It saw its number of council seats halved from 159 to 81, and garnered only 9.5 per cent of the vote, a 5.7 per cent fall from 2014.

The party also lost two of its three European Parliament seats. It was that poor performance that influenced its decision to run a reduced slate in the 2020 election hardly six months later, unaware of the extraordinary windfall that was about to come its way.

So, starting from a low base in 2024, it is highly likely that Sinn Féin will be the big winner in those two elections, taking votes – and seats – from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. Even returning to the status quo ante will give it momentum going into the 2025 general election. Of course, second-tier elections are not a direct indicator of performance in general elections (as many, including me, painfully found out in 2020) but in this instance, Sinn Féin will be able to galvanise a growing view among the public that it can be trusted by the electorate to govern the country.

We are coming close to that point now. Bertie Ahern, always an astute reader of emerging trends, did an interview in 2005 when he said that Sinn Féin in the south was not ready for government and would need a period of time to transition, as happened with the evolution of Sinn Féin The Workers’ Party. He predicted it would take two decades.

It looks like he was on the money. Many in the older generation view the prospect of a Sinn Féin government with horror, given its bloody legacy. For anybody under the age of 30, that does not register.

The party has adopted a left-leaning and populist agenda in opposition and has gained traction with the young, especially with its housing policies.

Some of those grand promises, especially in health and housing, will take years to be realised, if ever

The party’s policy offerings in some areas are thin. Its climate change policies have little credibility. It supports the targets but has no thought-out ideas on how to achieve them other than to oppose the key policies of the current Government including the carbon tax. Its own alternative budget last year had the cheek to include a sucker payment for cows and sheep (€124 million) as a “climate change” measure (when such a payment would lead to increased emissions).

Its promises will leave a good few hostages to fortune – 20,000 social and affordable homes in a year, full redress for Mica and pyrite homes, the pension age reduced to 65, no increases in carbon tax, rent relief, welfare increases, VAT reductions on fuel and energy prices, abolition of property tax, reductions in creche fees, State-run childcare facilities, large increases in health spending and provision (including €250 million to tackle waiting lists). As against that, it promises to balance the books by increasing the tax take from those who earn more than €100,000, and by targeting more punitive taxes on the perceived villains of the housing and economic crisis (banks, speculators, vulture funds, data centres).

Some of those grand promises (especially in health and housing) will take years to be realised, if ever. In interviews earlier this year Mary Lou McDonald sounded like she was tempering expectations of what the party can achieve in a first term in government. She is right. The biggest reality for any new government isn’t change. It is compromise. Sinn Féin, if it gains power, will be no different from any other party in that respect.

Cheney vs. Trump – Who’d Have Thought?

Great piece on the who’s and why’s of Trump’s declining fortunes by Molly Jong Fast in The Atlantic magazine. You can read it here…..

The Day The IRA Sacked Freddie Scappaticci…..

Freddie Scappaticci, one of the most effective and notorious British spies to infiltrate the IRA during the Irish Troubles, was, according to well-placed republican sources, drummed out of the IRA in 1993, a year before the first IRA ceasefire, after the IRA’s spy-catchers, the Internal Security Unit (ISU), demanded that the then Chief of Staff allow them to investigate the seven-man Army Council for evidence of treachery.

Both Gerry Adams and the late Martin McGuinness were members of the Council at this time and stirring up internal turmoil as such an investigation surely would have, could only seriously complicate the journey to peace they had started, which would culminate with the Good Friday Agreement, the winding down of the IRA and the decommissioning of the bulk of its weapons.

But the IRA’s military leader, Kevin McKenna, enraged by the ultimatum, called the ISU’s bluff and sacked the entire spy catcher unit, including Scappaticci, thus ending the career of Britain’s most valuable double agent during the Troubles.

One IRA source described the Chief of Staff’s furious reaction to the demand: ‘McKenna was incandescent with rage’, he said. which suggests that whoever had devised the plan had badly misread their quarry.

The effort to investigate the Army Council bore the hallmarks of a classic deception operation put together by Scappaticci’s British Army handlers which would have been designed to divide, confuse and weaken the IRA leadership. But for McKenna it might well have worked, although the consequences for the infant peace process might have been disastrous.

Once fired from the IRA, Scappaticci, known widely as ‘Scap’, then retired to a home in Andersonstown, West Belfast until he was outed by a former British soldier, ironically a disillusioned ex-member of the intelligence unit that ran ‘Scap’, and an Irish journalist.

After a brief effort to protest his innocence, ‘Scap’ – whose family roots were in Italy – essentially disappeared from public view, re-emerging only when he was charged with bestiality by detectives led by Jon Boutcher, the former Bedfordshire Chief Constable whose ‘Operation Kenova’ is probing ‘Scap’s’ part in the murder of nearly twenty victims.

‘Scap’s’ victims invariably ended their lives on country roads trussed like Christmas turkeys and riddled with bullets. He is said to have specialised in torturing his victims, sometimes suspending them from the ceiling by their heels until they confessed. He also used drugs to render them unconscious before transporting them to isolated cottages on the southern side of the Border for interrogation. These sessions invariably ended with an admission of guilt and a bullet behind the ear.

What role ‘Scap’s’ British Army handlers played in the effort to destabilise the Army Council remains a mystery although common sense suggests they may well have devised the plan, a classic piece of disinformation designed to confuse and divide the IRA leadership. If so, the question of whether political approval from Whitehall was sought or given assumes great importance.

Such operations are not uncommon in the murky world of intelligence and are designed to create mutual suspicion and division in enemy ranks, in this case as the IRA tried to navigate its way through the peace process towards a ceasefire and decommissioning, a fraught enough endeavour as it was.

All of ‘Scap’s’ dealings with the British were with the military; he hated the Northern Irish police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary and refused to do business with them, but he was ready and willing to work for British military intelligence, then led by an outfit called the Force Research Unit (FRU). This is the same unit that was at the centre of the controversy surrounding the assassination of Belfast lawyer, Pat Finucane.

But what, aside from ‘Scap’s’ loyalty, led the FRU to think that Chief of Staff, Kevin McKenna would open up the Army Council to a level of scrutiny that would be bound to cause anger and discord?

The former IRA chief, who succeeded Ivor Bell in the top job, was the longest serving IRA leader during the Troubles, holding the Chief of Staff rank from 1983 to 1997; he was also known to be a loyal supporter of Gerry Adams, unlike Bell.

After Adams survived a challenge from opponents of the peace process in 1996 and his allies reasserted command of the IRA, calling a second ceasefire which led eventually to the Good Friday Agreement, McKenna was put in charge of decommissioning the organisation’s weaponry, a measure of the trust the Adams’ camp had in him.

McKenna died in 2019 aged 74 and a tribute to him was published on the internet by Gerry Adams who called him: ‘An honest decent republican who saw off Thatcher and her ilk and brought the British government to the negotiating table’, adding, ‘It is in the nature of these things that the part played by republicans like Kevin during the long years of war will never be known.’

Freddie Scappaticci was among those sacked by McKenna and his loss must have been a heavy blow to British intelligence. As a double agent his treachery had given the British an unprecedented insight into IRA attitudes, internal rivalries and membership.

Scappaticci, known universally as ‘Scap’, had the codename ‘Steaknife’, but when the British Ministry of Defence sought and secured a court injunction forbidding the media from publishing the name, journalists instead called him Stakeknife’, at which point the mandarins of Whitehall appear to have decided to call it quits.

‘Scap’ is currently being investigated by a team of British detectives led by Jon Boutcher, the former chief constable of Bedfordshire. He has already been charged with bestiality, a fondness for sex with animals, and could well have faced murder charges arising from his spy-catcher activities.

The clumsy and apparently ill-thought out effort to wrong foot the Army Council, if such it was, happened in 1993 and came as IRA leaders sought to win internal support for a peace process and the demilitarisation efforts that would accompany it. Less than a year after the ISU leadership was ousted, the IRA called a ceasefire and began a journey into constitutional politics.

The fact that Scappaticci’s handlers seen to have allowed him to be part of the attempted putsch raises an obvious question: was the attempt to destabilise the Army Council ultimately FRU’s idea and did other agencies, such as MI5, have a hand in events? What was the level of political knowledge in Westminster?

‘Scap’ was handled by the British Army’s then intelligence wing in Northern Ireland, the Force Research Unit (FRU) but had always refused to work with or for the old RUC Special Branch. Like many Northern Catholics he trusted the British Army more than the RUC.

One incident spoke to the importance with which the British Army regarded ‘Scap’. Worried about his security, he sought and got a face-to-face meeting with General Sir John Wilsey, who was British Army commander in Northern Ireland from 1990 to 1993, to discuss his concerns.

‘Scap’ faces an uncertain future but thanks to British prime minister Boris Johnson, he may never serve a day in jail for the many murders he was involved in.

Faced with growing Tory grassroots anger at the sight of elderly, former British soldiers being brought before the courts over distant events such as ‘Bloody Sunday’ in Derry, the Johnson government introduced a proposed Act of Parliament last May to deal with the problem.

Now widely known as ‘the Legacy Bill’, the new law would grant immunity from prosecution to anyone accused of committing Troubles-related offences as long as they agreed to co-operate with the process of investigating the charges against them. An irrevocable pledge of immunity will be granted to individuals who give an account of their offences judged to be ‘true to the best of (their) knowledge and belief’.

The legislation is strongly opposed by civil libertarians and human rights lawyers and has caused deep concern amongst victims’ groups and those, like Jon Boutcher, the former Chief Constable of Bedfordshire, who leads the so-called Kenova team investigating Scappaticci’s many alleged offences. The PSNI was never consulted about the law and nor were victims’ groups, notably the Human Rights Commission, which is charged with advising and overseeing human rights in Northern Ireland.

The Kenova investigation of ‘Scap’, which began with Jon Boutcher’s appointment as its head in 2016, is probing no less than 18 murders linked to the former IRA double agent. The investigation is, according to informed sources, based on the notion that many of the factual and disturbing aspects of ‘Scap’s’ IRA career – information long sought by his victims’ families – are best aired or can only be aired in the context of a criminal trial. As things stand now, it appears as if neither ‘Scap’ nor any other perpetrator will be exposed to the level of scrutiny best provided by that sort of process.

Thanks to Boris Johnson’s government the families of ‘Scap’s’ victims look as if once again they will be the losers and that the peace of mind promised when the Boutcher probe began will be denied to them.

(ends)

Was The Provos’ Violence Inspired By Sectarianism?

Professor Henry Patterson, himself no friend of Sinn Fein or the Provisional IRA, examines the charge that sectarianism fuelled the IRA’s violence, taking Fermanagh and South Tyrone as an example. You can read the full article here, but here is his conclusion:

‘This article revisits the debate, hosted by this journal in the 1990s, on whether the Provisional IRA campaign was sectarian. In the light of current debates about how Northern Ireland deals with its past, it challenges the analysis that emphasises the non-sectarian ideology of republicanism and ignores the effects of IRA violence. It uses research on the IRA campaign in Fermanagh and south Tyrone to argue that the campaign was unavoidably sectarian but rejects current attempts to label it a form of “ethnic cleansing.”’

Libya, Eleven Years After The Fall Of Gaddafi…..

You can watch the item here……

How Does Patrick Keefe Know This?

He complained to me once that Adams refused to give him the time of day, much less discuss his sleeping habits……

A Podcast History Of Noraid…..

Documentary film-maker Nate Lavey and Michael McCanne have combined forces to produce “Foreign Agent”, a six-part history of Irish Northern Aid, aka Noraid, a valuable addition to the uncensored story of the Troubles….enjoy!

John Mearsheimer On The War In Ukraine….

Well known for ‘The Israel Lobby‘, his incisive study of Israel’s relationship with the US, co-written with Steven Walt, Mearscheimer takes a hard look at the war in Ukraine. You can watch and listen here…..

Of Hard Borders And Protocols

I think it is appropriate to re-visit a few pieces I wrote some time ago about the burgeoning crisis over the ‘Hard Border’ controversy, given the escalating conflict between the EC and the British over Boris Johnson’s decision to scrap the European Protocol which created an Irish Border in the middle of the sea separating the two islands.

Here is one piece; and another; and one more. Enjoy…….

An Interesting IRA Book On The Way?

The view of an IRA activist who operated on both sides of the Atlantic: