Letter to Sinn Fein

Posted By: October 12, 2013

The  Belfast writer offers suggestions to Sinn Fein

Patrick Murphy. Irish News ( Belfast). Saturday. October 12, 2013
Dear Sinn Fein,

Have you just had a bad few weeks or is it time for a fundamental rethink of your position in Irish politics? In the north the wheels have come off at Stormont, leaving you in office but not in power. In the south you expected to take a step towards government by joining the Fine Gael/Labour bandwagon on abolishing the Seanad but the wheels came off that one too, leaving you looking opportunistic and a bit silly.

Maybe both sets of events are just hiccups in your progress towards coalition government in two states. In fairness, your impressive electoral record indicates that if you keep on the same path, everything will be fine.

But an alternative view suggests that in seeking electoral popularity, your attempt to be all things to all people has exposed inconsistency in policy and ambivalence in practice, which have contributed to recent difficulties. if the price of popularity is the abandonment of principle, have you paid too much?

You will argue that you have been both consistent and principled. But you have created three areas of difficulty for yourselves: your attitude to the PIRA campaign, your analysis of unionism and the contrast in your social and economic policies north and south.

Your fundamental difficulty in the north is your past. You defend PIRA violence in principle, while accepting that some violence was “wrong”. if the Warrington bomb, for example, was “wrong”, would it have been right if no-one had been killed? If some actions were “wrong”, which IRA violence was right? Who decides and how? Nationalists generally have bought into your view that past violence was justified but current violence is not. (Nationalist Ireland has held that opinion on violence for two centuries.) But surely, condemnation of dissident killings must be based on more than timing.

Unionists see all republican violence as wrong (their ambivalence lies in their attitude towards state and loyalist violence). They argue that commemorations for the Castlederg and Shankill bombers justify dragging their heels in government.

You, of course, are merely honouring your dead – although there is increasing support for republican commemorations not organised by Sinn Fein, since relatives of at least some of the dead point out that they did not die for Stormont. In meeting the queen, you hoped to placate Unionists. But most Unionists remain unimpressed, leaving you stranded between them and much of your traditional support base. (Your electoral success has been maintained by attracting younger voters.) While unionist intransigence is not your fault, your ambivalence on past violence gives them a lifeline – leaving you in political limbo.

Your attitude to unionists is hard to understand. You supported a campaign to bomb them into a united Ireland but now you are effectively saying that they are a separate nation with their own culture and language. (If you have any supporting evidence, perhaps you would share it with us. Banging a drum does not constitute a culture.) You have consciously walked away from the concept of the Irish nation, thereby undermining the compelling argument for Irish unity – another issue, another limbo.

By representing only nationalists, you have abandoned the Protestant people to unionism – which is more Daniel O’Connell than Wolfe Tone. You speak of a lack of leadership among unionists – but your lack of leadership towards what should be your own Protestant people is even more marked. (Critics of the newly formed PIRA I969 argued that they were not republicans – they were just Catholics with guns. That same argument today would suggest that they are now just Catholics.) In social and economic policy, your radical opposition stance in the Dail contrasts with your largely conservative attitude in government at Stormont. Yes, they are different systems of government, but your claim, for example, that there was no property tax in the North (it is called rates) was untrue. Your budget proposal to abolish the property tax is not matched by a Northern policy to abolish rates. Expect increased Southern exposure of your Northern performance before the next Dail election.

So your current difficulties are largely of your own making. You will probably not heed the above advice and you will still likely achieve all-island power. But if you do, will your presence in two coalition governments make any more difference than your presence in one? Child poverty, emigration and two declining health services will remain the same – an Ireland united, not by a common concept of nationhood, but by deprivation.

That’s why we thought you might like to reconsider your position in Irish politics.