Weak Defence

There is no nonsense so gross that society will not, at some time, make a doctrine of it and defend it with every weapon of communal stupidity - Robertson Davies
Holidaying in Palma Nova does not easily lend itself to reading Irish newspapers. A break from things Irish in a political sense is one of the joys of being away although in reality it rarely works out that way. Anytime I have been abroad Irish political events have managed to follow me. Somebody either phones with news or some emblazoned newspaper headline jumps out upon entering a newsagents. Irish politics remain the centre of curiosity’s gravity. It’s part of our ethnocentricity.

Anyway, the one paper I did look at – apart from an English Language Majorcan daily – carried the headline ‘IRA millionaire faces 146 years in prison over fraud.’ The IRA aspect of the case helped capture my attention. In the genes I suppose. Of equal interest was the jail term suggested. It seemed a bit steep. The lowlife that knifed West Belfast shopkeeper Harry Holland to death two years ago will not have to serve even one twelfth of that. Fraud if not on Bernie Madoff proportions hardly registers on the Richter scale of horrible crime. A serial fraudster is rarely remembered in the way that a serial killer is.

Sean O’Neill’s misfortune came when the FBI raided his home in relation to an incident totally unrelated to him. During their search they came across a photo of O’Neill in the presence of the Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams. That whet their curiosity and further probing revealed a chequered past. It transpired that away back in 1977 Sean O’Neill had pleaded guilty to a charge of belonging to Na Fianna Eireann, the youth wing of the IRA. In those days with rampant teams of RUC torturers doing pretty much as they pleased many young people had confessions forcibly extracted from them in which they admitted to belonging to Na Fianna Eireann. Earlier this year in separate cases two men from Belfast and Derry had convictions for membership of the youth group quashed. As the Irish News reported, ‘the court heard that in both cases the only evidence against the teenagers was confessions signed without the presence of a solicitor or an appropriate adult.’

Whatever the facts of the O’Neill case, guilty or not, a conviction for membership of Na Fianna Eireann hardly ranks in the serious offence category. Yet Sean O’Neill hardly made matters easy for himself as was illustrated by his ludicrous defence that the state had shown a ‘strong and impermissible Irish-Catholic prejudice’ in that it sought to depict Gerry Adams as an IRA leader rather than as a man who had brought peace. Adams undoubtedly made a major contribution to delivering peace but nobody other than the odd internet groupie or the Sinn Fein cumann in Outer Mongolia believes that he was not an IRA leader. Why would an American court fall for that one? A much better defence for Sean O'Neill would be for him to have argued that Adams was the IRA leader who brought peace and as such it was an honour to follow the example of US presidents and be photographed alongside him. That way he would have had a plausible defence in so far as it sounded truthful.

That sort of spoof that sits well in peace processery where nothing really has to be true - just useful for the purpose of getting by - won’t open doors in places where nonsense has no premium. What people might pretend to believe in Northern Irish political life can have no bearing on what is actually believed in a US law court where the temptation to succumb to Oscar Wilde’s logic that ‘illusion is the first of all pleasures’ has little purchase.


  1. I read up on the case, it reminds me of the old testament book of Job.

  2. Whew--just glimpsed "Slugger O'Toole's Blog" whole lot of historically venomous drivel! Poor Northern Six.
    "fraid the Feds here are just trying to prove,after the gov't made sure all the financial groups they loved were out of the financial woods,that they won't tolerate rip off capitalism--any way they can! No logic to it!
    Time for a break away from what we all agree that Orwell predigested for us--time for a new and successfully subversive movement--we might call it TRUTH,and choose for our "patron saint" Granny Josie--she knew her onions, by all believable accounts. Left has been co-opted right is better left unsaid,so what shall it be??? UP?
    Or shall we waste our time in pallid complaint over what is? The Control Junkies have the ultimate weapons of violence,but--it seems-- we may have intellect to fight with.

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