Say anything critical about any Shinnerbot heroes or their party and they go into shrieking denial, lies, grotesque allegations and any insults that come to mind.

Published: 25 October 2022

“Is there a more poisoned, bigoted, loathsome excuse for a human on Twitter?” one enquired kindly about me the other day.

What’s weird is that this kind of abuse is so counter-productive.

Hysterical reactions to what we post motivate me and my allies to work even harder to challenge the toxic, sectarian cancer spread by Sinn Féin.

Their leaders seem unabashed by their cheerleaders’ ignorance, stupidity and abusiveness, but I guess it suits them to have mindless, unquestioning worshippers trying to frighten their critics into silence for their effrontery in telling inconvenient truths about the IRA.

It’s fun to watch their impotent rage at their great tormentor on Twitter @Sage_Opinion, whose thoroughly researched and powerfully-written despatches and tweets not only remorselessly set the record straight about the past, but demolish his challengers wittily.

“I seldom engage with Shinnerbots”, he wrote the other day, “because a chimp in a zoo swinging from a car tyre has a higher IQ then a Shinnerbot, but one of the great mysteries of Twitter is that when they are clearly lying, being abusive etc, it’s as if they don’t realise it is all there for people to see.”

But since political violence is now off limits, they have to be free to let off steam somehow.

The Twitter foot-soldiers are merely a modest part of the grand strategy to intimidate critics into silence.

Lawfare is used these days to go after people who say or write anything that a clever lawyer thinks might contravene the Republic’s appallingly restrictive libel laws.

Columnist Declan Lynch recently wrote that leadership of IRA/Sinn Féin, he explained, “are not interested in journalism, as such, they’re interested more in the defeat of journalism, and they are succeeding in that ambition. They are allowed by much of the media to avoid fundamental questions about where they’re coming from, so the fact that some of them have taken to suing RTÉ for defamation really seems a tad unnecessary”.

That is true, yet they cast their net ever wider. Not just journalists and indeed newspapers are terrified of the threats that come through their letterboxes from Sinn Féin’s favourite legal firms. So too are politicians and ordinary people.

“There is something deeply wrong with a party which has built its entire existence on honouring a campaign of violence”, said Taoiseach Micheál Martin last week, “but now attacks and sues anyone who claims that they supported particular actions within that campaign.”

And Leo Varadkar next day spoke of Fine Gael representatives falling victim to “the strategic use of legal action to try to stifle debate” and asked if Sinn Féin was funding it.

They denied it, but in fact all that is needed is sympathetic lawyers — of whom there are many — taking cases on the no foal, no fee principle. And it costs money to answer a solicitor’s letter.

Fortunately, the chilling effect of this legal tyranny is becoming known and raising eyebrows in Europe.

First, the Index on Censorship, a UK-based non-governmental watchdog, filed media freedom alerts to the Council of Europe over a defamation case taken by Mary Lou McDonald against RTÉ and legal threats against me and Malachi O’Doherty over a ridiculous claim by Gerry Kelly.

Then last week, McDonald was Runner Up for the People’s Choice Bully of the Year Award given by a coalition of non-government organisations from across Europe to the politician who has proven most reliant on SLAPPS (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) to resist pressure for accountability.

Coincidentally, it emerges that her husband Martin Lanigan has threatened legal action against her biographer, Shane Ross, for “gross invasion and breach of his right to privacy” for asking questions about the purchase and renovation of their fine house.

Since he and his wife hold it jointly, Ross is robustly pointing out that McDonald should abide by the principles of transparency she demands of other public figures.

There’s still time to make a few reforms to defamation law.

Otherwise, if Sinn Féin take power, chilling will be an inadequate word to describe what will happen to Irish freedom.

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