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Stephen Collins: McElwain tribute shows SF is no ordinary political party

Sinn Féin remains IRA mouthpiece and is untroubled by its ‘sinister’ database

There is something troubling about the fact that in the same week that Arlene Foster was forced to step down as the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the IRA man who she believes shot her father in the head was eulogised by a Sinn Féin TD as a continuing inspiration.

While the focus of attention is currently on the future of the DUP, the real face of the campaign to have a Border poll was exposed for anybody who cared to see it by the boast of Monaghan Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy that notorious IRA killer Séamus McElwain’s vision of a united Ireland is close to being realised.

McElwain was a member of the IRA’s south Fermanagh brigade, and was linked to at least 10 murders before he was shot by the SAS in 1986. Foster has never hidden her belief that McElwain was one of the gang who shot her father John Kelly in the head at the family home in 1979. Kelly survived the attack but a number of other Protestant targets in Fermanagh were not so lucky.

There is some irony in the fact that just as Foster is pushed out of the leadership of the DUP, partly for her failure to deal with the cash for ash scandal, Sinn Féin does not appear to be under any serious pressure on either side of the Border over a succession of disclosures that would have the media in a frenzy if it were any other party.

Carthy's eulogy for McElwain should put paid to the naive notion the Sinn Féin leadership is somehow trapped into an unwilling defence of the IRA

Carthy’s eulogy for McElwain should put paid to the naive notion that the Sinn Féin leadership is somehow trapped into an unwilling defence of the IRA because of old loyalties that have no great relevance to current politics. The fact of the matter is that Sinn Féin was, and remains, the political mouthpiece of the IRA. That is the fundamental reason for its existence. Carthy made no bones about it in his address last Monday evening, saying “Séamus and all of those who fought for Irish freedom continue to inspire us.”

Mountbatten killing

The Monaghan TD’s sentiments chimed with those of his party leader Mary Lou McDonald whose recent comments about the IRA killing of Prince Philip’s uncle Louis Mountbatten and three companions, two of them children, were widely described as an apology when they were nothing of the kind. All McDonald said was “I’m sorry that happened.” A few days later, she clarified her position, just in case anybody thought she was criticising the IRA, saying that the murders at Mullaghmore were “part and parcel of forcing a political response from Britain”.

What all this amounts to is that Sinn Féin is no ordinary political party. That is what makes the revelations about the party’s secret database of voters all the more worrying. The disclosure of the existence of the Abú database, which apparently cross-referenced facts from the electoral register with information about voters gleaned from Facebook, initially prompted Sinn Féin denials that anything untoward was taking place. The fact that the data is being stored in Serbia and Germany added to the sense of unease about what it might all mean and the party is now being investigated here and in the UK for potential breaches of the data legislation.

Weeks of denial

Taoiseach Micheál Martin was not alone in finding something “deeply sinister” about the database and Sinn Féin’s initial refusal to accept that it had done anything wrong. “Their party leader has admitted now, after weeks of denial, that Sinn Féin did not comply with the most basic of laws when compiling their Abú database,” he remarked.

The only surprise about this is that anybody is surprised by Sinn Féin’s data-collection activities and its evasiveness once it was rumbled. A party which glories in the fact that its heroes like Séamus McElwain killed people is hardly likely to be too troubled by such minor matters as possible breaches of the data protection laws.

There has been a great deal of speculation about the prospect of Sinn Féin taking over the reins of government after the next election

The big question is whether the voters will be bothered by any of this. After its stunning performance in last year’s general election, there has been a great deal of speculation about the prospect of Sinn Féin taking over the reins of government after the next election. Opinion polls over the past year have shown the party’s vote holding up well, although there are signs that it may have plateaued.

The forthcoming byelection in Dublin Bay South, while it is not the ideal constituency for the party, may provide some indication whether the electorate has any qualms about the continuing rise of Sinn Féin. Getting into government, though, will depend on whether other political parties have any qualms about facilitating Sinn Féin’s rise to power. It is in that context that the spate of recent disclosures may turn out to be most damaging in the long run.

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