Cynical and hypocritical

Sinn Fein’s tactics

Anyone who expects Sinn Féin to operate according to the standing orders of a Dáil it only recently recognised fails to understand the party’s determination to share government on both sides of the Border.

Flouting rules counts for little in such circumstances. The Dáil is not being treated as a legislature but as a publicity-generating platform from where the party can command cheap headlines.

The behaviour in recent weeks of the party’s deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald confirms that perception.

Challenging authority is the name of the game, be it the Government, Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett, Tánaiste Joan Burton or the political establishment. The effectiveness of this approach is measured by whether Fianna Fáil and Independent TDs are upstaged and Sinn Féin shown to be the loudest and most intransigent voice in the House.

So far, it has worked a treat. A four-hour sit-in by Ms McDonald, after her colleagues voted to suspend her, not only disrupted Dáil business on the day but made the headlines for much of the following week.

Mr Barrett’s impartiality was disputed by Sinn Féin and the Tánaiste formally accused of “a breach of privilege”.

All of this before Ms McDonald dispensed with any notion of due process and read the names of six former ministers into the Dáil record as potential tax cheats.

These incidents were designed to distract attention from Sinn Féin's own particular difficulties, involving Gerry Adams and his handling of the Máiria Cahill affair.

But they form part of a larger picture as the party prepares for a general election. Efforts to expand its support base and project a moderate image left Sinn Féin dangerously exposed earlier this year.

Paul Murphy of the Socialist Party and Anti-Austerity Alliance wrested a Dáil seat from its highly fancied candidate in Dublin South-West because the party appeared to be ambivalent on water charges.

An assault from established parties, based on Sinn Féin’s historical baggage, had been anticipated but losing an election because of support for the rule of law was a new experience.

Since then, policy has changed. So have tactics.

Bleating from Government and Opposition benches that Sinn Féin has been engaging in “stunts” merely states the obvious.

It does nothing for a disillusioned electorate that is prepared to believe in the past venality of ministers.

It also raises the question: if politicians do not obey rules, why should we? The Ceann Comhairle miscalculated by allowing Ms McDonald to bring Dáil business to a halt.

Speculation raged for days about her intended actions. By naming persons under Dáil privilege she has offered a further challenge that should be dealt with by an all-party committee.

If the Oireachtas is to function effectively, its rules must apply to all members.