The recent announcement that a Government minister in Dublin has “refuted” allegations of misuse of travelling expenses when, in fact, he merely denied them, has led me to ask myself who are the greatest refuters in the land. A brief internet search has persuaded me overwhelmingly that the word “refute” is something of a brand-mark verb for Republican politicians in Ireland and – in the majority of cases – a virtual prerogative of the Sinn Fein Party.
I supposed they’re well used to be accused of things which it would be very nice to refute with due show of evidence – in the absence of which feisty protests of innocent will do nicely for the time being. Indeed, from the standpoint of the Troubles and deeds perpetrate during them, it could be said that their main business has long been to deny such things and, if possible “refute” the wider allegation that they brewed up a twenty-year terrorist storm with insufficient reasons.
Anyone with a normal sense of fair play who knows about Internment, Shoot-to-Kill and sundry further manifestations of British Justice in Ireland will admit that the jury is out on that one – but not on the grammatical question of the word adopted to communicate the sense of justification which is peculiar to former Freedom Fighters now successfully morphed into Northern Irish politicians.
Notwithstanding, at the time of writing no single word seems to get more abuse in the mouths of Irish politicians – North and South – than this one. In a hypothetical Southern case, for instance, it might be met with in a sentence like the following: ‘The Minister for Family Values and Enhanced Contraception Methods within Vatican Rules refutes allegations of sexual relations with a goat.’
Needless to say, ‘had had’ would have been the right auxiliary to use, but enough of that. (No one loves a Grammar Fascist.) What was meant, in any case, was that he blustered his way through the inevitable interview in such a wise as to leave his auditors with the impression that he was less attached to the goat than formerly and, besides, the animal was dead.
In order to refute the allegation in the dictionary sense he would have had to produce DNA evidence that the kid which is currently browsing on Leinster House was not, in fact, his – a scenario bruited by late-night drinkers on nearby Merrion Lane. This would have constituted a knock-out syllogism with the effect of stilling such rumours for all time – or at least until he was next seen loitering in Merrion Square.
What the newspapers should have reported is that he “rebutted” those foul stories about his supposititious off-spring whose physiognomy resembles nothing so much as a mug-shot of Ming Flanagan – a fellow-TD who has ‘refuted’ a thing or too in his day. In this context, to ‘rebut’ might be taken to mean ‘butt back’ – as politicians so often do in the execution of their electoral mandate in Dail Eireann.
The chief refuter of the present hour is unquestionably Mr Gerry Adams, TD, who told The Irish Times in the course of the recent Maria Cahill fracas, “I refute the allegations that have been made about me and about Sinn Féin”. Yesterday we learnt two points of passing interest relating to rebuttals, to wit,
– Firstly that it was IRA gunfire which brought down the doomed helicopter carrying a generation of top Ulster and British policemen back in 1978 – contrary to the ‘aviation accident’ scenario suggested by the RUC;
– Secondly, that Mr Adams is now cooperating with the Garda Siochana to the extent of supplying a list of all IRA members suspected of child-abuse crimes at the height of the Troubles.
Since Mr Adams’s boy-scout organisation had been forthright in claiming the helicopter ‘kill’ at the time, there is no question of his rebutting it then or now, even if he wished to – which is doubtful. (The burden rests, of course, with the state prosecution of either Ireland to establish that he was, in fact, in the boy scouts at the time.) .
On the other matter, he can “but” and “fute” all he likes but even the dogs in the street – and perhaps mostly those – know that the boy scouts were playing fast and loose with the girleens in the schoolyard when they weren’t putting rude cushions under the seats of classroom teachers or adding sugar to the petrol tank of the Headmaster’s car.
20 January, 2015