For now despite an intense media barrage and Katyusha style flak from political opponents Sinn Fein is holding the line on Thomas Slab Murphy, last week convicted of tax evasion in Dublin’s no-jury Special Criminal Court.
Mary Lou McDonald has now added her voice to the chorus of tomfoolery that the party’s public discourse is so often reduced to when embarrassing issues arise. The party that promised to tax the rich is now being portrayed as the party that eulogises
a millionaire tax dodger.
Sinn Fein’s moth like attraction to the flame of public ridicule and bad publicity is one of those Northern conflict legacy issues that ensnares the party more than it enables it to move forward on the issues of today. Martin McGuinness has expressed surprise at the reaction to the Murphy verdict but he shouldn’t really. The Murphy conviction has mushroomed in relevance only because of the South Armagh man’s longstanding association with the coterie of martial politicians which has remained firmly in situ at the heart of the Sinn Fein leadership for decades. Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and Labour each have had around five different leaders since 1983. Sinn Fein is now in its fourth decade of being under the firm control of the same caudillo and his camarilla. Burning political ambition, the determining factor in maintaining that status quo.
One of Sinn Fein’s main lines of defence, or deflection depending on how you view it, is that Murphy should never have been tried in a no jury court. It is an argument that surely has merit in any society and which should be applicable to all citizens. The weakness in Sinn Fein’s posturing is that in the North where the Diplock system is still regularly used to try republicans the party has nothing to say in opposition to the British state’s prosecutor doing his utmost to haul people in front of juryless courts. In contrast to its harsh criticism of Director of Public Prosecutions Claire Loftus it lauds Barra McGrory, depicting him as a wizard rather than a weasel.
While Murphy is being defended for now, the time might come where Adams will decide that such a course is no longer conducive to the furtherance of his political career. The axe may yet be brought to bear on one former IRA chief of staff by another. In that closed world the interests of the primus inter pares come before all else.
What many of those in the grassroots - including those who have sympathy for Tom Murphy’s current predicament - have long failed to grasp is that when Adams came into the republican forest in the form of an axe, the ranks of trees, in the words of the old Turkish proverb, reassured each other that things were fine, “the handle is one of us".
They never paused to consider that the British state could have said the same thing with greater conviction.