Miriam Lord: Gerry has answers but not for the questions

Gangland killings have shifted election focus away from where Sinn Féin wants it

The lifespan of some political manifesto falls somewhere between a sickly green-fly and a bar mat. Can politicians believe in it? And why do its promises disintegrate so quickly?

 

For Gerry Adams, when it comes to IRA atrocities, the past is another country. We have all moved on from the conflict.

But in his obvious irritation these days, does he ever think the unthinkable when the questions just won’t stop about his attitude to feted former comrades now lucratively asserting their exceptional skills in the private sector?

Does he ever think that the South is another country too? It looks that way sometimes.

The Sinn Féin leader often seems at a loss to understand why journalists keep grilling him about Thomas “Slab” Murphy, alleged senior IRA man with the scarily interesting CV who is due for sentence in the Special Criminal Court this week for tax evasion.

“A good republican,” insists Adams.

“Very nice”, concurs deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald. Your “typical rural man”.

When the subject was raised again yesterday at the launch of the party’s election manifesto, the leader’s frustration was evident.

As recent snippy encounters have shown, Gerry finds it difficult to hide his annoyance when the hacks persist with their questions about his party’s intention to abolish the non-jury SCC (an abomination which nice Slab was forced to endure) should it get into government in a few weeks’ time.

It was rotten luck and the worst of bad timing when three senior judges found Old Farmer Slab guilty.

But the party got on with fighting the general election, mounting a very professional campaign and showcasing some impressive candidates.

Triumphant possession

Fianna Fáil

Sinn Féin’s estimates were deemed more accurate than the others, and while rival finance spokespeople quickly mounted their rebuttal, Pearse Doherty and his colleagues took triumphant possession of “the fiscal space”.

Pearse, perhaps relieved not to be the one facing the justice questions, luxuriated in his special economic space throughout the launch. This was to be one of the party’s setpiece events; unveiling a manifesto is always a big deal.

Sinn Féin’s offering is an impressive piece of work and far superior to the effort the party produced in 2011. But timing intervened again.

Two gangland murders in the space of four days, one with gunmen bursting into a sporting event in a crowded hotel and firing automatic weapons, carried the Special Criminal Court to the top of the news agenda and made gangland crime an election issue.

So when Adams and McDonald stood in front of the party backdrop in the handsome book-lined meeting room of the Royal Irish Academy (with Pearse and candidate for Mayo Rose Conway Walsh also in the picture), they knew well what the first questions were going to be. And they wouldn’t be about the fiscal space.

Gerry, as is his wont, kicked off with a little joke.

“I am really glad to be in the R-I-Ah,” he smiled pointedly, in a reference to the jokes about his denying having even been a member of the RIA.

Resources

Mary Lou was asked what her Dublin Central constituents might think about abolishing the Special Criminal Court in light of the shocking murders.

She spoke for more than four minutes, using her “lock them up and throw away the key line” again – a sentiment with which few would disagree.

But it was all about resources.

“The real question is what the State is going to do about it.”

Gardaí must be given every possible support to help bring the perpetrators to justice and then “ensure that our court system adheres to the best principles and the best qualities of an open judicial system that you would expect in a democratic society”.

There must be no “party political sniping”.

Then Gerry was asked about getting rid of the non-jury court, where paramilitaries and gangster bosses with access to weapons and hired muscle are tried.

He took out the oars and began carefully rowing backwards.

As long as he has been knocking around, Sinn Féin has always been agin the Offences Against the State Act (under which the SCC is constituted).

But “is it a red line for us in negotiating a programme for government?”

Apparently not. And it’s not coming up on the doorsteps when he calls around.

The Sinn Féin leader is very well got with the Garda Síochána in Louth, apparently.

“Senior officers and the rank and file” in his constituency are always telling him they that need more resources to tackle the gangsters.

So what replacement model does Sinn Féin have in mind after they abolish the Act so reviled by republicans, especially during the Troubles?

“The normal rule of law.”

The question was put again. The irritation returned.

“I’ve just told you what we’re putting in its place.” But . . . but . . . what does that actually mean?

You could see Gerry was getting annoyed. Mary Lou moved in swiftly.

Intimidation question

It’s not “beyond the wit” of the State to come up with a solution, she said.

Even if it is beyond the wit of Sinn Féin. The party’s manifesto doesn’t suggest one.

Fiscal space

And Pearse gleefully leapt into his fiscal space.

Many of Gerry’s tormentors then decamped to the Department of Justice to hear what Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald had to say after her meeting with the Garda Commissioner.

In a nutshell: “I stand as a Minister for Fine Gael. I stand for law and order.”

The guards are going to get the divil and all now. Her media man looked at the crowd.

“I’ll get to everyone, so take your time. We’ll answer all the questions you want to ask.”