Sunday, December 11, 2016

Dáil Privilege - Was Alan Farrell Acting Alone?

Peadar Toibín, Sinn Féin TD for Meath West, raised an interesting question on Saturday with Claire Byrne yesterday. Is it entirely a coincidence that Alan Farrell, Fine Gael TD for Dublin Fingal, may or may not have tested the limits of Dáil privilege at the same time that a case on that very topic is before the courts?

The panel discussion didn’t stay on that topic, as the panelists were there to bury Gerry Adams and not to discuss wider issues of freedom of speech and media ownership. Let’s hope some other media is a little more curious about the nature of coincidence.

Especially in the light of an interview given by Government Chief Whip Regina Doherty to Richard Crowley on the News at One on Friday. Doherty contradicted herself in less than a minute on whether or not she had spoken to Farrell in the course of the interview. The relevant section starts at 11 minutes and forty-five seconds into a fourteen-minute, two-second piece:

CROWLEY: Was it wise of Alan Farrell to drag in Mr Ellis and Mr Ferris into this?

DOHERTY: Do you know actually, I haven’t spoken to him all week, but I think given the chatter that was going on inside Leinster House all week and the names of what are parliamentary colleagues I think he was attempting to allow them the opportunity, the same opportunity as Gerry Adams –

CROWLEY: Do you think? Do you think?

DOHERTY: Well, I’m assuming that’s what his intentions were.

CROWLEY: He didn’t speak to you beforehand about it, did he?

DOHERTY: Unfortunately, I wasn’t in that day. I put my back out this week so I was off that week –

CROWLEY: He didn’t speak to you on the phone then, as the Chief Whip, before he raised that in the Dáil?

DOHERTY: Not beforehand we didn’t speak, no, but obviously we have spoken since.

So, Doherty has either obviously spoken to Deputy Farrell since, or else she hasn’t spoken to him all week. It plainly can’t be both, and it is very much in the public interest to find out which.

Because it is very much in the public interest to find out who, if anyone, put Deputy Farrell up to this, or if this idea is a solo run on his part.

Deputy Toibín suggested on Saturday with Claire Byrne that Deputy Farrell was put up to it by Niall O’Connor, political correspondent of the Irish Independent. O’Connor was also a guest on Saturday with Claire Byrne and he vehemently denied the suggestion, saying that while certainly he had been seen talking with Deputy Farrell during the week, it was about some fun run in Malahide that O’Connor was going to cover for the Evening Herald, also part of the Independent Group.

We can only take O’Connor’s work on that. For all that, readers are warned not to be surprised if a policy of de Farrello nihil nisi bonum – of Farrell, nothing but good – is instituted among the Independent Group. Over the next number of months Deputy Farrell may appear kissing babies, weeping over refugees and mentioned as shoo-in for a top cabinet job once Enda finally shuffles off within the pages of the many papers of the Denis O’Brien media empire, or on the airwaves of its broadcasting arm, Newstalk and Today FM.

Because the co-incidences are mounting here. It is an extra-ordinary coincidence that:

  • Out of the 4,000-odd people killed as a result of the Troubles in the North, the Brian Stack murder is now of greater parliamentary concern than the 3,999 others;
  • That the limits of Dáil privilege are tested to their breaking point at the same time as a case on that very issue is before the courts, taken by the publisher of the Irish Independent, Denis O’Brien.

The majority, if not the totality, of op-ed pieces in the papers condemn Adams as operating to a different standard as every other Dáil leader. But of course he is, because he comes from a very different place to the rest of Dáil. The whole purpose of the peace process was to involve Adams and others like him in regular politics, and drawing a line under the past is a necessary part of that, just as it has been in all post-conflict situations all over the world.

It is extra-ordinarily craven, pathetic and embarrassing for the political establishment to be so short-sighted about Adams’ role in the past forty years of Irish history, to the extent of risking the peace for doubtful short-term gain. Because the peace is at risk.

Adams only looks a hawk south of the border. He is very much a dove on the other side and, while the southern media might dream of day talking social justice with Eoin Ó Broin and Louise O’Reilly, they are naïve in the extreme if they think the hawks have all flown away in the North, and if there aren’t one or two waiting for Adams and McGuinness to move on and ask people if Bobby Sands died in vain.

Part of this naivety stems from a new, partitionist mentality in the south that is not only quite happy with a divided Ireland but want no part of those troublesome, scared-of-the-future, stuck-in-the-past Nordies.

But leaving aside the aspirations and speaking only of practicalities, the peace is as impactful on the Republic of Ireland as Brexit. A land border is a land border and if things kick off again in the North they will kick off in the South just as sure as Denis O’Brien likes suing newspapers.

And because of that Deputy Doherty should tell us exactly what is going on with Alan Farrell and who, if anyone, is pulling his stings. Because one day that puppet-master might pull the wrong string, and whole damn place is drenched in the blood of innocents once more.