Rejected by left and right, where now for an unreconstructed Sinn Fein?

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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 !