What would have happened had Dowdall not been caught?

For some reason, Sinn Féin supporters get very upset when it is suggested to them that their party is not a normal one. They will often respond with some variation of the theme that it’s a bit rich to talk about Sinn Féin’s connections to various unsavoury elements, when the alternative to them is the Fianna Fáil of Charles Haughey or the Fine Gael of Michael Lowry, crooks both. They will also respond, not unfairly, that talking about people like Jonathan Dowdall is a distraction from talking about things that objectively matter more to many people, like housing and the cost of living.

At a basic level, there’s merit to all that. But on another level: Get down off the cross, please.

Yesterday, a former Sinn Fein councillor pleaded guilty to taking part in the facilitation of a gangland murder. A crime in the organisation of which, it is alleged, he partnered with one of this country’s most notorious criminals. You do not need to look far to find photographs of this self-confessed gangster posing proudly with Mary Lou McDonald, our putative next Taoiseach. There’s one right there, at the top of this page. There are many others like it.

We are, all of us, expected to believe two things at once:

First, that Sinn Féin is unlike other parties, with deep roots and connections in the communities it represents. All parties, after all, agree that the Sinn Féin “on the ground” machine is unlike anything its competitors can muster. A friend living near the border tells me that he would never vote SF at national level, but votes for them religiously in council elections, because their councillors are simply more effective than those of other parties, canvass more, and work harder. Perhaps the fact that so many of them manage to do that job full-time on a tiny salary is a help there.

Second, we are expected to believe that with this enormous national ground campaign, and whisper network, neither Mary Lou McDonald nor anyone else at the top of her party had any idea that Jonathan Dowdall was involved in gangland activity. In other words, we are expected to believe that the best-informed party in the land was the least informed about one of its own elected reps. I, for one, struggle with that idea. Perhaps you do, too. There is some speculation that Mr. Dowdall may decide to testify for the prosecution in future trials related to these events – if that is the case, then there’s a risk to Sinn Féin that the true extent of his involvement in gangland activity may become apparent.

This is not a simple or unserious matter, or just a stick to beat Sinn Féin with. It is not unreasonable, I think, to arrive at the conclusion that there are elements within Sinn Féin that have, at the very best, a considerable blind spot when it comes to organised crime, and retain a 1980’s attitude towards co-operating with the Gardai. My question is this:

Suppose Jonathan Dowdall had not committed his crime, or been convicted for it?

We would have a situation, then, where a Sinn Féin-aligned politician with the ear of the party leader, and future Taoiseach, was also close to one of the most senior drug dealers in the land. Are we expected to believe, first, that he is the only one? Are we to believe, second, that there is no chance, none at all, that under Sinn Féin, gardai might be instructed to shift resources away from certain operations and certain priorities, which conveniently make life easier for certain organised criminals? Is that really a terrible calumny on the party, based on what we know of this case?

This is where, after all, the IRA comes in. Because we might all accept – and this writer absolutely accepts – that the IRA’s campaign of political violence is at an end. But there are no shortage of IRA veterans or, indeed, entire units, who have in the years since the “war” ended put their skills to more entrepreneurial uses. Look no further than the fuel smuggling industry around the border, or the various tobacco and alcohol rings around the place. Does the Dowdall story increase, or reduce, your confidence that Sinn Féin in Government will consider tackling such crime as a priority?

In the 1960s, in the USA, much of the American Democratic Party in the North East was, indisputably, influenced by the Mafia. The mob controlled Unions, which controlled the nominations for Mayors, and city officials, and crime commissioners. It was an arrangement that suited everyone, but the victims.

When this writer looks at Sinn Féin, and Jonathan Dowdall, that’s what I see: A party comfortable with, and willing to turn a blind eye to, the mob.

We’re at a point in the country where maybe that doesn’t matter. The loudest Shinner voices will do what they usually do, and write such concerns off as West Brit reaction, or right wing smears. But the Dowdall story, I think, speaks for itself.

They expect us to believe that nobody knew what Dowdall was. If you go along with that, then I have to say: I think you’re a fool.

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