I just don't get it. And I'm not alone here.
People in Ireland were mystified -- and even slightly disturbed -- last week by the reports in the papers here about the Sinn Fein gala dinner in Manhattan last Thursday night attended by around 700 people that raised some $400,000 for Gerry Adams and his party.
What is this fatal attraction between wealthy Irish Americans and Sinn Fein? Are they still seduced by the whiff of explosives, the thrill of dangerous celebrity, the frisson they get from being in the same room as someone with an aura of threat about their persona?
At $500 a plate it was described as the most successful fundraising dinner for Sinn Fein ever held in New York, or anywhere else for that matter. Certainly this would never have happened in Dublin, because people here are too aware of the many unanswered and extremely murky questions that hang in the air over Adams and his party colleagues.
Sitting down to dinner with the Sinn Fein leader in such a celebratory, idolizing atmosphere would have most people here developing severe indigestion or even running to the bathroom to throw up. For that reason, it just would not happen.
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It's not that people here -- including people in Fianna Fail and the broader constitutional Republican family that also embraces Fine Gael and Labor -- are unaware of or unappreciative of the ending of the IRA war and the journey that Sinn Fein is on. What concerns them is how slowly Sinn Fein is traveling on that road to democratic political normality and the mafia-like behavior that still dogs Sinn Fein and the remnants of the IRA on regular occasions.
What perplexes people here is why the Irish Americans who sat down to dinner with Adams in Manhattan last week don't see this.
It might seem that a comparison between the mafia and Sinn Fein/IRA is inappropriate. But the threat of violence to enforce control on people and the culture of omerta to ensure silence are common to both. And this culture lies at the heart of many of the unanswered questions about Sinn Fein itself and its links with what remains of the IRA.
We can go right back to the Jean McConville execution in 1972 with this, and the appalling cruelty involved not just to the innocent woman herself but to her children. Does anyone in Irish America not think it strange that no one was ever jailed for this, given that the identity of some of those involved is generally known?
Do they believe, given Adams's leadership position in the IRA in Belfast at the time, that it could have been carried out without his knowledge? Fear and omerta are the reasons why McConville's children are still waiting for justice.
Whether it is dealing with historic cases like that of McConville, or more recent cases of murder, beatings, rape, cross-border smuggling or robbery, Sinn Fein uses a series of tactics to avoid answering questions or accepting blame.
Their first reaction frequently is to deny any involvement by the IRA (as in their initial stance on the murder of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe in Limerick in 1996). If that does not work and they are eventually found out (as in the McCabe case) they will claim that what happened was not "authorized.”
More recently, they have been using ridicule to suggest that accusations against them are preposterous. Or saying that accusations are politically motivated because other parties are trying to damage Sinn Fein before an election (like now).
Or, if all else fails, that the accusations are being made by "enemies of the peace process." All this implies that no accusations against Sinn Fein can be taken at face value.
Added to these tactics are outright denials of any connection between Sinn Fein and former members of the IRA who have now formed armed criminal gangs, particularly in the border areas. These denials are usually accompanied by exhortations to the public that anyone with any information should bring it to the police.
The problem with this is that members of the public know very well not to take these calls seriously and the consequences of being labeled a "tout." That is why, after the murder of Robert McCartney after a row in a bar in Belfast in 2005, the dozens of Sinn Fein supporters in the bar all claimed not to have seen anything (many claimed to have been in the bathroom at the time!)
Fear and omerta are also the reasons why the gruesome murder of Paul Quinn in 2007 has gone unpunished. Quinn, a young man who had got into an altercation with the son of an IRA gang leader near the border, was subsequently beaten to death with iron bars and nail-studded bats by around a dozen men in an orgy of violence that went on for half an hour. They broke every bone in his body, surpassing even what the mafia used to do.
Sinn Fein always denies any connection with IRA or ex-IRA members involved in such incidents or in criminality generally. But the point is that Sinn Fein knows far more than anyone else about these things.
Disowning former IRA members is one thing. Identifying them and producing evidence to secure convictions is another thing and appears to be a step too far for Sinn Fein.
The same thing applies to other recent cases, like the 2005 murder of Dublin man Joseph Rafferty, who had got into an argument with someone with IRA connections. Or to the sex abuse cases of Mairia Cahill and Paudie McGahon. Sinn Fein doesn't know and cannot help.
It also extends to the rampant criminality along the border involving diesel washing, smuggling and intimidation carried out by former IRA members and their hangers on. Sinn Fein condemns this criminality and calls on people to cooperate with the police. But little of real substance is done to end what is going on, even though those involved are well known to Sinn Fein.
It's like the Northern Bank robbery in Belfast in 2004, one of the biggest bank robberies ever, which Sinn Fein also claimed to know nothing about, even though eventually a few people in Dublin and Cork with Sinn Fein and IRA connections were caught with Northern bank notes. That's another one that remains largely unsolved.
The worrying thing about all this is that most of it happened since the IRA ceasefire began and Republicans are supposed to have moved on to an exclusively political track with Sinn Fein.
And now we have the more recent reports by the police on both sides of the border in the wake of this year's Davison and McGuigan murders not only that the IRA still exists, but that it has arms, is capable of enforcing its will and has "overarching" control of Sinn Fein.
Variations of the Sinn Fein tactics described above have been used to deny or ridicule all of this, of course, and will be in the future. But the majority of people here are by now well used to these Sinn Fein postures and are not convinced by them.
There is a general understanding here that it will take time to completely deal with and eradicate the criminality and occasional violence left in the wake of the IRA war. The worrying thing is that instead of grappling with the problem and pushing to solve it, Sinn Fein appears to be in denial much of the time.
This appears to be part of an understanding among Republicans that as long as "the boys" stick to ordinary crime and don't start shooting soldiers or police, they can be left to get on with it, within reason. God forbid they should have to work for a living.
It is also about creating a narrative which in the long run will mean that all those involved in the recent Troubles will be seen as heroes like the men of 1916. Demeaning them at this stage is not part of the peace bargain and would not help in creating this narrative. That is why Sinn Fein always refers to IRA brutality and criminality as "wrong,” in the sense that it is a mistake or ill-judged, but never condemns those involved outright as thugs or killers.
All of this explains why most people here would not be prepared to attend a glitzy fundraising dinner for Sinn Fein at which its leaders are lionized. It's a matter of trust -- and all those unanswered questions. And that's before we even consider what their left wing economic policies -- and their cynical political opportunism on difficult issues like property and water taxes --- would do to the country.
No doubt the 700 well off Irish Americans who were at the Sinn Fein dinner in Manhattan last week love the old country and mean well. But how they can justify putting Sinn Fein on such a pedestal at this early stage in that party's journey to normality is hard for people here to understand.
Likewise turning Gerry Adams into a hero. Maybe some of them will explain in the Irish Voice or on IrishCentral.
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