The Irish Times reports that Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald accused Eamon Gilmore of making liars out of the Labour Party, a remark she was asked to withdraw by the Leas Cheann Comhairle. According to the report, Gilmore ‘said Sinn Féin had a brass neck to complain about basic rates of social welfare given that the rate in the North, where the party is in government, is €87 a week’. But this is a lie. Gilmore is a liar.
The lie is not that basic rates of social welfare are €87 a week, though you may wish to check this all the same. It is the way Gilmore creates an entirely spurious account of politics in the North of Ireland and in the United Kingdom, and Sinn Féin’s participation in that politics, in order to save his own bacon. He is lying his ass off.
Why is he lying his ass off? Well, first of all, who sets basic rates of social welfare in the North? It is not Sinn Féin. National Insurance is an excepted matter, under the control of Westminster. Gilmore’s criticism is as coherent as criticising the Socialist Party for criticising social welfare rates in the Republic of Ireland because they are a political party with elected representatives in the Republic of Ireland. But he knows this. Gilmore’s lie is a means to an end, not the communication of a conviction.Like the vast majority of establishment politicians in the Republic of Ireland, Eamon Gilmore could not care less about what happens to people in Northern Ireland, beyond how it serves him. The reason he mentions people in Northern Ireland here is to demonise Sinn Féin, and to associate that party with a violent time and place. There is a cultivated ignorance about Northern Ireland in the South. Most people are unaware that school books are free, that GP visits are free, or that most people do not deem private health insurance necessary. It is certainly not as if the Labour Party has ever sought to make them aware of these facts. It is not as if any of them are going to say “Sinn Féin has a nerve complaining about medical cards here when they are in government in a country where everyone gets free GP treatment.”
It suits accomplished establishment liars such as Gilmore to preserve the North as a salutary example of what happens whenever political conflict heightens -bombs, mutilations, assassinations and riots- and what would happen if people were to start taking traditions of socialist republicanism seriously. Certainly, conjuring the phantasmagorical memories of Northern fear and destruction is preferable to being held politically accountable. That’s why Gilmore’s colleague Enda Kenny decided to raise Jean McConville’s name in the Dáil the other day rather than come up with a convincing reason for attacking the poor at the behest of the wealthy.
Well, sometime soon, I’m hoping the chasm between rhetoric and reality, between democratic pretensions and technocratic violence will become so immense -maybe it already has- that Eamon Gilmore’s accomplished lying won’t work as a temporary sticking plaster anymore. And that will be a good day.