There are “fundamental moral issues to be addressed” before Fianna Fáil will consider any coalition government with Sinn Féin, citing the party’s culture of “omerta” in the wake of the murder of Paul Quinn, party leader Micheál Martin has said.
Mr Martin was speaking during an interview with The Irish Times on Wednesday for the Election Daily podcast as the controversy continued over Mary Lou McDonald’s response, and that of her party, to the concerns raised by the family of Mr Quinn, who was beaten to death in 2007.
“Sinn Féin’s justification for the IRA’s war is a continuing one. There never has really been any contrition and also to a large extent they want to shove down the throats of a new generation a narrative about the atrocities there were carried out which in my view serves to poison future generations,” he says.
Mr Martin contests the Sinn Féin narrative of history, he says, but has more immediate concerns about the death of Mr Quinn, and other incidents which have taken place, he stresses since the Belfast Agreement.
“They tend to isolate, they tend to smear victims – and when people come forward to say ‘this happened to me’ a whole machine is put into operation to undermine that person’s credibility, that person’s bona fides,” he says.
What does he want them to do – admit they were wrong?
“Yes, I do want them to admit they were wrong and, as Seamus Mallon said, to admit the IRA’s campaign was 40 years of failure.
“Take the Paul Quinn murder. It’s very sinister that Sinn Féin collectively, because Gerry Adams spoke at the time as well, [said] that this young man was involved in drugs and criminality and it was part of a feud.”
Involved in the murder
Does he think Sinn Féin did that because they knew that republicans or former republicans were involved in the murder and they wanted to minimise the focus on them?
“I spoke to Breege Quinn and she laid it out to me. He had a row with the son of a senior IRA person. That was the origins of it. Look at the savagery of it – a number of men sealed off the barn, wearing uniforms, forensically cleaning it – this was a highly sophisticated operation and they broke every bone in his body. That’s what she said to me. They broke every bone in his body. When a mother says that to you – it brings it home to you.
“In the peace process – we all had to make compromises in order to achieve the peace, but Sinn Féin need to come some distance too and they haven’t.”
Sinn Féin might say why are we only hearing about this now? Why is Micheál Martin raising it now a few days before an election?
“I’ve been consistent about this over the years,” Martin retorts. “I raised this in Dáil Éireann. I raised in the context of Kevin Lunney. There has been a barbarity and a savagery that’s been allowed to hold sway across areas of the Border that has not been brought to justice.
“The Paul Quinn murder stands out,” he says. “But the omerta that follows it – that people are so afraid and so intimidated by that organisation that they won’t engage with the police.”
Is his accusation that there are people in Sinn Féin who know about this and are not giving information to the police?
“When you talk to people in the locality, they say that. The Quinns are in no doubt as to who murdered their son. I’ve asked people just to listen to Breege Quinn and just make up their own minds.”
What does he say to younger people who the polls say will vote for Sinn Féin and who view this as part of history?
“I’d say reflect on it. Listen to the interview. There are fundamental moral issues to be addressed. And then make up your own mind.”
Martin accepts that his greatest objections to having Sinn Féin in a coalition government with his party are the “moral” questions, as he has termed them, rather than his opposition to Sinn Féin’s economic policies.
“That’s fair enough. Hold on, though, this [Sinn Féin] manifesto is way out . . . there’s no way you could even begin discussing it.”
What about his own TDs, some of whom are happy to consider the prospect of coalition with Mary Lou McDonald?
“I’ve spoken to my TDs . . . the vast majority of TDs get it.”
Martin believes his route to government lies through what he calls an alliance with “other centre ground TDs – Greens and Labour”.
A second possible route to government lies through a confidence-and-supply arrangement with Fine Gael to support that alliance if it did not have the numbers to form a Dáil majority. That’s likely to be resisted by Fine Gael in favour of a potential grand coalition between the two parties. But Martin is unbending that he will not form the so-called grand coalition.
“It would be dangerous, it would be a monopoly . . . I don’t think it would be good for Irish politics.”
The full interview can be heard on irishtimes.com/podcasts