SF’s stance on past statements ‘Orwellian’, says Taoiseach

Martin alleges party deleted material from website to avoid review of position on Russia

Sinn Féin’s explanation for the removal of thousands of press statements from its website is “Orwellian”, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said.

He suggested the material was deleted because the party did not want its past statements on Russia examined.

“I would be concerned about it but I think there is a reason why they’re all being taken off, or taken out of, the archives . . . I think Sinn Féin was soft on Russia for the last number of years,” Mr Martin told reporters in Washington on Tuesday.

“I mean, Sinn Féin is saying – which is good news – now that they don’t agree with the violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity. But it was violated in 2014 and I recall in the Dáil making those points at the time and the response was somewhat muted from Sinn Féin, to say the least.”

Mr Martin said he had read a statement by party leader Mary Lou McDonald indicating “the archives are being changed. Kind of Orwellian, I thought to myself,” he said.

Sinn Féin has downplayed removal of more than 50,000 press statements from its website, explaining that the party was tidying up its archive.

Amid renewed scrutiny over the party’s past record, Sinn Féin said it did not regret its opposition to the expulsion of a Russian diplomat from Ireland in 2018 after Russian agents poisoned dissident Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, England.

The party’s welfare spokeswoman, Claire Kerrane, said there was no inconsistency between its position four years ago and now, where it has called for the expulsion of the Russian ambassador Yury Filatov.

She also denied that Sinn Féin has “flip-flopped” its position in relation to Russia since the invasion of Ukraine.

Conflict

“I would not say we regret it,” said Ms Kerrane on Tuesday.

“We had our position at the time, it was well known. It was put out there. We are now in a very, very, very different situation in relation to the conflict that’s there in Ukraine, of people being absolutely bombed and killed every single day.

“So we have a very firm position in relation to what Russia is doing. This will only be solved by discussions, by getting around the table, that is the only way conflict will be solved,” she added.

Following the poisoning, Ireland was one of several European Union countries that expelled diplomats.

In the Dáil Ms McDonald criticised the decision of then taoiseach Leo Varadkar to expel a diplomat. Describing it as “a flagrant disregard for Irish neutrality”, the Sinn Féin leader said the decision was based on information from a foreign security intelligence service, which was an unprecedented step. “Essentially, we are being asked to trust Boris Johnson. Dare I say that this might not be the best course of action?” she said.

An inquiry by investigative group Bellingcat proved subsequently the two men who poisoned the Skripals were agents with the Russian secret service.

In a policy paper on Irish neutrality published afterwards, Sinn Féin renewed its criticism of the expulsions.

“The escalation of involvement with EU military structures and the recent expulsion of a Russian diplomat in supposed solidarity with another EU member state under the pretence of common defence and security co-operation . . . shows that this government is prepared to sacrifice our neutrality and independent foreign policy at the altar of European integration unless stopped,” it stated.

Different space

Ms Kerrane said: “We did not call for an expulsion at the time. But now we’re in a very different space. It’s a very different situation now.”

She said things have changed drastically: “Our position in relation to the situation now was very clear in the midst of this war.”

On the removal by Sinn Féin of 52,000 past statements from its website, she added that the press releases were being archived as they were beginning to slow down the site. She said all of those releases were public documents released to the media and were therefore accessible.

Ms Kerrane went on to again call on the Government to take action in relation to energy costs, particularly home heating.