Hypocrisy of Gerry Adams' rivals in Republic now votes are at stake shameful
Sinn Fein is branded a political pariah by the other main parties in tomorrow's election in the South. But where were the same voices of condemnation when the IRA was busy murdering nationalists during its so-called ceasefire, asks Suzanne Breen.
It's easy to predict where Gerry Adams won't be tomorrow. Neither the Sinn Fein president, nor any party bigwig, will be in Dublin's Special Criminal Court supporting Thomas 'Slab' Murphy as he is sentenced for major tax evasion offences.
Adams knows that a no-show is essential.
On polling day in the Republic, doing otherwise would provide political gold-dust to his opponents.
Within seconds of a sighting of the pair together, Press statements denouncing "Gerry with the IRA mafia boss" would be winging their way to newsrooms across the country.
"Sinn Fein isn't a normal political party, just look at the shadowy characters whose company its leader keeps," Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour spokespersons would cry in unison.
Of course, they are right.
But please don't expect me to applaud their insight.
When Sinn Fein accuses its rivals of cheap politicking on these matters, it has a point.
Because for years during the peace process the same parties turned blind eye after blind eye to all sorts of nefarious deeds by the Provos.
With the IRA literally getting away with murder for so long, no wonder Sinn Fein is astounded at this hullabaloo over Murphy's tax dodging.
The shadowy side of the Provisional movement only made it onto the southern political agenda when Sinn Fein became serious contenders for power in the Republic in recent years.
When the party was largely contained to this side of the border, the Dublin Establishment didn't give a hoot about what they were up to - so long as it didn't rock the peace process boat.
Fianna Fail and Fine Gael now treat Sinn Fein as political untouchables and have ruled out a coalition government with the republican party under any circumstances.
It seems that, no matter what electoral mandate the Shinners secure from the people tomorrow, it won't be good enough.
The party is viewed as a leper contaminating the political environment by its very existence.
Yet, the same southern parties expected unionists to form a mandatory coalition with Sinn Fein.
And those in Northern Ireland who said no, expressed misgivings, or dragged their feet, were portrayed as intransigent, sectarian bigots. Sinn Fein leaders refuse to condemn Thomas 'Slab' Murphy and that's entirely logical.
Murphy put them where they are today.
When Sinn Fein refers to Slab's pivotal role in the peace process, they are speaking the truth.
After IRA quartermaster-general Mickey McKevitt mounted a challenge to the leadership in 1997, Murphy crucially backed the Adams-McGuinness faction.
McKevitt went on a 'Discover Ireland' recruitment tour as the Real IRA launched a high-profile bombing campaign.
In the republican world, the Adams-McGuinness axis was in danger like never before.
Slab"s support was instrumental.
He ensured the bulk of south Armagh remained within the fold.
As IRA chief-of-staff, he toed the Sinn Fein leadership's line on entering Stormont, signing up to policing and even decommissioning.
In return, he believed he'd be left to run his criminal empire in peace.
The south Armagh IRA has historically been responsible for far greater offences than not filing tax returns and most in Leinster House looked the other way, because it was politically convenient to do so.
Eamon Collins was an ex-IRA member who gave damning evidence for The Sunday Times in Slab's failed libel action against the paper in 1998. Slab lost the case and a lot of money as a result.
Collins lost his life.
Eight months after the trial he was attacked while walking his dog on the outskirts of Newry.
He was stabbed and beaten so badly that police initially thought he had been hit by a car.
Northern Ireland's First Minister David Trimble blamed the Provisionals and called for a halt to the release of IRA prisoners.
Across the border the Fianna Fail Government kept its head down and ignored this clear breach of the ceasefire.
Adams said the murder was "regrettable", but added that Collins had "many enemies in many places".
Nobody in the Republic held the Sinn Fein president to account for those weasel words because, back then, his party inhabited the margins of southern politics and posed no serious electoral threat.
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin (left) has been the staunchest and most articulate critic of Sinn Fein in recent times.
He's rounded on Adams in several TV debates and he's lambasted him for being part of a "sinister movement" that fails to expose "child abusers, racketeers and murderers".
Yet Fianna Fail's record in challenging IRA human rights' abuses during the peace process years is shameful.
Charles Bennett was a 22-year-old Belfast taxi-driver.
On July 27, 1999, the IRA abducted him.
His body was found four days later on waste ground behind a west Belfast social club.
His hands were tied behind his back and a cloth covered his face. He had been shot three times in the head.
The Provisionals didn't deny killing him, but said it "was not a breach of the cessation". When asked directly in the Dail about the murder, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern insisted that while "these matters are of the gravest concern", the ceasefire hadn't been broken.
This Jesuitical use of language in both government and republican circles was seen as legitimate, not loathsome, in those days.
The IRA killed more than 20 people - working-class nationalists, whose lives you might expect the Irish Government to value - while technically still on ceasefire.
There was little political fallout.
And Provisional "punishment" attacks continued for years, with Padre Pio-style shootings - where victims were ordered to clasp their hands together in prayer and then shot through the palms - commonplace.
In the Republic - with rare exceptions like Michael McDowell - the political class didn't give a hoot about brutality in "the black north".
I worked for The Irish Times during that period and exposing IRA terror wasn't a popular activity in certain quarters.
Indeed, it was likely to lead to someone in the Department of Foreign Affairs having a word in the editor's ear about "reporting unhelpful to the peace process".
Ahern's Government failed to offer any meaningful practical help to the families of Robert McCartney or Paul Quinn - murdered by the IRA in 2005 and 2007 respectively.
Robert's sister Catherine told me that the Fianna Fail's pledge to play hardball with Sinn Fein "turned out to involve a feather duster, not a big stick".
Nowadays an innocuous sentence from Adams - usually in the form a trivial tweet - causes a chorus of condemnation and outrage.
Not that long ago the Sinn Fein president could boast that the IRA hadn't gone away and Dublin barely batted an eyelid.
It's amazing how so many politicians have suddenly developed a conscience now their own political interests are under threat.