Efforts by the right in Ireland to counter and undermine Sinn Féin’s advance in the recent 26 County general election have reached extraordinary levels of desperation following an intervention by the Garda police Commissioner, Drew Harris.
An attempt by Harris, in concert with the Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan and the right-wing media, to smear Sinn Féin as being controlled by a non-existent IRA ‘Army Council’, has confirmed the political bias of a once man linked to acts of collusion in the north of Ireland.
Earlier this month, Harris himself hypocritically warned members of the Gardaí not to engage in any public commentary about their political views. In a memo circulated on the force’s internal messaging portal, the Garda Commissioner said all members should ‘remain apolitical’ in order to maintain public confidence in the force, especially during elections.
Harris’s allegation on Friday that Sinn Féin remains under the control of an ‘Army Council’ preceded a disingenuous call by the leader of Fine Gael and outgoing Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, for Mary Lou McDonald to ‘disband the IRA’.
Rejected at the polls earlier this month, Varadkar’s remarks came within just 24 hours of the Sinn Féin leader receiving the most votes to become the next Irish Taoiseach. It was an attempt to return to the old anti-republican strategy of marginalising Sinn Féin, just as the party is holding talks to form a coalition government.
Mary Lou McDonald was forced to repeat that the ‘IRA is gone’, although the Provisional IRA was stood down and disbanded more than a decade ago.
Speaking at an event in Dundalk, County Louth on Friday, she said: “The reality is that we now live in a peaceful dispensation, the war is over, the IRA has gone away and democracy is the order of the day and there’s no dispute around that.”
Asked about the Commissioner’s intervention, she said: “I know Drew Harris has said he will work with any party with a democratic mandate and that’s exactly as it should be.”
She went on to repeat her party’s claims that it is under threat for its support of the PSNI police “by dangerous elements and by so-called dissident elements”.
She said: “The war is over and the IRA is off the stage. The only threat now is so called dissident elements that actually threaten Sinn Féin because we support the police service.”
But a dirty game was escalating quickly. In a tweet, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar called on Ms McDonald to “repudiate [the Provisional IRA] and sever all links and do so publicly and unequivocally”.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin also denounced the non-existent Provisional Army Council as “an inconvenient truth”, then went on to attack Sinn Féin “trolls” on social media who “try to bully critics”.
That recalled another supposed controversy over internet posts by newly-elected Sinn Féin TD Reada Cronin. An active social media user, she was forced to delete her accounts earlier this week after they were trawled by right-wing journalists looking for embarrassing posts.
In a sign of desperation, all of her social media contributions were dissected and exaggerated, even those dating from before she joined Sinn Féin. One post by Ms Cronin questioning the use of fluoride in Irish tapwater was seized upon by the former Taoiseach as “anti-science”. Posts critical of the Israel government over its treatment of the Palestinian people were denounced by Varadkar as “anti-semitic”.
Other random comments and retweets were thrown into the mix to appear significant. The Sunday Times even made room for a front-page story to highlight the ‘scandal’ of how the new Kildare North TD had shared and well-evidenced allegations that Israeli officials had interfered in the British general election to assist the defeat of Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, by smearing him with anti-semitism.
Shamefully, that same smear was directed at her, for the same reasons, by a failed Taoiseach. “This is not the kind of change we need,” declared Mr Varadkar, adding as hashtags: “The mask slips again. Not a normal party”.