Eamon Gilmore and Sinn Féin… November 28, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.
…It struck me the other day on foot of our discussions on the nature of Sinn Féin and the deeply problematic manner which the Government parties have in their dealings with them in the Dáil chamber where the issue of the murder of Jean McConville by the IRA is used as a sort of diversionary tractic, that there’s one genuine oddity in all this. Well, there’s actually many. As we know, the interactions between those involved in the chamber are fairly complex. So it’s not every time that Gerry Adams or whoever stands to speak that such comments are made. Quite the opposite. But only in certain contexts where the Government is feeling the heat.
But it wasn’t always so in relation to some in Labour and Sinn Féin. No, not at all. For in 2002 when a younger, perhaps wiser, E. Gilmore was contesting the Labour leadership he took a vastly more emollient line in relation to Sinn Féin. Now, sometimes this was implicit, as in this piece here (behind the IT paywall but worth a look if you can access it) where on foot of the 2002 General Election where SF was returned in some numbers along with the GP and a number of left Independents, he wrote:
This general election re-elected the government and changed the opposition. But there still is an opposition! Whether the next government is FF/PD or FF/Independents, there will be almost 80 TDs on the opposition benches.
For the first time, however, there is no single party which can claim to be the national opposition, or even to be the majority part of it. The opposition benches in the 29th Dáil will be occupied by two medium-sized parties, three small parties and 13 Independents.
And he continued:
At first glance, the fracturing of the opposition may appear to prolong Fianna Fáil’s grip on power. But the new opposition also has the potential to be reconstructed and to provide a political alternative to Fianna Fáil.
The political complexion of the new opposition is predominantly left of centre, including the Labour Party, others on the left and social democrats in Fine Gael. Most of the new independents have been elected on public service issues such as health, arguing for policies very similar to those of the Labour Party.
It is simply untenable that he wasn’t speaking of SF as comprising a part of that ‘opposition’.
And indeed he clearly was, for he had previously in his leadership bid, which failed, although not quite as ignominiously as some have painted it subsequently where he received almost 20% of the vote, state a preference for left cooperation including SF. An Phoblacht noted this when he became leader and turned his back on such matters.
Eamon Gilmore has succeeded Pat Rabbitte as the leader of the Labour Party without a contest and without immediate debate on the future of the party. It remains to be seen if any such debate will ensue or if Gilmore will focus solely on reorganisation after the failure of his predecessor’s strategy based on the Mullingar Accord with Fine Gael.
Prior to his unsuccessful 2002 bid for the leadership Gilmore raised the prospect of co-operation on the left, including Sinn Féin. This time he ruled out such political co-operation, apparently fearful that it might be used against him by rival candidates. He need not have worried as no-one in the Labour Parliamentary Party rose to the leadership challenge.
When Eamon Gilmore stood for the leadership of the Labour party in 2002, against Pat Rabbitte and Brendan Howlin, he offered a very different prospectus from the one he has advanced this time. In 2002 he argued Labour should seek to construct a united Left, which Labour as the strongest element, would lead, harnessing the combined energies of Labour, Sinn Féin and the Greens to present a challenge to both the leading capitalist blocs – Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. His focus then was on a left agenda, on substantive equality and justice. But now that is all abandoned. He has made it clear there will be no alliance of the left, no cooperation with Sinn Fein and left-wing Independents. Labour is not to change, it is to be available yet again for government with one or other of the ‘capitalist’ parties.
The obvious problem here is that one G. Adams was, as he still is, leader of SF and if there is a problem now with Adams et al, then the same problem existed then. Indeed one could argue that it was more pointed given that the political dispensation in the North remained less stable, more fractious and issues like decommissioning were…
It is this that makes the use of the murder of McConville so self-serving on the part of some. What deep held principle is it drawn from? I wouldn’t advocate it, but had FG and the LP argued for a position of refusing to acknowledge SF, a sort of living Section 31, that at least would be more consistent (indeed thinking of same I’m reminded of Eoghan Harris’s not dissimilar injunctions against SF, while I remember very well quite positive comments he made about SF’s Seanad presence when he first arrived there on foot of the nomination by Bertie Ahern). But that the thing. There is no consistency, there appear to be variable principles at work. Distaste alone, even loathing, when it is applied so patchily isn’t enough. It’s worse than nothing.