Miriam Lord: Sinn Féin has become Ireland’s new political delete

Tweets are dominating the Dáil, and who’ll blink first as Brexit talks go to the brink?

The big surprise about the furore over mild-mannered TD Brian Stanley’s tweet last weekend was the fact that it was seen as such a big surprise. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

The big surprise about the furore over mild-mannered TD Brian Stanley’s tweet last weekend was the fact that it was seen as such a big surprise. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

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After years banging on about the “Irish political elite”, Sinn Féin has become the standard-bearer for the Irish political delete.

In fact, if cash-rich Sinn Féin were to go down its familiar soundbite route, it would refer to itself endlessly in the Dáil as that “wealthy political delete”.

To put it mildly, the party does not have a good reputation on social media. After the last election, when even Sinn Féin was caught on the hop by the breadth of its success, there had to be a major clean-up of the Twitter accounts of a number of their Leinster House newcomers, who had been tweeting away poisonously in relative obscurity before they hit the big-time.

The aggression and vitriol dispensed by the enthusiastic ranks of so-called “shinnerbots” is legendary, so much so that even people who have little time for social media and don’t indulge in Twitter are aware of this particular class of online animal.

The big surprise about the furore over mild-mannered TD Brian Stanley’s tweet last weekend was the fact that it was seen as such a big surprise.

“Kilmicheal [sic] (1920) and narrow water (1979) the 2 IRA operations that taught the elite of d British army and the establishment the cost of occupying Ireland. Pity for everyone they were such slow learners.”

There is “no hierarchy” of victim/actrocity/combatant/killer in the carefully nuanced public utterances of Sinn Féin’s elected national representatives (apart from the occasional unguarded slip in moments of exuberance), but the ongoing veneration of IRA murderers and criminals is never far beneath the surface. A quick perusal of An Phoblacht’s “Roll of Honour” (“They died for Ireland”) or the briefest consideration of the Bobby Storey funeral or the recurring social media “mistakes” or the gleeful “Up the ’RA” missteps show otherwise.

Stanley’s obnoxious tweet has, of course, since been deleted.

Then another one surfaced. Equally as obnoxious with its dog-whistle reference to newly elected (gay) Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar three years ago: “U can do what u like in bed but don’t look 4 a pay rise the next morning.” The contradictory explanations from both Stanley and headquarters were ridiculous.

He has now deleted his account.

Mary Lou McDonald has responded by standing down her deputy for Laois-Offaly putting him on gardening leave for a week. He is now going to come before the Dáil in two weeks’ time and make a statement.

A whole fortnight? That’s a luxury Sinn Féin didn’t allow the Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee, when it demanded her immediate presence in the House to explain her part in the appointment of Supreme Court judge Séamus Woulfe. They were right to do that.

What’s so different about Brian Stanley, who may not be a Cabinet minister but chairs the Dáil’s powerful Public Accounts Committee?

As for the TD’s original tweet and Sinn Féin wringing its hands and labelling it unacceptable while deftly sidestepping questions about supporting IRA atrocities – it suggests that leopards don’t change their spots.

That’s the wealthy political delete for you.

All is not tweetness and light in Dublin North constituency

Still on the subject of tweets, there was a real air of let he/she who is without sin cast the first stone when Stanleygate (or whatever gate it’s going to be) broke. Politicians appear to be particularly stupid, given their line of work, when it comes to putting things out there on Twitter.

One politician who landed in hot water before the last election was Fianna Fáil senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee, whose derogatory tweets 11 years ago about Travellers saw her apologising profusely for causing offence and meeting with Travellers’ group Pavee Point to apologise in person. Her apology was accepted.

Now we hear Lorraine may have been involved in a different kind of Twitter upset, this time with her Dublin North constituency colleague Darragh O’Brien. They both ran in February’s general election, with O’Brien retaining his seat and Clifford-Lee losing out.

They don’t seem particularly close.

And all is not tweetness and light down Fingal way.

There has been talk among Fianna Fáil backbenchers that Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien allegedly blocked Lorraine on Twitter and she then wrote to him asking him to unblock her. If this is the case, what did she tweet to upset him so much?

The Minister’s department received her letter on October 14th and on October 16th his private secretary replied.

“Minister O’Brien asked me to acknowledge receipt of your letter and thank you for bringing it to his attention. The matter has since been resolved.”

Senator Clifford-Lee’s letter, also released under Freedom of Information, is written on her headed notepaper with the entire body of the letter – between “Dear Minister O’Brien” and “Yours sincerely” – redacted. Which is a terrible pity.

However, the FOI record of the request lists a “letter from Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee to Minister Darragh O’Brien in connection with his personal Twitter account”.

Numerous attempts by our hotshot Freedom of Information sleuth, Sarah Burns, to contact the Senator have been unsuccessful, while a spokeswoman for Darragh O’Brien’s said there is no further comment to make.

Intriguing.

Senator Lynn Ruane: pure gold

Going through the hoops on behalf of undocumented children

A tale of earrings and bracelets.

On Wednesday, the Seanad discussed Labour’s citizenship Bill for undocumented children who were born in and live in Ireland. The Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee, said the Government would work with the party to improve the Bill and “progress” it further.

The legislation proposes to grant citizenship to an estimated 2,000 children who have been born in and live in Ireland but are stateless and at risk of deportation because of their parents’ illegal status. The Minister said she supported the objective of the Bill, which was “well-intended”, but stressed the Government needs to be mindful of “unintended consequences, of changing immigration laws at a time of huge flux” in the context of the Covid pandemic and Brexit.

The contributions from all 10 speakers – all women, interestingly – were thoughtful and thought-provoking, not least from Senator Lynn Ruane, who introduced the jewellery element.

As she rose to speak, she uttered the Seanad’s best line of the pandemic, exclaiming: “One second, a Chathaoirligh, I can’t get me mask off over me hoops!”

They were impressive earrings.

Later, the university Senator recalled attending deportation hearings two years ago with a mother and her two young sons. As she was in the courthouse waiting for the family to hear their fate yet again, “that yes, they will be deported”, she described sitting next to the eldest son who was hoping to study in the University of Limerick.

“And my arm was just resting on my leg, beside his arm, and we were both wearing the exact same bracelet.” They got them from an artist who gave the same style bracelet to people who worked on projects with him.

“But all of a sudden it reminded me of the connection that somewhere along the line he participated in another part of the country in something with this same artist as I did, and I remember feeling just incredibly connected to him in that moment.”

But her bracelet kept breaking. “So to remember the idea of this perfect circle and how, you know, how love goes round and how when we treat each other well and that makes, just makes love be so equal between people and families and nationalities and cultures... when the bracelet broke I went and I got it tattooed on me so I could be reminded of that moment sitting in that courtroom, and that sense and feeling of hopelessness that I’m not going to be able to help this family in any shape or form.”

But she did: after a “big campaign” they were helped through “ministerial discretion”.

Ruane met the mother two years later “and she was unrecognisable to me. Her skin was glowing. Her hair was beautiful.”

After the strain of an undocumented existence, she could now stand tall. “I just keep that vision with me and I think we could give that to so many people and so many families and take the burden that they’re carrying with them, off them.”

And as she spoke, the slender inked line around Lynne’s wrist shone brighter than any precious metal ever could.

Who will blink first as Brexit talks go to the brink?

As a Brexit deal between the UK and the EU hangs in the balance this weekend, the gossip around the Berlaymont is that Germany may save Britain’s blushes and swing a last-minute settlement between the two sides.

While attitudes are hardening in a number European states to what some see as a cheeky attempt by the UK to skew the level playing field by winning more concessions, there are suspicions that Germany is too keen on landing a last-ditch deal. Two reasons are cited: the Germans have the EU presidency until the end of the year and want to end it with a result; and Angela Merkel, who is stepping down in 2021 after 16 years as chancellor, also wants to go out with the Brexit situation sorted on her watch.

The French are at the head of the group of countries nervous about further concessions being ceded to the UK in the final phase of negotiations, with Emmanuel Macron’s team tending towards the “no deal is better than a bad deal” camp. He has an election face-off looming with Marine Le Pen and has to be seen to be tough on the fish question.

Officials from the Netherlands, Denmark and Belgium are also said to be worried over what concessions Michel Barnier might agree to in the coming days to get a deal over the line. They don’t want the UK undercutting the bloc as a result of a hastily struck trade deal.

And then there is also a fatigue factor with UK posturing. This wasn’t helped on Friday when an anonymous Downing Street source put it out that the EU is trying to pull a fast one by introducing new demands at the last minute.

“Nobody in Brussels believes it – the EU doesn’t move fast enough to do something like that,” said a Brussels old hand. “Europe agreed its post-Brexit negotiating mandate back in February and hasn’t budged very much from it since then.”

The Downing Street intervention is seen as an attempt to play the blame game by pinning a bad Brexit outcome for the UK on those unreasonable and underhand negotiators on the Continent.

Grist to the mill for those officials in Brussels who are now talking about comeuppance over concessions.