Having just read Malachi O’Doherty’s excellent “Can Ireland Be One?’’ I’ve now finished another unputdownable book Sinn Fein will hate.

Published: 11 October 2022

The party didn’t make it easy for Shane Ross — a journalist and Independent TD who was a minister in the last government but lost his seat in February 2020 — to write a biography of Mary Lou McDonald.

Because they had both made their reputations as ruthless attack dogs on the Public Accounts Committee, and they remained on friendly terms, he had — rather bizarrely considering her track record with vindictive lawfare — been under the impression that she would give him at least some cooperation.

Did he seriously believe her protestations of wanting transparency in the public arena?

McDonald told him she was much too boring to be the subject of a biography and after consulting others, said she would not help as a biography was “premature”, but would not tell anyone to refuse to help.

Yet strangely, Sinn Fein TDs who had already agreed to speak to him pulled out, and those he had already asked who had gone off to consult, never got back to him.

No one can be found who will explain, for instance, where she and her husband found the money to fund their fine Dublin mansion.

I’ve been following McDonald closely for years, so much of the material was familiar to me, but I think it a considerable achievement, not least because Ross has kept his mind open and based his conclusions on evidence.

However, when you’re investigating the life of a secretive leader of a party whose delegates and members are schooled to unquestioning obedience, and who became famous for her preposterous “I-believe-Gerry” performances even when his own followers didn’t believe him, it’s not easy.

But Ross is an industrious guy who found sources north and south — including a few disobedient Republicans — and put in the hours tracing the career path of a Dublin middle-class woman who showed no interest in politics and had a stuttering career in various part-time jobs until she joined Sinn Fein and swiftly became Adams’s protegée.

Despite it repelling anti-violent nationalism, she dedicated herself to winning over the hard men up north and did the dreadful things required to meet their rigorous loyalty standards: “she had carried former IRA chief Joe Cahill’s coffin; she had defended Gerry Adams’s behaviour over his paedophile brother, Liam; she had positioned herself in Gerry’s corner in the case of the violation of Máiría Cahill; she had supported and swallowed his story in the Jean McConville killing. It was a pattern … She invariably backed Gerry Adams’s fairy tales.”

“Shane is fair”, tweeted Máiría Cahill, “but he skewers her” on her utterly discreditable behaviour “on child abuse, Paul Quinn, Slab Murphy, Gerry Adams and Jean McConville.”

Here’s a taste of his astute observation.

As a journalist attending last year’s Sinn Fein autumn conference, he noticed that when it came to the informal periods, in the foyer Fein north and south looked “like two separate parties with a titular head.” The ex-IRA contingent “made little effort to bond with the non-combatants” and partition ruled OK.

Ross sat out of sight high up in the gallery in the dark at lunchtime and watched after the entire audience had left to find lunch. “On the stage only Mary Lou and Michelle O’Neill remained, chatting. Suddenly, from the back of the theatre, Duckster Lynch joined the pleader and her deputy on the stage. He entered into a robust discussion with Mary Lou, as Michelle very attentively brushed some dandruff off his jacket. Duckster, reputedly the last chief of staff of the IRA, still retained instant access to the top of the party.”

McDonald steers the Sinn Fein ship as tightly as did Adams. Pat Leahy of the Irish Times wrote: “In two decades covering Irish politics, I have never seen anything like its message discipline. Its organisation on the ground, backed by extensive research, is formidable and its online campaigning simultaneously vicious and effective.”

As it its contempt for truth.

Ross’s book is a horrible warning. God help the Irish Republic if it is taken in by this personable frontwoman for a ruthless, totalitarian party that is proud of its filthy, violent past.

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