Peadar Toibin is rid­ing a hard race in the out­side lane

Sinn Fein’s re­fusal to al­low its rep­re­sen­ta­tives to vote with their con­sciences may prove very costly, writes Ruth Dud­ley Ed­wards

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - Analysis -

‘Toibin showed wor­ry­ing signs of think­ing for him­self’

‘HOW many Cork peo­ple does it take to found a move­ment to break the po­lit­i­cal car­tel?” en­quired Peadar Toibin, the In­de­pen­dent ex-Sinn Fein TD, on Twit­ter last Thurs­day evening, af­ter his po­lit­i­cal meet­ing. “About 350 ap­par­ently!!!” was his tri­umphant an­swer.

It mightn’t seem re­mark­able that he could at­tract 350 anti-abor­tion repub­li­cans to a meet­ing in a smart ho­tel in the rebel county, yet it was held in Ballincur­rig, a 15-minute drive from Cork city, Toibin has never been one of the Sinn Fein celebs, he has no or­gan­i­sa­tional back­ing and it was, af­ter all, mid-Jan­uary. But it was far more sig­nif­i­cant than that.

When he joined the party in 1997 af­ter the IRA cease­fire he must have seemed like a real catch. A de­vout Catholic, a com­mit­ted repub­li­can, a flu­ent Ir­ish speaker and lover of Ir­ish cul­ture with strong roots in re­spectable Co Meath, he had a de­gree in eco­nomics from UCD, a post­grad­u­ate de­gree from the Smur­fit School of Busi­ness and was on his way to be­ing a suc­cess­ful man­age­ment con­sul­tant.

It would be­come clear, though, that he was hand­i­capped by a con­science. While his con­tem­po­rary Mary Lou McDon­ald had the nec­es­sary moral lo­bot­omy that made her toe the Sinn Fein party line at all times, Toibin showed wor­ry­ing signs of think­ing for him­self. This would bring on a dra­matic clash when, for cyn­i­cal po­lit­i­cal rea­sons, Sinn Fein changed abruptly from be­ing so­cially con­ser­va­tive to “pro­gres­sive”. Against party orders, in 2013 Toibin re­fused to en­dorse the Pro­tec­tion of Life Dur­ing Preg­nancy Bill and was sus­pended for six months.

In Oc­to­ber 2014, as se­nior Shin­ners — who had been ex­tremely vo­cal in their mer­ci­less con­dem­na­tions of cler­i­cal fail­ings over child abuse — lined up to smear Mairia Cahill and cover up IRA cov­ers-up of sim­i­lar crimes, Toibin con­tra­dicted col­leagues by say­ing on the ra­dio that he be­lieved that “in the IRA modus operandi of the time” sex abusers had been moved. “Let’s make sure that is­sues of abuse don’t hap­pen like they did in the past, where they were dealt with in­ter­nally in or­gan­i­sa­tions, whether it be the church or whether it be in the IRA,” he said.

This be­ing sus­pect be­hav­iour, he was not one of the favoured when it came to dish­ing out the spoils af­ter the 2016 Gen­eral Elec­tion and was ap­pointed to one of the three com­mit­tees to which Sinn Fein could ap­point chairs. (That the other two were yes­ter­day’s man Caoimhghin O Cao­lain, whom Gerry Adams had ousted as leader in 2011 — the year Toibin won a seat in Meath West — and new­comer Kath­leen Fun­chion, in­di­cated that Sinn Fein re­garded them as a bit of a dump­ing ground.)

I watched a ses­sion of Toibin’s com­mit­tee a year or so ago be­cause a friend was up be­fore it, and was sur­prised to see a mem­ber of Sinn Fein who ap­peared in­tel­li­gent, open-minded, anx­ious to learn about the op­er­a­tion of a cul­tural in­sti­tu­tion and con­cerned with prac­ti­cal ways of help­ing it do its job.

Then last year, in the mid­dle of the furore af­ter Barry McEl­duff had ap­peared to ridicule the vic­tims of the Kingsmill mas­sacre, Toibin called the atroc­ity “a shock­ing, de­spi­ca­ble, shame­ful, morally wrong act to select in­di­vid­u­als on the ba­sis, non-com­bat­ants, on the ba­sis of their re­li­gion and to kill them as a re­sult”. (Of course the use of the word ‘non-com­bat­ant’ sug­gests he still ex­cuses the mur­der of mem­bers of the se­cu­rity forces, which means that there are many Ir­ish peo­ple who could and should never vote for him, but it’s still a long way away from the nor­mal Sinn Fein line of de­fend­ing ev­ery atroc­ity as some­one else’s fault.)

And then came Sinn Fein’s re­fusal to al­low its elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives to vote on grounds of con­science in favour of re­tain­ing Ar­ti­cle 8, Carol Nolan’s res­ig­na­tion, Toibin’s sus­pen­sion and his plans to travel the length an breadth of the is­land to find those who agree with him not just about abor­tion but about the cen­tral­is­ing of po­lit­i­cal par­ties and their fail­ure to lis­ten to the grass­roots. He also made it clear that while his party would be so­cially con­ser­va­tive (“Ire­land’s sick and tired of a fo­cus on the ‘cul­ture wars’ and is­sues like ‘gen­der-fluid toi­lets’”, he told the Ir­ish Sun), it would be cen­tre-left on eco­nomic pol­icy, op­posed to a fed­eral Eu­rope or Euro­pean army and fo­cused on cor­rect­ing the im­bal­ance in growth be­tween Dublin and the coun­try­side.

By yes­ter­day, when he gave an in­ter­view to The Jour­nal, he had re­cruited nine elected coun­cil­lors from Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein and the SDLP, had more than 8,000 fol­low­ers on Twit­ter and a lively Face­book ac­count, had held 11 pub­lic meet­ings North and South with 20 more or­gan­ised, and had 1,400 mem­bers of a po­lit­i­cal party he hasn’t yet named be­cause he’s de­ter­mined to en­sure there will be no un­fore­seen prob­lems with elec­toral reg­is­tra­tion and in­ter­net do­mains.

Some of his ex-col­leagues are hurt, an­gry and not talk­ing to him, he says in a tone of sor­row rather than anger which must make them even more fu­ri­ous.

The boys in the Sinn Fein back­room in Belfast must be look­ing with hor­ror at this up­start hav­ing the nerve to chal­lenge them head-on in the oc­cu­pied Six Coun­ties as well as the Free State. They must be nos­tal­gic for the good old days when he could have been — if not kneecapped — in­tim­i­dated out of his seat and even out of the coun­try.

This party may go the way of so many oth­ers, but Micheal Martin and Colum East­wood must be re­ally shocked at this chal­lenge at a mo­ment when they seemed fi­nally about to merge their par­ties. Leo Varadkar shouldn’t be smil­ing ei­ther. And the DUP might now lose its anti-abor­tion Catholic mem­bers.

“Peo­ple have said to me, ‘well what if you lose your job over this’,” Toibin has said. “And I said, it is not the end of the world if I lose my job, but if abor­tion comes in for the child, it is the end of the world.” That level of prin­ci­ple at a time when politi­cians are held in such low es­teem should scare the be­jay­sus out of the po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment North and South.

Peadar Toibin

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.