Nelson McCausland: All in all, it was a bad week at the office for Sinn Fein — north and south of the border
Connolly House cabal revealed, presidential poll meltdown... and an insult to dead of Shankill bomb
Last week was another bad one for Sinn Fein — and for three main reasons. Former Sinn Fein Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir had to appear before the RHI Inquiry and it exposed something of the inner workings of Sinn Fein. Statements and emails published by the inquiry revealed that O Muilleoir was in close contact with three senior republicans at party headquarters and would not sign a key document until he had cleared it with one of the three.
That person is Ted Howell, who, at 72, can rightly be described as a veteran republican.
He is also a long-standing confidant of Gerry Adams.
In January 2017 O Muilleoir sent an email to Howell asking if he “was content if I (O Muilleoir) were to sign off the business plan on Wednesday?”
This gives us some insight into the power of veteran republicans based around Connolly House and reminds us, if we needed reminding, that Sinn Fein is far more than a political party: it is simply one part of a wider movement and the real power lies with veteran republicans, who are at the heart of the movement and to whom everyone else is subservient.
Meanwhile, in the Irish Republic, Sinn Fein got it badly wrong in relation to the presidential election. Its vote was cut in half, to just 6.4%, and its candidate, a member of the European Parliament, came in fourth behind the current president and two independents.
Liadh Ni Riada had all the resources of Sinn Fein behind her campaign and yet she could only manage an embarrassing fourth place.
Mary Lou McDonald was left to explain it away and she was helped by the fact that the media seemed more interested in Peter Casey, the controversial independent candidate who came second. But for that there would have been more scrutiny of the collapse in the party’s vote.
It would be possible to read too much into this, but it does show that there is nothing inevitable about the rise of Sinn Fein in the Republic and it must have come as a shock to the faithful — especially the veteran republicans who really run the party.
They will, of course, want to analyse the campaign and see where it all went wrong, but will it lead to any change in their strategy? Only time will tell.
Meanwhile, on Saturday afternoon, as the votes were being counted in the Republic, there was a shameful reminder of the callousness of Sinn Fein.
In the heart of republican west Belfast there was a commemoration at Milltown for the IRA bomber Thomas Begley, who murdered nine innocent people on the Shankill Road 25 years ago.
We were told that the event wasn’t organised by Sinn Fein, but when it became known that party members would attend, there was no way out for Mary Lou McDonald. As the Sinn Fein president she had to defend the presence of her members at the commemoration.
In the best tradition of republican doublespeak, she talked about the right to remember and, in a free society, people do have the right to remember. But when you put Sean Kelly, the convicted bomber, at the centre of the ceremony, it moves way beyond remembrance.
There was a special focus on this episode because the Shankill bomb was one of the worst IRA atrocities and this was the 25th anniversary. But there is an annual calendar of Sinn Fein-sponsored commemorations for members of the IRA, an organisation that murdered more than 1,800 people during the Troubles.
It was a week in which we learned a little more about the “Connolly House cabal” that really runs Sinn Fein, a week in which the party had an embarrassing election and a week in which Mary Lou McDonald had to defend the indefensible.
Yes, it was a bad week for Sinn Fein.