Sunday, February 15, 2015

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Hierarchy of Monuments

By naming the flyover in her honour, which is just yards from where she was murdered, it would send a message that Irish society will never forget the bravery of a woman who stood up to those who profited from destroying communities and ruining families - Robert Dowds

Looking at the discourse swirling around the Dublin N7 flyover that for a time seemed as if it might be named after the murdered journalist, Veronica Guerin, there seems to be something of a Sinn Fein sleight of hand. In June 1996 Guerin was shot dead by gangsters close to the flyover as she sat in her car. Those behind naming the flyover in her memory hoped it would be ready in time for the 20th anniversary of her death next year.

Labour TD for Dublin Mid West Robert Dowds proposed naming the flyover after Guerin, having first gained the backing of her family. His proposal was countered by a South Dublin Sinn Fein councillor, Jonathan Graham. He objected on the grounds that his party is opposed to a hierarchy of victims even though its behaviour in the North shows it is not in fact opposed to a hierarchy of victims.

Sinn Fein then came out saying it hadn’t actually rejected the proposal with Eoin O Broin apologising to the family of Guerin for any hurt that may have been caused by the local authority’s handling of the matter. This, however, had the look of damage limitation sustained after Guerin's brother Jimmy complained about Graham’s “disrespectful” remarks. Although there was nothing necessarily disrespectful about what Graham had to say. In a democratic culture these matters have to be discussed without being ruled offside by the "offence" rule.

A sign that South Dublin Sinn Fein’s handling of the matter was causing some concerns at leadership level became evident when Gerry Adams intervened despite claiming he had “better things to be doing with his time” than involving himself in local authority issues, that sort of thing seemingly beneath an international statesman of his stature. Adams opting for softer focus said he knew Guerin, had discussed matters with her and that his party had not sought to block the bridge being named after her. 

The backdrop to the Adams intervention is the widespread criticism he had earlier taken after having made menacing remarks about the Independent Newspaper Group during a speaking engagement in New York.

In line with the Adams pronouncement O Broin claimed that:

At no time did the Sinn Fein group take a position on whether or not to name the flyover after Veronica Guerin or any other person because there was never actually a discussion on that at the full council.

This only partially explains the situation in that it jars with what Jonathan Graham reportedly told the Irish Independent that he and his colleagues opposed the move although stressed it had nothing to do with Ms Guerin as a person or a journalist. While there may not have been a full discussion at council level there seems to have been a discussion within Sinn Fein’s South Dublin council group and a line taken against naming the flyover after Guerin.

Even though the matter was ultimately rendered academic after the family complained that the issue was being used as a political football and requested that the bridge now not be named in her memory after all, the issue is replete with Sinn Fein's attitudinal disdain for journalism.  The party's top down virulent dislike of investigative journalism has infused the membership with a veto mentality when it comes to publicly honouring a journalist, particularly one from a paper that Sinn Fein finds anathema.  The party’s attitude to journalism is instrumentalist: if it investigates Sinn Fein it is to be demonised, if it investigates Sinn Fein’s adversaries it is to be lauded. The party inherits the perspective identified by Tom Garvin in 2000:

Ex-IRA leaders in power in independent Ireland often became enthusiastic censors, in what was possibly a related expression of anti-intellectualism and dislike of mental freedom.

Moreover, the party in the North is not at all averse to having public space or utilities named after individuals. Even if the issue of the Raymond McCreesh play park in Newry is set to the side, Sinn Fein in Strabane has proposed that a new footbridge in the town be named after one of its late local councillors, Ivan Barr. Barr who died in 2008 served on Strabane Council and was renowned for a strong social conscience. While a local bridge named in his honour would seem a fitting tribute, people have not yet flew over to the point where the notion of Your flyover bad, Our bridge good recommends itself as an anti-hierarchical model of consistency.

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