Sinn Féin bullied other parties with Gaza publicity stunt

Opinion: All of the bigger parties have something to fear if they allow themselves to be intimidated


The Dáil adjourned for the summer recess with a publicity stunt from Sinn Féin which served as a reminder to all the other parties of just what a ruthless opponent they face.

It began with an attempt by Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald to misrepresent the position adopted by Tánaiste Joan Burton on the appalling situation in Gaza. McDonald unfairly suggested that Burton was more concerned about advising Irish citizens to leave Gaza than with the death and destruction being inflicted on innocent women and children.

It was followed by an intervention out of the blue from Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, who called on all members of the Dáil to stand in solidarity with the people of Gaza and the Middle East.

Fianna Fáil and the Independent TDs jumped to their feet immediately and were sheepishly followed by Government Deputies. At this stage a number of the Sinn Féin TDs held up photocopies of the Palestinian flag.

Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett was justifiably furious at having his function usurped. He told Adams that if he ever had a similar proposal in future he should do the chair the courtesy of giving advance notice.

“I do not want to be put in that position ever again,” said Barrett.

The other parties played along with varying degrees of enthusiasm, but some TDs silently fumed at the irony of a party which supported a campaign of terror and murder against the civilian population of its own country attempting to make political capital from the suffering being inflicted on the people of Gaza.

Labour’s Eric Byrne gave voice to that mood. As Sinn Féin TDs worked themselves into a lather about the bombing of innocent women and children, he interjected: “They know all about bombing and how to deliver bombs.”

In the event the Sinn Féin protest didn’t get much media traction but it was an indication of the lengths to which the party will go to try and wrongfoot its opponents at every turn.

An interview with Mary Lou McDonald on the Irish Times website during the week showed how Sinn Féin goes about defending the IRA record of violence by twisting the facts of history to suit its agenda.

Rewriting the past to suit present political objectives is something at which the party has proved adept down the years and both the Coalition parties and Fianna Fáil struggle to find an adequate response.

If they continue to allow themselves to be bullied as they were on Thursday then all of the bigger parties will lose support to Sinn Féin at the next election.

An exchange at a private meeting of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on the final day of the session also exposed another layer of cynical political posturing but this time across party lines.

At the meeting the legal adviser to the Dáil and Seanad, Melissa English, accused some members of the committee of undermining her independence.

The TDs she mentioned were Mary Lou McDonald, Shane Ross and committee chair John McGuinness, all of whom have engaged in populist outrage over the past couple of years, usually at the expense of witnesses at PAC hearings.

In the process they have generated great publicity for themselves but at the cost of bringing the fairness of the Oireachtas committee system into disrepute.

Heated exchanges

There were heated exchanges on Thursday when Fine Gael’s John Deasy accused Ross and McDonald of being “bullsh---ers” and refused to withdraw his remarks.

Deasy may not be flavour of the month with his own party leadership but he has been one of the few Government TDs on the PAC to stand up to the McCarthyite tactics that are threatening to undermine the long-term credibility of what is the most important of the Dáil committees.

The other big political event of the week was the second phase of the Government reshuffle. This time it was the junior ministries that were up for grabs, and it was the blunders made by Fine Gael that attracted most of the attention.

The failure to appoint one woman among the five new Fine Gael Ministers is indefensible. There was something incongruous about a Government party that is implementing gender quotas at the next election not being able to appoint at least one woman Minister of State.

It was all very fine for Fine Gael to point out that with the promotion of Heather Humphreys the previous week a quarter of the Cabinet is now composed of women but that still does not get away from the fact that the party could not come up with one woman at junior ministerial level.

Fluent Irish

The other talking point was that neither the senior nor junior Minister at the Department of the Gaeltacht has fluent Irish. Joe McHugh, a Donegal TD who has the actual responsibility for the portfolio, has promised to brush up on his language skills but that has not deflected criticism from language groups and Fianna Fáil.

In fairness, though, there were very few Irish speakers to pick from on the Government backbenches and this is a reflection of the true state of the language.

When Enda Kenny, whose fluency can’t be questioned, proposed a few years ago that society should face up to the decline of the language and bring compulsory Irish to an end he was rounded on by the language lobby and Fianna Fáil. Maybe now is the time for a proper, unemotive look at where Irish stands today, and what practically can be done to preserve it.

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