As Sinn Féin grows in popularity in the South, a subversive element is increasingly revealed, but not one that SF’s detractors have in mind.
In the wake of the local and European elections, Colm Keena, in ‘The Irish Times’ (June 11th), warns that it is ‘a great risk’ to believe Gerry Adams’s ‘stated allegiance to democratic politics’. After the silly, ahistorical charge that Adams ‘injected the virus of violence’ into the gerrymander of the pre-Civil Rights North, he warns that SF’s electoral success may boost this ‘militant nationalist tradition’ which is ‘a menace…we should eradicate’. ‘People who voted Sinn Fein need to pay serious heed to these dangers’.
Such wildly anti-SF colour is more associated with ‘Independent News & Media’. Indeed, an extraordinary ‘Sunday Independent’ editorial (May 25th) demanded that RTE and the Government assume the responsibility of aiding its campaign to stop SF. ‘We cannot continue to roll a rock up a hill alone’ (an infelicitous invocation of Sisyphean futility). At the final SF press-conference before those elections, amid questions on economic and European policies, the INM journalist present asked only questions about Lord Mountbatten.
The insinuation is that it is not legitimate for Adams to politically pursue his goals. It is more openly expressed in ‘Irish Times’ letters calling for the scrapping of the Belfast Agreement provision for Irish Unity (Dick Keane, June 9th), decrying this ‘deeply destabilizing goal… which can only lead to a return of violence’ (Andy Pollak, May 31st).
Ironically, such attempts to stymie democratic discourse, and the rule of law, are subversive. It is for the Irish people to decide electoral outcomes for Sinn Fein. The Belfast Agreement is an international Treaty. It had referendum approval. It is law. Doubly ironic, it was the subversion of democracy and the rule of law by Unionist paramilitaries, and the ‘Curragh Mutiny’, exploited by the Tories for short-term gain, that ‘injected the virus of violence’ into mainstream Twentieth Century Irish politics. ‘The North Began’, as Eoin MacNeill put it. Historian Ronan Fanning speaks of being in the centennial decade of the British Establishment taking us all down that ‘Fatal Path’ (see his recent book of that title).
A further irony is that such subversive self-styled guardianship of democracy bolsters the logic of actual militarist nationalists, like the ‘Dissidents’, who claim ‘democracy’ is currently a sham.
Fair criticism is a beneficial analytical workout, making policy fitter. However, this is an attempt by the 26 County Establishment, including some media, to distort the debate. This prevents fair airing of Republican alternatives to the inequality (re: healthcare, national self-determination, education, etc.) which has been so disastrous economically, and in even more profound ways.
This chimes with the Taoiseach’s habit of answering Dáil questions about health, etc., with irrelevant and tawdry Troubles-victim toting.
It is a selfish shielding of the Irish establishment’s Thatcherite fiefdom from republicanism, leftist thinking, and uppity ‘Nordies’ (as in Italy, and England, there are temperamental differences between north and south, seen in Gaelic football, exacerbated by the harmful dislocation of Partition).
Keena correctly locates these issues in historiography, but for the wrong reasons. The answer to narrow nationalist narrative is not an over-compensating pendulum swing of revisionism. Certainly not the Taoiseach’s ‘Pravda’-worthy intention to “consult authentic [!] historians” about centenaries.
The Establishment is very interested in the history of the Provisional IRA, but rather less so in whether the ‘Republic’ has been, and is, a republic, much less the one declared in 1916.
Contrary to the spectre of a return to violence raised by John A Murphy (Irish Times July 9, 2014) The Provisional IRA has gone away.
Like Dan Breen’s IRA – it is history. The same cannot be said of Loyalist Paramilitaries.
That centenary puts, front and centre, questions about what the Republic means. For example, what sense does the national flag make without pro-active engagement with the North, particularly with the Orange? Under Eamon Gilmore, the Department of Foreign Affairs has arguably been disengaging.
The egalitarian energy of the revolution was stunted by the conservatism of Cosgrave, O’Higgins, De Valera, et al… After the communal insecurity of Catholic Ireland’s long subjection, those men (the women were side-lined) were preoccupied with Edwardian ‘respectability’, and programmed a two-tier State of outward piety, maintained by double-think, whereby problematic citizens, including the poor, were less equal than others, and were often exported, or hidden. Problematic northern citizens remain hidden still, in everyday speech whereby ‘Ireland’ means 26 Counties. (President McAleese, living in Ireland, but not in ‘Ireland’, could not vote for herself in 1997). This was particularly fertile soil for the later neo-liberal economic and social model of the Celtic Tiger, the conspicuous consumption of which expressed the underlying insecure hunger for status and respectability.
This insecurity, lack of confidence, selfish immaturity, explains the Establishment compulsion to distort the discourse rather than compete fairly.
Fianna Fáil are sensitive to the presence of an actual Republican party, and Labour are sensitive to leftist analysis of their regressive allocation of austerity onto the less well-off. An over-compensating regard for Redmondism is strong in Fine Gael, and among restless Progressive Democrat ghosts. Redmond led far more Irishmen to lift a gun than did Pearse, yet speeches at the Irish government’s 2014 Easter commemoration at Arbour Hill curiously lionised World War One, almost to the exclusion of those interred there.
This conflicts with the urbane, eminently reasonable, self-image of D4 Liberalism, imagining itself far advanced from the cliental politics of Jackie Healey-Rae (which it so mocks), never mind the tribalism of the North. However it is consistent with a tendency to greater interest in justice issues in far off places like Latin America than fifty miles up the road. That hypocrisy supported both free speech abroad, and Section 31 censorship, which banned the reporting of remarks, on any topic, by anyone who happened also to be a member of Sinn Fein.
This insecurity and this revisionism combined in much of the Establishment commentary on President Higgins’s State visit to Britain. The visit was indeed a success, another marker in the long process of healing, but that wasn’t enough.
Stephen Collins led the bien pensant stampede to declare the End of Irish History. Francis Fukuyama now cautions against such haste! The relentless self-congratulation that ‘Ireland’ (26 Counties) was now ‘mature’ was somewhat self-contradictory. The insistence that ‘Britain is our best friend’ at times suggested satire akin to Fredo Corleone’s insistence that “Moe and me, we’re good friends, right Moe?”. Roy Foster declared the relationship ‘nearly as good as sex’.
Establishment Liberals see the past link between an obscurantist Church and suffocating State, but many fail to see that they themselves have the pulpit today, with an attendant responsibility to be fair. There are honourable exceptions, e.g. Fintan O’Toole, who readily accepts the pulpit analogy. Keena, Collins, et al far too comfortably wear John Charles McQuaid’s mitre, arrogating his authority to decide who is sufficiently in a state of grace to participate in communal sacraments (democracy, in this case). Hence sermons calling for a new ‘clean’, ‘untainted’ Sinn Fein leadership. This echoes Jim Molyneaux’s speaking of the need for a period of ‘decontamination.’
It is now long, long, past time for a fair – even mature – contest of ideas.