The Fine Gael side of the Coalition has adopted an uncharacteristic “whatever you say, say nothing” approach to the potential political fallout for Sinn Féin from the killing of former IRA member Kevin McGuigan in Belfast.
Fine Gael politicians, taking their lead from Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the top of the party, are not usually behind the door in commenting critically about the murky past of some of the Opposition party’s representatives and their associates.
However, with the Police Service of Northern Ireland linking Provisional IRA members to the latest fatal shooting in the North, the Minister for Defence outlined the “very cautious response” from Government Buildings to the game-changing statements coming out of Belfast.
Simon Coveney yesterday referred to the “very nasty murder” (is there any other kind?) but stressed during an RTÉ radio interview that the Government was “very cautious here not to add to an already difficult situation”.
Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald spoke of the “appalling murder” after delivering the annual Béal na mBláth address yesterday afternoon.
And Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan, in a statement on Saturday, dubbed the murder “brutal” while noting it had come quickly after the “equally callous” murder of Gerard “Jock” Davison.
It is something of a delicate situation for the Government. Facing into a bruising general election campaign with Sinn Féin doing well in opinion polls, the temptation to milk political capital out of the situation must be strong.
On the other hand, as Sinn Féin frequently reminds it, the Government is a co-guarantor of the Belfast Agreement. To allow itself to be portrayed as a player which jeopardised the continuance of the peace process would be damaging for Government TDs in the Border region and beyond.
There is also a good deal of sympathy with the tricky position First Minister Peter Robinson finds himself in as he attempts to carry his DUP party with him. Better to let the PSNI investigation run its course, is the thinking.
Stinging comments about Sinn Féin are seldom far from the lips of members of the Labour side of the Coalition these days, as the Opposition party makes no bones about its desire to eat further into the governing party’s vote. Dublin- based backbenchers Robert Dowds and Eric Byrne called last Friday for Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams to comment on the Northern controversy.
Sinn Féin told journalists that night Mr Adams would “break his holiday” to attend a hunger strike commemoration in Dundalk yesterday, where he again insisted the IRA was not involved in the killing.
The Minister of State with responsibility for North-South co-operation, Seán Sherlock, has been absent from the debate, having been on honeymoon.
Whatever their reasons for declining to get involved, all of Sinn Féin’s opponents in Leinster House can testify to the difficulty of landing a political punch on the party.