Monday, August 08, 2005

Sinn Féin - Fish or Fowl?

Are Sinn Féin timorous fowl, more worried about an internal split than they are about their long-term goals? Or are they bold fish who are poised to transform Northern Ireland’s political stalemate?

On the one hand, they have the problem of holding their movement together. This job is more difficult for Gerry Adams than would be for, say .... Tony Blair. A serious New Labour split could leave Tony with no option but to seek a high-profile role in global diplomacy. Gerry would have to be a bit more worried about making himself scarce under similar circumstances.

On the other hand, if this is to be anything less than a blip – one that briefly wrong-foots Unionist rejectionists – Republicanism needs to be bold. It needs to go faster than expected. It needs to confound expectations.

This is no small task. A quick visit to this nutcase’s site provides a measure of the problem in hand. This is the most voted-for politician in Northern Ireland today. To anyone outside of the Ulster Protestant population, he is quite obviously a paranoid fantasist.

Yet, if Republicans are to form the kind of Historic Block that could deliver some of their goals, they will need to engagement with some of the people who vote for the DUP. It will even have to involve some of the people who have been elected as DUP candidates.

The DUP, however, have learned the value of stuborness. They are not going trot back to Stormont just because Alex Maskey is telling them that the Good Friday Agreement says that they have to.

On this basis, I think that a lot of the confidence within the Republican camp may be misplaced. This piece (via – hanx!) provides an insight into the current mindset of Irish Republicanism. It argues that ….

“…many grassroots IRA members have been weened off notions of armed struggle by the potential success that may lie in the political path.”

If this is the case, it appears to be a very small advance on the mid-1990s ‘TUAS’ mindset. If republicanism has still only got that far, it’s a slow crab-wise movement that needs to be re-directed and accelerated by the Republican leadership.

Furthermore, ….

“The furious reactions of the DUP and the Ulster Unionists [to the disbanding of all three Northern battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment] have, as one Northern commentator put it, put the ‘icing on the cake’ for republicans.”

Not being an Irish Republican, It’s probably not my place to offer advice to Sinn Féin, but if they are serious about making a productive political breakthough, they will have to stop making concessions though gritted teeth. Committing yourselves to ‘exclusively peaceful means’ is not really something you do just to …..

  • get the ‘on-the-runs’ turned into ‘off-the-hooks’
  • get the Columbia Three back into the country without much fuss
  • really piss Unionists off
  • get the Brits to give the DUP a telling-off for their intransigence
  • get other (slightly) constitutional nationalists to shorten the spoon they sup with
  • get rid of the RIR and army observation towers
  • get everyone to just shut up about the McCartney murder

It’s something that you do to signal a major change. There is surely a bigger picture? A society disfigured by sectarianism and organised crime? One that is probably further away from achieving fairness and equality within a functioning modern state than it was in 1969?

If there is one thing that Sinn Féin have been absolutely wrong about since the Downing Street declaration in the early 1990s, it’s the assertion that the job of ‘persuading Unionists’ is one that the British Government need to take on. And even if the British had a moral duty to do this (I’d argue that they don’t), they are hardly likely to actually do it, are they?

Republicans may end up doing the opposite of what they intend to do. They could cash in all of their military chips for a minor political gain. If the internal dynamic – reluctant and militant – stops them from taking such a step, it’s almost worth asking them why they are bothering at all? (... er ... apart from the minor argument that killing people is wrong...)

I don't envy them at the moment.

Republicanism needs to take a truly bold step in the near future. A ‘Clause Four’ moment. An ‘historic compromise’. A ‘Bad Godesberg Program.’ It doesn't need any of the transparent choreography that usually accompanies their gestures.

The more moderate Stickies went the long road and were fully absorbed into the Irish Labour Party. But I doubt if Sinn Féin would accept a similar relationship with Fianna Fáil for long – and it begs the question of where all of that Socialism that Republicans say they are so fond of will fit in?

On the positive side, perhaps enough of the ex-prisoners are familiar enough with Gramsci ….?


David Duff said...

You posed an impressive list of questions for Sinn Fein/IRA to answer. Perhaps I might suggest that the fact that you have to ask them at all is part of the reason why Ian Paisley "is the most voted-for politician in Northern Ireland today." It might even explain why he is a "nutcase", if that is an accurate description. It would certainly explain why *he* has been right all these years on the true nature of Sinn Fein/IRA, whilst everyone else was wrong, from our prime minister downwards - or upwards, according to taste.

Paulie said...

'Nutcase' - the evidence:

Ivan Pope said...

I think everyone is waiting for Paisley to die, so they can get on with it. There isn't really anyone on the nationalist side you could say that about. Whatever your view of Gerry Adams etc, you can't currently say they seem to be standing in the way of anything.
I think the reality of Paisley is that he is far more opposed to nationalist aims (united Ireland) than he ever has been to the methods employed (use of violence). I remember him assembling a bunch of armed hoodies on a dark hillside to threaten violence against some initiative or other. I don't see him forcing the loyalists to disarm.
Nope, like so many other embedded conflicts, we have to wait for the elephants with the long memories to die before we can truly move on.