Posted By: August 13, 2014


“The problem is that, although Adams and[Michael] Martin are substantially accurate in their criticisms, Enda Kenny ignores them both, partly because he has shown no interest at all in the North, partly for the very fact that Adams and Martin are mainly right.”
Brian Feeney. Irish News. Wednesday, August 13, 2014
DURING his time as SDLP leader John Hume had a permanent injunction in force.
It was quite simple and straightforward and it was this: no member of the SDLP was allowed to criticise any party in the south.
The reasoning behind his injunction was obvious. Northern nationalists needed the support of the Irish government and at any given moment one of the parties in the south was likely to be in government.
In fact, as it turned out during the Troubles all the parties in the south were in government at one time or another, invariably from the 1980s on as part of a coalition.
It wouldn’t have helped much if a leading member of the SDLP had been on record castigating one of the parties for its policy on the north and then found that the party was holding a portfolio important to progress in the north.
So, no matter how stupid or damaging the position adopted, be it Conor Cruise O’Brien’s in the 1970s or John Bruton’s in 1995, the SDLP kept officially stumm.
There was another unwritten, unspoken rule but it operated in the south.
Among the main parties, particularly Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, the rule was not to let the north become a party political issue.
Generally this position was adhered to except from 1984-6 when Charlie Haughey took serious exception to Garret FitzGerald’s position on the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement. Partly the rule was to present a united front to the British so they couldn’t take advantage of differences between the parties. Partly it was to prevent the north becoming an issue at elections and resurrecting Civil War attitudes.
In the past three years these rules have been broken because some of the reasons for them have disappeared.
In February 2011 Sinn Féin won 14 seats in the Dáil, or Leinster House as they prefer to call it.
The party has been sharply critical of the Fine Gael-Labour coalition’s policy on the economy and banking. Gerry Adams has been particularly critical of the government’s lack of engagement in the north and has correctly pointed out its failures, no later than last Friday.
For his part Micheal Martin has also made critical speeches about the government’s failures on the north, especially its failure to act in partnership with London on economic matters like an investment conference and its failure to be involved in the hot air ‘Building a Prosperous and United Community’ package launched in Downing Street in June 2013.
The problem is that, although Adams and Martin are substantially accurate in their criticisms, Enda Kenny ignores them both, partly because he has shown no interest at all in the north, partly for the very fact that Adams and Martin are mainly right.
What is Kenny going to do? Say, ‘Oh yes, the TDs for Louth and Cork-South Central are absolutely on the button. I never thought of that’. Of course not. Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin are the Opposition. The north is moving into party political territory for the first time in more than a generation.
These developments present some difficulties for northern nationalists. When Gerry Adams makes a lengthy considered intervention as he did last Friday, saying the political process here is in crisis, many in Fine Gael regard his remarks not as an objective intervention on behalf of northern nationalists but as an attempt to gain political advantage in the south.
The new minister for Foreign Affairs, Charlie Flanagan, is not going to give Adams a leg up by agreeing with him. His response to Adams was to say he had phoned our proconsul when he was appointed minister and that showed the north is a priority. Really? Sinn Féin is discovering a paradox. The more seats they win in the Dáil and the more they become a major player in the south’s politics, the less effective they are in making the case for northern nationalists.
Unlike the SDLP which strictly operated in the north, Sinn Féin are not seen as advocates on behalf of the north but contenders in the south’s election stakes.
There’s no way the government is going to admit Sinn Féin’s analysis is correct any more than Enda Kenny will agree with Micheal Martin.