--Tommy McKearney

As Sinn Féin gathers for its annual ard fheis there will undoubtedly
be a large measure of satisfaction among the party faithful albeit
measured with a degree of trepidation.

The long cherished aim of overtaking the SDLP as the largest
nationalist party in Northern Ireland is achieved and few now doubt
that republicans have taken a decisive lead over their nationalist
rivals. Still greater success may be gained in the upcoming European
elections and not only in the north but south of the border as well.

Republican diehards who once scorned Gerry Adam's predictions that
Sinn Féin could make significant electoral gains have been rebutted.
There is vibrancy about the party that borders on the arrogant. Yet
in spite of its obvious advances, doubts still linger about where the
movement is going and where its journey will end.

There is clear evidence that an influential element still exists
within the wider organisation that has not entirely reconciled itself
to a purely parliamentary strategy. Recent events in Belfast are sub
judice and are best left that way. But the mere fact that P O'Neill has
been unable to issue a statement that his members have decided to
disband proves the point that not everybody in the family subscribes
to constitutionalism.

This divergence of opinion is unlikely to lead to a public split but
its impact will continue to cause difficulties for Sinn Féin. For so
long as the military wing continues to exist it will cause problems
for the parliamentary party. An outlawed, underground organisation
cannot be hidden from view nor can it guarantee that it will not get
itself occasionally caught in flagrante delicto.

As a result, there is now no likelihood of unionist participation in
a power-sharing executive. This problem may be side-stepped in the
short term but eventually a situation, that in itself is bordering on
the abstentionist, will challenge the party's ability to retain the
support of its new voters in the north. This will translate into a
vote loser in the south as the more middle-class section of the
electorate refuses to endorse a party with an ambivalent attitude to
its partners.

The dilemma for the Sinn Féin leadership and for its supporters is
that there will come a time when this conflict of interest will have
to be faced up to and in a fashion that will allow for no
prevarication. Faced with an ongoing stalemate in the north and
effective exclusion from influence in the south, the Sinn Féin bubble
must eventually burst.

There is a clear political imperative on the leadership to either
prevail upon the IRA to disband or to put credible daylight between
itself and the party. It needs little imagination to guess the stark
and stern message delivered by Mr Blair and Mr Ahern to Martin
McGuinness and his colleagues over the past few days and the
consequences for republicans if things do not change.

Over the past decade the Sinn Féin party has demonstrated a
remarkable ability to contort itself ideologically. Abstentionism is
gone, participation in Stormont is now eagerly sought and the
blind promotion of militarism is no longer evident. There is no
reason to be-lieve therefore, that the organisation and
its leaders will not be able to make the final move and
disentangle themselves convincingly from the armed wing.

Dealing with this requirement will undoubtedly take time and effort
on the part of the Sinn Féin leadership but doing so (and don't doubt
that it will be done) will also have another impact. Freed from
the 'shackles' imposed by its connection with the military, Sinn Féin
will find itself having new opportunities. They will be able to
resume their position in the northern executive and there will be a
real chance of securing a significant number of seats in the Dail
with the subsequent possibility of a coalition deal in the Republic.
Nor is there is any reason to believe that Sinn Féin will reject this
option since to do so would severely diminish the trust of its
efforts over the past 10 or 15 years.

The exigencies of parliamentary life will then take over. Already we
have seen Sinn Féin ministers in the north preside over the
administration of PFI (Private Finance Initiative) – something that
is clearly at odds with the party's claims to be socialist. Before
long the 'needs of the day' will also require a softer line on other
issues and before long the current flexibility will simply become, at
best, what Michael D Higgins describes as 'managerialism' or
opportunism at worst. The party that is rapidly acquiring all the
appearances of a fairly mellow social democratic grouping will become
indistinguishable from a host of other 'somewhere in the centre'

Sinn Féin is succeeding at the expense of its radical republicanism
and those holding feelings of trepidation are justified.

February 29, 2004

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?