A Tunnel to the Moon:
The Good Friday Agreement and the End of the Irish Republican Army
Once upon a road, really was a crazy time,
We believed we could move mountains so we moved them in our minds.
Blood and sweat and bitter tears took the days and took the years,
We have little left to show for being once upon a road.
Tom T. Hall
A Tunnel to the Moon:
The Good Friday Aggrement and the End of the Irish Republican Army
- An end to War
- Prologue to Peace
- On the run
- Hitting Bottom
- ‘War is Peace, Peace is War’
- ‘They told all the fine young men, when this war is over…’
- Free at Last
- Back in the Fold
- The Long Good Friday
- The Big House, revisited
- Lifting the scales
- An Ireland of Eijits
- Once Upon a Road
- The long goodbye
“Go fuck yourself Matt.”
There are not too many people who are told to have conjugal relations with themselves by a Lord Mayor. But such was the response I had to a Facebook post by the Dublin Sinn Féin Lord Mayor Micheál Mac Donncha.
The background to all that was his rant about people who were or are members of Sinn Féin having the audacity to hold a meeting about the manner in which they were treated. There had been a litany of media stories and statements by elected councillors detailing the manner in which they have been intimidated. One councillor, Seamie Morris in Tipperary, told of how he had been basically interrogated, and had contemplated taking his own life. An anonymous leaflet distributed in Nenagh accused him of being a paedophile He has since resigned but remains an effective county councillor, and will presumably contest the next election.
Councillor Paul Hogan in Athlone, who narrowly missed winning a Dáil seat in the last general election, was subjected to several years of innuendo and smears. This followed the break up of a personal relationship with someone closely connected to leading Dublin republicans. He rejected the allegations and after a long drawn out series of inquiries he was eventually cleared of all the charges. Sinn Féin took no action against those who had spread the rumours. One person in Leinster House was particularly assiduous in disseminating the lies. One day when I was sitting at my computer I was given the latest update on Hogan’s nefarious goings on. I must have seemed unconvinced as the parting shot was “Oh, and he tried to kill her dog.” The campaign against Hogan was still ongoing in February 2018. God knows what they are saying about me.
In Wicklow a long standing internal dispute, which also included ludicrous allegations against Councillors Gerry O’Neill, John Snell and Oliver O’Brien, culminated in their expulsion and the refusal to renew the membership of Tara Gaynor O’Grady who had the audacity to insist on proper internal procedures being observed. They intend to support Rossa Murray as an independent republican candidate in the next general election. It is expected that up to five other former councillors will also contest the next general election. If they do it will cost Sinn Féin seats. In February Ballymun Sinn Féin Councillor Noeleen Reilly resigned after being suspended over claims by another councillor that Reilly had made allegations against her. Reilly had earlier tweeted photos of brusing she sustained after being attacked in the Naomh Fionnbarra GAA club in Cabra by someone “close to TD Dessie Ellis.”
Similar problems in the north have received less attention, but there too there have been a steady stream of expulsions and resignations. A large number of north Antrim members, including a sitting councillor Paul Maguire, and former councillor Monica Digney, resigned over what they believed was the unfair treatment of MLA Daithí McKay over allegations that he had coached a witness to a Stormont enquiry on NAMA. McKay was forced to resign and the implication appeared to be that he was the fall guy for something that was not of his individual creation.
Sorcha McAnespy who was a councillor in Omagh not only resigned from Sinn Féin but joined Fianna Fáil and was elected to its national executive at the 2017 Ard Fheis. It will be interesting to see if she contests the next Westminster or Assembly elections for the party in Fermanagh South Tyrone. One of the reasons she left was because of the demands for her to hand over part of the money she received from the Council. She said that Pat Doherty, the former MP for West Tyrone, had told her to ignore them. They tend to be persistent unless you are one of those they like. Money also featured in the Ellis/Reilly saga when it was revealed that Ellis had basically lied about living on the Average Industrial Wage, as he had been drawing his full salary and expenses. In 2015 a Derry City councillor Colin Kelly was found to have drawn down £19,000 in social welfare paymnts because his council wage was being retained by Sinn Féin.
There had also been more lurid tales such as that of Dublin north inner city councillor Jonathan Dowdall. His presence on the local election ticket for Dublin City Council in 2014 had been insisted upon by Mary Lou McDonald, much to the annoyance of a considerable number of long standing local republicans.
The first I ever heard of Jonathan Dowdall was when a former IRA prisoner, asked me had I known he had been selected to run in the local elections in 2014.
I confess to having long gotten past the stage of caring one way or another who Sinn Féin ran for anything. My friend was persuasive, however, and there is no doubt that the activities of Dowdall, his family and associates were no secret when the decision was made to have him as a candidate in the north inner city.
So why was he selected? Why were other people who had devoted years to the movement, and indeed paid a price for that, been passed over? What was this chap bringing to the table? As usual when something dodgy was afoot there were winks and nods that he and his family had “helped out.” Which seemed to have come as news to those who had done more than that.
Hindsight is 20:20 as they say but this would be like the New Jersey Democrats selecting Paulie from the Sopranos to run for Councilman. What makes it all the more galling is that while people like this were being given the imprimatur of the “movement,” that other people were being bullied and intimidated over money and other issues. I suppose we can count ourselves fortunate that we were not invited up to the Navan Road to discuss our “issues.”
The simple fact is that while creatures like the Dowdalls were being made councillors and having their photographs taken with the great and the good like Mary Lou and Gerry, that long standing members and activists were being threatened over not handing over a significant part of their wages.
Others were forced out of their jobs in a manner that if it was perpetrated by any other employer you would have Sinn Féin TDs crying about it on the television and radio. Indeed when Fianna Fáil TD Niall Collins interrupted the Shinner Waterford TD David Cullinane, while in emotional free flow about “the werkers”, to remind him of the disgraceful treatment of Sinn Féin employee Aoife Booth, Cullinane lost the plot. He demanded that Collins withdraw his “despicable” remarks. Workers rights my arse.
The list of Sinn Féin workers, including former elected representatives, who have been paid off in out of court settlements to prevent the embarrassment of the workers friends being exposed for what they are would fill a few pages.
Members of the “core group” have become wealthy despite never having worked in any normal job. Some of the Belfast elite have shares in hotels. But they have no problem trying to intimidate councillors and staff into handing over a substantial amount of their income. One wonders where it all goes.
Animal Farm. Literally it would seem in the Dowdall case… For those who don’t know, Dowdall and his father were charged and sent to prison for waterboarding someone in their garage for having crossed them in some way. An event that was recorded on her phone by Dowdall’s sister. Perhaps they were planning to show it after the Ard Fheis at a fundraiser. So that was the end of his meteoric rise in the ranks.
Following the publication of the first edition of this book it quickly became clear that I was now also persona non grata. At first there was the usual online abuse, accompanied no doubt by innuendo; people I had known for years passed me by on the street or ignored me if I was in the same public place. Then one morning as I worked on another piece of writing, my house was raided by the Garda drug squad. In fairness to them, they quickly realised that there were in the wrong place. They barely even searched the house and one of them was clearly annoyed that they had been sent, four car loads, on a fool’s errand. I suspect he would have been even more annoyed had he known the source of the “information,”as the informer was a member of Sinn Féin who was able to use official contacts with the Gardaí through a drugs task force. It was amusing in retrospect, but of course some people will believe, or want to believe anything bad about those who have upset the cult in some fashion.
On the night of the 2017 All Ireland final I bumped into a chap who I was member of same GAA club and he told me that he had texted someone that “Treacy doesn’t like being called a tout.” This was in the area where Dowdall had been elected. Not sure what the implications of that were. If I had been a tout then perhaps I might have avoided years on the run and in prison. Some people did.
The last Sinn Féin Ard Fheis saw the carefully orchestrated departure of the Beard, as he was known to those of us in the IRA. Of course he never was. Even L Ron Hubbard did not command such devotion or staged such a faux emotional departure. The speculation over who would be his successor had occupied people for some time, once Adams had let it be known he was stepping down. They need not have wasted their time. Pearse Doherty and Michelle O’Neill declared that they were not going to stand for the Sinn Féin Presidency at the special Ard Fheis. That ensured that the chosen successor was Mary Lou McDonald. Formally chosen by a special Ard Fheis in February 2018 but in reality by the core group which succeeded the Army Council. Democracy in action.
One other interesting aspect of the annual Ard Fheis was that as expected Sinn Féin let it be known that they were now not averse to becoming part of a coalition with the “right wing parties,” even as a minority. For months previous to this, there had been much hot air expended by those, including prominent “leftists” that they would never accept such an arrangement. At the 2015 Ard Fheis, alleged Marxist ideologue Eoin O Broin had stated that Sinn Féin would only achieve its objectives “if Sinn Féin makes a clear and unambiguous statement that we will not under any circumstances support a government led by Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael.” The “core group” says jump, and the sheep say “how high.”
The “core group”, which includes people like Seán Murray, Martin Lynch, Seán Hughes and others is the real power within Sinn Féin. Some even claim that they are in effect still operating as the Army Council, even though the IRA has apparently disappeared. They tell everyone else what to do. They are also by all accounts quite wealthy chaps now.
The term cult has been applied to Sinn Féin. Some of the definitions of a cult include veneration of the leader or leaders rather than the alleged religious or ideological motivation of the cult; the indoctrination of members, and the ostracisation, humiliation, or worse, of “dissidents”; the exploitation of members for financial or sexual purposes, and the continual invention of millenarian goals which are alleged to be about to be achieved, but never are. The shinners tick all the boxes.
As it stands, Sinn Féin is in crisis. Twenty years after the Good Friday Agreement they are no nearer to achieving their objectives. Indeed, they are arguably even further away. Stormont has collapsed, and looks unlikely to be revived in the near future. The DUP finally lost patience when it seems that the “core group” over ruled a more conciltory position adopted by Michelle O’Neill in the last round of talks. In any event, the DUP’s strong position in Westminister means that for the moment they are probably content to leave Stormont in limbo.
Sinn Féin need to be in government in the Republic after the next election, hence the volte face on coalition. Both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have ruled them out, but that means nothing in realpolitik. Their poll numbers are falling, they are losing councillors and will will lose more members over the referendum on the 8th amendment. The main impact of Adam’s departure may indeed be that the current tensions develop into a more serious problem for the party.
Sinn Féin will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, but what exactly has it achieved? Sectarianism remains as entrenched as ever;, Irish unity despite the calls for a border poll post Brexit remains a distant propsect, and deprivation in nationalist areas ranks among the very worst in the UK.
I was there for much of the transformation. So this is my story. History. Hopefully.
[ovember 10, 1981.