I am not too sure where this piece on Sinn Fein’s political prospects in the South originated – it appears in Hibernia Forum but the author seems to have written it also for the Irish Times web edition. No matter, it is well worth a read.
I first came across the author, Eamon Delaney in a sort of second-hand way when he was an official in the Irish delegation to the United Nations in New York back in the 1990’s. I knew him to be the source for an interesting piece of gossip about an Irish Times journalist who had proudly coined the acronym, JAP‘s, for journalists like myself who subjected the peace process to the sort of tough scrutiny it merited, as with any story.
JAP‘s stood for ‘Journalists Against Peace’ and the designation gained currency when the Irish media in particular was divided into two camps: the helpful and the unhelpful. The helpful rarely asked awkward questions, diligently wrote down what was told to them, wrote it up and went no further; the unhelpful did ask awkward questions and were not frightened to record the answers. Needless to say they were scorned for their pains. It was not Irish journalism’s proudest moment. But was there ever such a moment?
Anyhow I digress. Eamon Delaney is one of the founder members of a group called the Hibernia Forum which was set up in October 2015 and is funded, according to one report, by ‘entrepreneurs’. A posting on politics.ie had this to say about its ideology, in case you couldn’t decipher the preceding sentence:
‘The Hibernia Forum was launched today by Eamon Delaney, Cllr. Keith Redmond, and Cormac Lucey. The group support free market capitalism and are hawkish on the state of government finances.’
So, it is right of center and pro-business. In fact one of its founders is a libertarian, a credo which might appear quaint, and even progressive, from the safe distance of Ireland but here in the US, where it was spawned and is now the favored creed of multi-billionaires, it can be seen for it is: the politics and economics of Darwin at their scariest – and tough luck if you’re not fit enough.
But even a broken clock can be right twice a day. And here Eamon Delaney has written an assessment of Sinn Fein’s prospects in the Republic which is difficult to contest.
He asks the pointed question: ‘…..where is Sinn Fein actually going right now, and does it, in fact, have a way into Government even if it wanted to?’
His answer, essentially, is nowhere and no. Neither Fine Gael nor Fianna Fail show any inclination or need to invite SF to sit at their cabinet tables, the left in the Dail have lost all trust and want little to do with them and the party sits politically inert, stuck at sixteen per cent in the polls, its promised electoral breakthrough as much a chimera as it ever was.
I would add this to SF’s incipient woes: the perceived solution to Sinn Fein’s troubles, Gerry Adams’ retirement from the political stage, is touted as a move which will bring closure to the endless scandals from his dark past, freeing Mary Lou and Pearse to present a new, clean face to the Irish voter and giving Sinn Fein that important extra charge.
But if we are being honest, wasn’t Sinn Fein’s bloodstained face one of the reasons why people voted for it in the first place? A whiff of cordite around a politician and his party, a readiness to have risked and taken life for an idea, signifies strong principles and a special sort of determination, qualities in short supply in most political parties, especially in Ireland.
How many people in the South voted for Sinn Fein because their recent history of involvement in violence made them more trustworthy, less likely to sell out principle for personal gain – even if they could not personally condone what was done? I suspect the answer would make many of Ireland’s commentators uncomfortable.
There is a great if unspoken risk associated with dumping Gerry Adams as leader of Sinn Fein. The party may lose or demoralise its base while failing to convince hitherto unfriendly sections of the electorate. It may be the party’s undoing.
Anyway, here is Eamon Delaney’s piece on Sinn Fein. Enjoy.
Rejected by left and right, where now for an unreconstructed Sinn Fein?
Eamon Delaney in The Times.ie
In the Dail last week, the Taoiseach gave a lengthy and effective put down to the Deputy leader of Sinn Fein, Mary Lou MacDonald, after she complained that Fine Gael – and ‘your Fianna Fail friends’, in a recognition of the cosy ‘new politics’ ! – did nothing for families rearing children. It was the first of two days of spats between them.
Stung by this accusation, given that the Government is actually working on tax cuts for ‘working families’, Varadkar shot back with a long derisive tirade, accusing Sinn Fein of doing nothing for working families themselves. And, in fact, doing nothing to get into Government, north or south, where SF could effect change. Instead, the self-styled Republican party was clinging to the sidelines, he said, from where it can just protest and condemn, and endlessly complain.
Regardless of what one thinks of Varadkar, it was a compelling put down and the silence in the chamber suggested that most deputies agreed. After all, FF had been included in Mary Lou’s insults ! McDonald’s come back was cheap, and needlessly personal as is often her style. Just ask ex Garda Commissioner, Noreen O’Sullivan.
‘I am actually raising two children’ Mary Lou told Leo, missing the point that the argument was about her party and not her. (We are, of course, assuming that the remark wasn’t accidental dog whistle homophobia that Leo is not, in fact, ‘raising children’ right now).
However, Varadkar’s put-down also raised a bigger question: where is Sinn Fein actually going right now, and does it, in fact, have a way into Government even if it wanted to?
Or is the party living up to its actual literal title – Ourselves Alone ? After all, it has been totally ruled out as coalition partners by both Fianna Fail from the centre but also the far left from the other side. We have to believe Michael Martin now when he says that he would not form any Government with Sinn Fein, even if some ambitious FF TDs would be prepared to accept such a palatable prospect just to gain power.
Mind you, we may not have an election until 2019 so the main impediment to such a FF-SF coalition, which is the removal of Gerry Adams (or of Michael Martin!) may have taken place by then. You never know, but just at the moment, a FF- SF coalition is most unlikely.
Meanwhile, the Solidarity/People Before Profit hard left grouping has ruled out coalescing with SF as it sees them, probably correctly, as centrist appeasers who would share power with one of the bigger parties if need be. So the long-held Trotskyite disdain for SF as not being ‘true socialist believers’ has finally come to a head. Much sooner than we might have expected, it must be said. So the party is snookered.
But the really bleak thing must be Sinn Fein’s standing, which continues to be stuck at 16 % in the latest poll, after an actual drop, and with no real likelihood of rising. So is the game finally up for them, in terms of being a major Government component in the South? Or even in the North, where they have walked away from power and the DUP hold all the cards, as Northern Ireland faces Brexit.
Sinn Fein has been taken aback by Brexit (as has Ireland in general, in fairness) and by the frustration that the party has to honour its lifelong abstention policy from Westminster means it cannot go to London and influence the issue, as everyone wants them to do.
And of course, the party is embroiled in yet more allegations of bullying and internal harassment with one former member threatening to go completely public about the inside culture of almost totalitarian control One story reports that the party ignored suggested guidelines on this, by an outside body, for almost two years
The transition from being a cult to a respectable modern party is just not happening – and certainly not quick enough. Meanwhile, Adams who by clinging on for so long bears a lot of blame for the party’s hanging back, spends the weekends speaking at gravesides. On the Saturday, it was for the War Of Independence hero Thomas Ashe and on the Sunday it was for the ‘heroes’ of a quite different war, the Provisional IRA’s Tyrone Martyrs.
Sinn Fein often complains that its critics wont move on from dwelling on the party’s violent past and the atrocities of the IRA, and it is absolutely right. Sinn Fein deserves great credit for moving the Republican movement to purely peaceful means, and for holding to this in the face of an often intransigent Unionism as well as violent abuse and threats from dissident Republicans. But how can critics not bring up SF’s disturbing past, when SF itself will not move on from its violent past, and its obvious determination to celebrate these actions and legitimise their campaign of violence retrospectively ?
At the Tyrone event, Gerry Adams is pictured with men in black shirts and black sunglasses. This is just at a time when the family of Louth farmer, Tom Oliver, are looking for answers about the IRA’s killing of their father in 1991. Adams has said that pursuing Oliver’s killers would be counter productive -while himself demanding inquiries into previous British actions. It’s all mixed up.
The Tyrone Martyrs ceremony, incidentally, was partly to honour three IRA men killed in a shoot out with the SAS, after they were apparently on their way to ambush and kill a part-time UDR soldier and farmer who was fixing a wheel on a coal lorry.
The IRA men were probably shot in a ‘shoot to kill’ operation. But if it happened now, when such preventive actions are widespread in Europe to thwart Islamic attacks, there would be no fuss, just as the IRA’s campaign of violence, if done now, would wither under the glare of the 24 hour news cycle and a rightly outraged social media. But in the sepia-toned 1970s and 80s, the IRA got away with it.
Granted, we understand that SF has to appease its base with some recognition of previous IRA volunteers, but is there not a more tactful way to do it? For example, Pearse Doherty and Mary Lou McDonald also attended the Tyrone event, standing there amidst the flags and banners when maybe they should have been back in Dublin working on economic policy. And apparently there are more ceremonies to come, such as to mark the ambush of the Loughgall IRA martyrs, killed by the SAS while trying to bomb a police station.
Is this really the way to win over middle Ireland? Hardly. Until the party learns to fully modernise and look to the future instead of its violent past, and victimhood, it is hard to see how Sinn Fein can get beyond its 16% poll standing or be embraced as Government partners by either of the mainstream parties or by the hard left in whose protest culture it swims.
And all of this is without even considering Sinn Fein’s budget proposals, with their massive tax hikes, which would surely drive away any prospect of drawing in middle round voters !