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ireland, irish, ulster, ireland, irish, ulster, Sinn Féin, Irish America

Who can I sue?

(Eamonn McCann, Sunday Journal)

I don't mind a bit of fun, but getting the thumbs up from Eoghan Harris and Ruth Dudley Edwards in the same week is an insult up with which I cannot reasonably be expected to put.

Eoghan was giving out in the Sunday Independent about (go on, guess) the Provos and Trots who have taken total control of The Irish Times and RTE. Kathy Sheridan of the Times, he complained, had been a panellist on some Dublin chat-show and had "taken a cut at Jim Cusack, our security correspondent."

Apparently, Ms. Sheridan had suggested that Cusack's story the previous week on the killing of Denis Donaldson had been somewhat lacking in the evidence department.

"Meantime," he continued, "over on Today FM, Eamon McCann – who had no hard evidence – was speculating that Donaldson may have been murdered by Provos who felt they were being pushed around by the CAB and ARA while spies like Donaldson got off scot-free. Made sense to me."

Eoghan then expressed his "firm belief" that "if Kathy Sheridan was in the same studio as Eamon McCann, she would not demand he produce hard proof to support his speculations."

This was the burden of Eoghan's complaint, then: that Sheridan had demanded proof from Jim Cusack of a sort which she wouldn't have demanded from me.

Now, as readers will have spotted, and, indeed, Eoghan himself noted, I'd made it clear (on Eamon Dunphy's show) that I possessed no proof, hard or otherwise, as to the identity of Donaldson's killers and that anything I might say on the subject would be speculation. That said, I went on to suggest that members or former members of the Provisional IRA, angry at recent events relating to Slab Murphy and others, and further enraged at the thought of a tout getting off scot-free, might have grabbed a shotgun and headed for Glenties to put matters to rights. I still think that's as likely a scenario as any other.

The difference between this and Jim Cusack's story – that the Provisional IRA had hired a hit-man to whack Donaldson – is that Cusack had presented his account as news, based on sources the reader was invited to trust. If he'd advanced his speculation as just that – speculation – neither Kathy Sheridan nor anyone else could have challenged him. It was because he offered the story as fact that she was right to challenge him. In response to the challenge, Cusack was unable to cite evidence, much less "hard proof."

The conclusions I draw are that Eoghan (a), doesn't understand the difference between fact and speculation and (b), can't spell my first name. One of these deficiencies is, in journalistic terms, sacrilegious.

And then there's Ruth. She popped up on Slugger O'Toole to agree with my argument here last week that Ruairi O Bradaigh and the Continuity IRA are the legitimate inheritors of the legacy of 1916.

Except that this isn't what I said. Not exactly. My point was that, in terms of orthodox Republican ideology, Ruairi and the CIRA seem to me to have a better claim on 1916 than any of their rivals for the Republican mantle. Indeed, the more I think on it, the more obvious this appears to be

Eoghan Harris telling me my opinions make sense. Ruth Dudley Edwards saying in the same week that I'm right about something. Can this be coincidence? Have they teamed up to unnerve me. Is there anybody I can sue?


"Lifford is a 'criminal's paradise'," the headline in a local newspaper announced on Friday, exemplifying the doughty refusal of modern Irish journalists to be hidebound by pettifogging rules about apostrophes.

The story told of a gathering the previous Tuesday called by a Sinn Féin councillor to highlight crime levels in the village. The main call at the meeting, it seemed, had been for more guards and more garda powers.

Speakers were quoted saying that the Lifford crime wave was down to "a small minority who were known to the gardai." One resident reportedly added that gardai "should be waiting outside the homes of these people and pulling them up wherever they go."

In Donegal this was said. At a meeting hosted by Sinn Féin.

I recall a Sinn Féin councillor demanding action along the same lines in a different Donegal village back in 1992. Then, the word was that illegal drugs were fuelling a crime-wave centred on the Point Inn at Quigley's Point. The drug dealers were well-known, it was claimed. Strutting the streets, laughing in the face of the law. There weren't enough guards in the area to take them on. And the guards who were available didn't have the powers they'd need to put fear into these villains. And even when they did collar the wrong-doers and bring them to court, smart lawyers and weak judges would allow them to walk free.

Making up for this perceived weakness of the State, the IRA threatened violence and worse against drug-dealers it claimed were supplying the Point Inn. The life of at least one young Derryman who ran buses to the Point at weekends was directly threatened. Terrified, he left his home and his job. A number of us who intervened to try to have the threat to his life lifted became convinced that he'd been selected as a scapegoat not because he'd been dealing drugs but for having previously angered individuals he might have been wiser to steer clear of.

Strong public pressure was put on the guards to take action against the Point. Other political parties, fearing that they'd be outflanked by Sinn Féin on the law and order issue, joined in calls for action. Files of the Derry Journal or Donegal Democrat for the period will confirm that demands for tough garda action were constant and came most insistently from Sinn Féin, and that statements were worded to leave no room for doubt that it was the Point Inn the campaigners wanted hit.

It was against this background that dodgy cops in the Donegal division came to believe that they'd get away with throwing caution and safeguards to the wind and fitting up Point Inn owner Frank Shortt.

Fast forward to late last year and Frank Shortt and myself are speaking at a meeting in Raphoe about the abuse of garda power in his case, the McBrearty case and scores of other cases which have never made headlines. Also present were a number of Donegal politicians. I thought maybe they'd come to help ensure there was no repetition of this systematic abuse of garda power in Donegal. Now I see that some of them at least were more likely learning from the past how to whip up law'n'order feeling so as to wrong-foot opponents and win votes.

April 24, 2006

This article appeared in the April 23, 2006 edition of the Sunday Journal.