It would appear the useful idiots and sneaking regarders haven't gone away
Why are some politicians spending so much time and effort giving succour to dissidents?
Éamon Ó Cuív. Photo: Frank McGrath
Here's a question about Clare Daly, Eamon O Cuiv, Thomas Pringle, Maureen O'Sullivan and Mick Wallace. Are they useful idiots (exploited for propaganda purposes by cynics) or sneaking regarders (the kind of people who were against terrorism, but had "a sneaking regard for the lads in the IRA")?
Last week, the political classes and commentariat got worked up about the murder in 1983 of Portlaoise's Chief Prison Officer Brian Stack and the embarrassment at present being caused to Gerry Adams by Brian Stack's sons' pursuit of his killers.
Last week also, three TDs - Eamon O Cuiv, Thomas Pringle and Maureen O'Sullivan - lobbied Claire Sugden, the Northern Ireland Justice Minister, on behalf of dissident republicans in Maghaberry prison who have a variety of grievances, including lack of education in the Irish language.
As TD Martin Ferris - an unrepentant convicted IRA leader and arms smuggler - explained some years ago to his biographer, Brian Stack had so upset the Provisional IRA by his fierce resistance to their attempts to take control of Portlaoise prison that they were driven to break their self-denying ordinance about murdering public officials in the Republic.
The dissident IRA groups are just as unhappy with those prison officers in Maghaberry who try to maintain control over the Republican wing. Thus the 20 or so inmates - who have learned from the example of the Provisionals - are encouraged to intimidate and terrorise the prison service, and their comrades outside assist with the odd assault or murder. (Loyalists try to emulate them, but are predictably far less disciplined and effective.)
During the Troubles, Republicans killed 23 prison officers, but when, in November, 2012, David Black was shot dead on his way to Maghaberry, he was the first victim for two decades. Then, last March, Adrian Ismay, an officer at a police training college, died as a result of a booby-trap bomb under his van.
Over the past four years, most weeks in Maghaberry a prison officer is assaulted. Is it any wonder that resignations and sick leave are at crisis proportions?
Apart from menacing behaviour, dissidents are successfully employing another major tactic learned from the Provos. They sap the morale of officers by keeping up a barrage of complaints inside and outside prison, about mostly manufactured grievances. They are adept at selecting gullible organisations and individuals and inviting them in, to be told well-rehearsed lies of suffering and fear in a justice system that in reality is one of the most benign and well-scrutinised in the world. You can normally rely on human rights organisations to see prisoners as victims and officers as oppressors.
The maverick Fianna Fail TD Eamon O Cuiv - who has celebrity status because of his grandfather Eamon de Valera - has plenty of form in (as the Belfast News Letter put it delicately) "giving succour to dissident terror". Of course, like his other colleagues, he repeatedly proclaims his opposition to violence, but he's got a funny way of showing it. The killing of David Black, he alleged, was caused by bad treatment of imprisoned dissidents.
In 2013, he flew to Lithuania with Clare Daly, Martin Ferris and Maureen O'Sullivan "for humanitarian reasons" - all of them were concerned about the conditions in which Michael Campbell was being held. Campbell, a brother of Liam, one of the Omagh bombers, had been caught on video surveying arms and gleefully discussing how to blow people up in London. They had "serious concerns over his conviction", so when it was overturned by the appeal court, they expressed their "delight".
O Cuiv has been a consistent supporter of the notorious Gary Donnelly, a Derry councillor and one-time Real IRA prisoner who has a conviction for assaulting a police officer. Donnelly is a member of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement, which at the time of the 1998 Omagh bomb was the Real IRA's political wing and latterly is that of the New IRA. Earlier this year, O Cuiv, Daly and O'Sullivan were in court in Derry accompanied by Thomas Pringle (ex-Sinn Fein and now an independent TD for Donegal) where Donnelly was appealing against a conviction for criminal damage. It was good news again, for the judge gave him a conditional discharge. "I came up here today," said O Cuiv, "because I was concerned about the original judgment, the consequences of which would have meant Gary Donnelly would have lost his seat and his voters would have been disenfranchised."
O Cuiv surprisingly wasn't among the usual suspects when it came to supporting Donal O Coisdealbha, arrested last year on IRA and explosive charges. But Maureen O'Sullivan and Clare Daly were in court - along with Mick Wallace - in their capacity as "friends of the family," said O Coisdealbha, to offer sureties of €5,000 each on his bail application. (The family, incidentally, includes his step-father, Jim "Mortar" Monaghan, one of the infamous Colombia Three.) O'Sullivan said they were there because he was the only prisoner on his block in Portlaoise to have been denied bail and was upset when it was refused. It appears not to have occurred to her that the authorities might be a little concerned that a young man with a degree in electronics and engineering, who hung out with dissident IRA members and had a substantial arsenal of explosives, might be dangerous.
O'Sullivan kindly wrote a letter in support of O Coisdealbha, "a fine, intelligent, articulate and hard-working young man", which indeed he may be, but he was also bent on bombing, which is why he's just been given a five-and-a-half-year jail sentence.
Will any of these TDs lose a single vote over being soft on terrorists? Probably not. After all a significant section of the electorate is happy to vote for convicted terrorists such as Dessie Ellis and Martin Ferris. When he gets out in a few years, perhaps the useful idiots/sneaking regarders/whatever you're having yourself will help O Coisdealbha become a TD.
Ruth Dudley Edwards' 'The Seven: the life and legacies of the founding fathers of the Irish Republic' was published by Oneworld on March 22