27 December 2005

O’Donoghue interview - Private army claim an election ploy



With an authority worthy of the Progressive Democrats, if not superior to it, Minister John O’Donoghue declares in an interview with this newspaper today that Sinn Féin still retains a private army.

His assertion is predicated on the fact that the IRA has not gone away, and that Fianna Fáil would not be entering any government arrangement, formal or informal, with the other republican party.

It is an intriguing, and rather perplexing, proposition for a number of reasons.

The minister, who is responsible for arts, sports and tourism, has declared this country would take on the aspect of a "banana republic" should Sinn Féin assume a governmental role.

This, despite the fact that the imprimatur of legitimacy has been conferred by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern on Sinn Féin in the aftermath of the IRA having decommissioned its arsenal.

Mr Ahern said at the time that the "standing down" of IRA units and its decommissioning of all weapons had given Sinn Féin the status of a legitimate, democratic and constitutional party.

The latter end of that description is an endorsement of the standing of the party, which would not be considered out of context in the curriculum vitae of Fianna Fáil itself.

Mr O'Donoghue's sentiments would appear to be at odds with those of his leader, who would scarcely have ratified Sinn Féin as a democratic and constitutional party if he also believed they retained a private army.

Certainly, the Taoiseach had previously ruled out Fianna Fáil entering a coalition with SF after the next election, even if the IRA fulfilled its pledge to decommission, which it has.

But his opposition to sharing power with them is on the grounds of differences of policy. He has stated that Sinn Féin had opposed the Government on major European issues, including the Nice Treaty, but apart from Europe there is also a different fiscal philosophy.

Although decommissioning by the IRA has occurred, it is hardly a popular misconception that they have gone away.

They were never to disappear, but rather the organisation was understood to transform itself into something resembling a merely commemorative body.

What is needed now is that the Independent Monitoring Commission write practically a clear bill of health for them next month, and at the moment that looks likely. It may very well take the view that more time is required reach an assessment of the IRA's structure and intentions.

The Government will reach the end of its five-year term in 2007 if nothing happens in the interim to precipitate its capitulation.

It will not escape a questioning electorate that Mr O'Donoghue's opinion about Sinn Féin and private armies may be related to that occasion, given the standing of that party in the polls.

It should not and obviously does not escape his attention that there is a restless electorate out there actively pondering an alternative government.

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