Anne Harris: Sinn Féin has a real problem with contrition
It is as if they have found they can message everything away, that they are untouchable
Last week, reporters caught up with (left to right) Eoin Ó Broin, Louise O’Reilly, Pearse Doherty, and Matt Carthy – Sinn Féin’s Front-of-House-Four – on their way into Government Buildings. What about their newly elected Réada Cronin and her series of anti-Semitic tweets, they were asked. ‘She has apologised. That was the right thing to do,’ said Doherty. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins
‘By Christ, they are not minded to let go!”
Was Mary Lou McDonald’s strange rhetorical flourish in reference to Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael this day last week evidence of a new evangelism, a wilful ejaculation or just a feeling that, like Trump, she can pretty well say and do as she likes?
Because by no stretch of practice and precedent is “By Christ” what you would call parliamentary language. One wondered, while watching, if the Ceann Comhairle might ask her to withdraw the phrase. He didn’t. I suspect he was following the whiff of other sulphurs in her speech.
One way or another, it was not the most felicitous use of language. Because, as it lingers on in the record you can’t escape the fact that it draws attention to Christ and to Sinn Féin’s relationship with certain Christian values such as contrition.
Much was written during the election campaign about the agony of Breege Quinn, whose son Paul’s sadistic murder in 2007 was blamed on the IRA in Armagh by his family. His reputation was subsequently sullied by a Sinn Féin MLA, now Stormont finance minister, Conor Murphy, who characterised him as a criminal.
Every major bone in the young man’s body was broken. The image that captures his mother’s pain is that of his fingers, so badly crushed that even the traditional, loving, obsequial practice of threading rosary beads through his fingers was impossible.
An apology had to be dragged from the Sinn Féin MLA all these years later, just days before the general election, but no effort has been made at restitution or the rehabilitation of Paul Quinn’s reputation.
Sinn Féin has a real problem with contrition. It was there for all to see last night at a rally of more than 1,000 supporters at the Canal Court Hotel in Newry. It was in the applause for a member of the audience – identified as Kevin from Crossmaglen, Co Armagh – when he told Murphy he had nothing to apologise for.
Another example from last week; Micheál Martin in his speech in the Dáil last week highlighted Sinn Féin’s treatment of IRA sex abuse victims. These include Máiría Cahill, whose rape by an IRA man was very belatedly acknowledged by Gerry Adams and McDonald, after Sinn Féin had suspended the perpetrator, facilitated his leaving the country and covered up the investigation, according to the Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland.
For highlighting the treatment of sex abuse victims Martin was accused by McDonald of being vitriolic and bitter – yes the Ceann Comhairle had his work cut out that day.
But something new has entered the core of Sinn Féin. It is as if they have found they can message everything away, that anything can be solved with a glib apology, that they are untouchable.
Last week, reporters caught up with Pearse Doherty, Eoin Ó Broin, Louise O’Reilly and Matt Carthy – Sinn Féin’s Front-of-House-Four – on their way into Government Buildings. What about their newly elected Réada Cronin and her series of anti-Semitic tweets, they were asked. “She has apologised. That was the right thing to do,” said Doherty.
His demeanour and all subsequent appeals to Sinn Féin drew the same response. She has apologised.
Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane was talking about government formation on Prime Time last week as well, just over a week after shouting pro-IRA slogans at the election count. A remark by Prime Time presenter David McCullagh that Cullinane hadn’t helped matters with his own behaviour was silenced with a breezy: “I apologised for that.”
Contrition is a subject to which the catechism – and indeed secular catechetics like AA – devotes much attention. Contrition can be perfect (sorrow for simply doing wrong), or imperfect (sorrow for other reasons.) Either way it has to be followed by atonement and a firm purpose of amendment.
Real contrition should cost.
So while apologising promptly may seem like progress, it is becoming apparent that apologies without consequence seem to be the default position of the new exuberant Sinn Féin – rather like the manipulative teenager who susses that love means saying sorry as often as the adults require it, while ignoring the underlying bad behaviour. To make amends you have to feel the wrong done. And pay.