This is my recent article on Martin McGuinness & Sinn Féin’s “profit before principles” approach to Óglaigh na hÉireann/Defence Forces in the Evening Herald on Friday Sept 30th – see it online here
I LIKE Senator John Crown’s test for judging the presidential race: “The presidency … should be prize for best pupil, not the most improved pupil”
It is a valid point. Martin McGuinness is one of many people who have — at varying speeds — helped move this island to a more peaceful existence.
But his story comes in two parts. If he is to get the positive marks for the latter part, then he must also accept the negative ones for the earlier part — and these are considerable.
Many men and women had to pay a heavy and lasting price for the delay in McGuinness, and others, coming to the conclusion reached years before by such inspirational figures as John Hume, Seamus Mallon and Ivan Cooper.
Now his supporters moan at his past being dragged up and the savage killings of the likes of Frank Hegarty and Jerry McCabe being discussed as if the “constructive ambiguity” that was devised to bring Sinn Fein into the political process had become their birthright.
They claim that younger people are not interested in the past. I am not sure that is as true as they think, but even if we do accept that argument, the concerns about their candidate are not all based in the past.
Some stem from the fact that the past stretches forward to touch us today. Take, for instance, Sinn Fein’s attitude to the Irish Defence Forces.
This is an important issue. The Constitution states that supreme command of the defence forces is vested in the President (Article 13.4) and that all officers of the defence forces hold their commissions from the President (Art 13.5.2).
The ambiguous nature of Sinn Fein’s attitude to the Irish Defence Forces post Good Friday agreement was of interest to me when I was adviser to the Minister for Defence.
Though Martin McGuinness the presidential candidate now says he accepts that Oglaigh na hEireann is the Irish Defence Forces, back then the only time you heard the words Oglaigh na hEireann from him or from Gerry Adams, it was a reference to the Provos.
Martin’s volte face on this matter is welcome, though long overdue. He accepts that only the Defence Forces, as successors to the Irish Volunteers, are entitled to use the title: ‘Oglaigh na hEireann’.
Section 16 of the Defence Acts states: “It shall be lawful for the Government to raise, train, equip, arm and maintain Defence Forces to be called and known as Oglaigh na hEireann or (in English) the Defence Forces.”
Perhaps the reason McGuinness and Co found it hard to acknowledge the existence of the Defence Forces was that doing that might be bad for business.
The business in question was the Shinners own online shop. There they busily flogged items, including T-shirts, mouse-mats, bracelets, pendants and signet rings, bearing the title Oglaigh na hEireann, to grab every last euro and dollar they could.
On three occasions, the then Minister wrote to the Sinn Fein leadership, North and South, asking them to remove this material from sale.
The letters were acknowledged, but despite repeated attempts to engage with them, no substantive response was ever issued.
I checked their website again last weekend and was amazed to find that Sinn Fein was still making money from the sale of jewellery bearing the words Oglaigh na hEireann.
While some of the items complained about back in 2005 have been ‘disappeared’, a number are still there. The online description of one of those, a signet ring selling for €45, said: “The inscription reads: Oglaigh na hEireann — which is Irish for Irish Republican Army.”
This gombeen attitude to our heritage and to those who serve our nation is not very presidential. The fact that it still continues suggests that McGuinness’ move on accepting the Defence Forces may not be as deep as it seems.
Well, maybe not until all their back stock of trinkets have been flogged off — profits before principles.