McDonald plays down row over Adams’s Smithwick remarks

Sinn Féin leader was right to comment on murder of RUC officers, says TD

Mary Lou McDonald said Adams ‘frontloaded his comments with expressions of understanding and sympathy’. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Mary Lou McDonald said Adams ‘frontloaded his comments with expressions of understanding and sympathy’. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times


Sinn Fein Vice President, Mary Lou McDonald yesterday moved to play down the controversy over comments made by Sinn Fein president Gerry Adam about the killings by the IRA of senior RUC officers, Harry Breen and Bob Buchanan.

Ms McDonald said she believed Mr Adams was correct to comment on the publication of the Smithwick Report but she didn’t believe that the controversy over his remarks about the RUC officer’s “laissez-faire” approach to their own security would have a long term impact on Sinn Fein.

“He had to comment on it - you can’t have a report such as the Smithwick Report and not have a political leader not comment on,” said Ms McDonald who rejected suggestions Mr Adams’s refusal to comment further on the issue on Friday was a recognition he had erred in his original comments.

“I heard that interview on Newstalk in its entirety and that remark (Mr Adams’s reference to the RUC officer’s laissez faire approach to their own security) was just one part of the overall interview,” said Ms McDonald.

“To be absolutely fair about it, Gerry frontloaded his comments with expressions of understanding and sympathy for a grieving family - he knows all about this, he knows about the situations that families such as theirs find themselves in.

“And in terms of the security issues about the men themselves, he was only reflecting some of what was contained in the report and to say that that RUC and the Garda Siochana had a duty of care to these officers is just a statement of fact.”

Ms McDonald said that she believed some sections of the media had focussed in on the particular phrase and she didn’t believe that the media’s highlighting of the issue necessarily reflected how people generally felt about the matter.

“There’s nobody in Sinn Fein who doesn’t understand the position that the Breen and Buchanan families find themselves in and certainly we are very conscious of the hurt that was done to them because they are in the same position that so many other families found themselves in.”

Asked if she believed Mr Adams’s comments reflected badly on his political judgement and acumen Ms McDonald said that Mr Adams’s judgement on political matters was there for all to examine and she didn’t believe it any indicated any lapse of judgement.

“I think Gerry Adams’s political track record in terms of manoeuvring and shaping peace from what seemed like a never ending cycle of violence and conflict is there for all to see, that political acumen stands to Gerry and will stand to him long after a lot of us elected to political office.”

Asked if she believed there would be a political and electoral fallout from Mr Adams’s remarks, Ms McDonald said she didn’t believe there would be any political fallout but there was a more important issue at play than just electoral politics.

“Leaving elections aside for a minute, there’s a bigger issue at play here and the issue is how we deal with and how we speak about things that happened in the past because the war is over and there’s no rhyme or reason for anybody to replay the conflict at this stage.”

Ms McDonald accused sections of the media along with some political opponents of becoming “hysterical” about any mention of anything associated with the IRA and revisiting these issues to apportion blame did little to help the victims of the conflict.

“We need to find a way where people can say things about what happened in the conflict and that others can listen and hear that in a way that is respectful and very sensitive to victims ... and you don’t go on the political offensive simply because you don’t share that person’s view or experience.

“I think all of us agree we want to find a way that people can have truth and justice and I think they are shared objectives but we then have to ask - how can we do that if, consistently, a section of the media cannot remain rational or objective or can’t hear things that make them uncomfortable.

“Politicians can throw buns and slurs at each other from here to eternity but that doesn’t get any victim, whether their loved one wore the uniform of the RUC or whether their loved one was an IRA volunteer or a British soldier or a member of the UVF and that’s not getting that family anywhere.

“I have yet to see a serious initiative from either the Dublin government or their partners in London in terms of dealing with this issue rather than shouting about it or casting aspersions or slurs or worse still, rather than using it to gain some sort of political advantage

“We need to see some serious political commitment to it and I hope the publication of the Smithwick Report, some of the discussion and even some of the controversy can fuel something positive,” said Mc McDonald.

Ms McDonald was speaking at Bandon in Co Cork where she was attending the Sinn Fein local election convention for next year’s county council elections where Bandon Town Councillor, Cllr Rachel McCarthy was chosen to contest the Bandon-Kinsale Local Election Area for the party.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams last night challenged other political leaders to a debate about the legitimacy of the IRA role what he described as the “armed struggle”.

Mr Adams said the leaders of established parties in the State were inconsistent in describing the IRA actions as “illegitimate” while refusing to do so when describing earlier conflicts.

“The a la carte approach of establishment parties which praises the Volunteers of 1916, or of the Tan war; applauding Michael Collins or De Valera or Terrence MacSwiney while condemning Bobby Sands, Kieran Doherty or other Volunteers, is an entirely inconsistent position,” he said.

The statement was being received as a response by the Sinn Fein leader to the negative political and public reaction to his comments which were critical of the travel arrangements to and from Dundalk garda made by murdered RUC officers Harry Breen and Robert Buchanan.