Ruth Dudley Edwards: Sinn Fein try to muzzle their critics in the media and in politics
Well, amongst other unpleasant activities, over the past few years, they’ve been stepping up their strategy of trying to silence critics north and south by seizing opportunities to sue the media for libel, invasion of privacy or whatever else takes their fancy.
For some reason, finding the money to fund legal action does not seem to be a problem.
In both jurisdictions, lawfare against political opponents is a new threat. In court last month, Michelle O’Neill, SF’s most senior Northern Ireland politician, sued over a DUP councillor’s clumsy insult (“she will be put back in her kennel”), claiming “it was an attempt to belittle and ridicule me”.
What??????? That’s politics, Mrs O’Neill.
O’Neill received no damages, and both have to pay their own costs (close to £13,000), but unlike John Carson she lost neither party nor job. He fears losing his home.
Memorably, in 2014, Gerry Adams at a dinner in America, said approvingly that when during what is known as the War of Independence, the Irish Independent had condemned the assassination operations ordered by Michael Collins as “murder most foul”, Collins had dispatched his men to the newspaper’s office where they held the editor at gunpoint as they destroyed the entire printing press.
Adams laughed it off, but many press organisations including the International Federation of Journalists, and Investigators, Reporters and editors were very rattled indeed. Sinn Fein is ruthless and shameless.
They deny suggestions that they favour ‘SLAPP’ action (strategic lawsuits against public participation) but don’t give good reasons for ignoring the Press Council and the Press Ombudsman.
Sinn Fein TDs including Mary Lou McDonald, a serial suer, have cleaned up at the expense of newspapers, which are vulnerable at a time of declining sales.
Now, in what the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar described as a frightening development “designed to make journalists afraid”, Sinn Fein’s Chris Andrews is taking it a stage further down south by suing both the Irish Times and its political correspondent Harry McGee.
So what else has happened in Sinn Fein world? Well, there was a bit of a difference of opinion between leaders and SF rank and file over the question of whether the party should demand the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador to Ireland. They were in complete agreement about loathing Israel, which has been clear for many a year as they formed relationships with dictators and terrorists abroad.
SF managed only perfunctory expressions of sympathy over the hideous brutality of the Hamas invasion or the horror of the hostage-taking, but ploughed in merrily when Israel embarked on its attempt to eradicate the Hamas death cult. This self-defence is called ‘collective punishment’ by its critics.
It's a difficult mission, not least because Hamas don't care if their people live or die, which is why they spend vast quantities of foreign aid building weaponry which they store in hospitals and schools.
In her anxiety to represent herself as acceptable to the middle classes, Mary Lou McDonald had been broadly taking the government line on Gaza, which has been to call for a ceasefire, but say nothing about the ambassador.
But there was hysteria at the conference. At the Ardfheis in Athlone, Gerry Adams was reminding everyone he still matters by flaunting as a scarf a black-and-white Palestinian keffiyeh, a square of cloth usually worn by Arab men fastened round the head, and hugged the Palestinian ambassador whose nasty and mendacious speech claimed Israel was guilty of “systematic genocide”.
McDonald had allegedly had a quick visit north to see influential advisers, and at the last minute her own speech, which described Israel action actions as barbaric, hateful and cowardly, was revised to add the demand that the Israel ambassador should be sent home. Considering she had called for a new island, the Orange and Green reconciled” and “no place for racism, Islamophobia, Anti-Semitism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, or sectarianism”, you have to laugh.
So ecstatic was the ovation that an Irish friend rang to say it resembled Nuremberg rallies.
As the Irish Times political commentator Stephen Collins put it, seeing SF’s concerted effort to use the legal system to muzzle the media and political opponents, “it takes no great leap of imagination to foresee how the party will act if it gets its hands on the levers of power.”