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Sinn Féin and Labour talk about the Senate. Ah…finally the Opposition stirs… About time. Meanwhile… Tales of the Peace Process – a continuing Series. July 9, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Labour Party, Greens, Irish Election 2007, Irish Politics, Sinn Féin.
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Covering some of the same ground that Cian has already discussed today on irishelection it is good to see that Labour and Sinn Féin are talking about a voting pact in the Seanad. The Irish Times notes that:

Sinn Féin and Labour are attempting to agree a voting pact in the Seanad elections that would give Sinn Féin its first ever seat in the Upper House of the Oireachtas.

The two parties have been in discussions about a deal that would see one of Sinn Féin’s most promising politicians, Pearse Doherty, elected to the Seanad with the help of Labour votes.

In return, Sinn Féin councillors around the State would vote for Labour’s Alex White to give the party an extra seat in the Upper House.

The discussions are being led on the Labour side by Joe Costello. The IT reports that:

A Labour spokesman pointed out that there had always been horse-trading in Seanad elections and he added that there was no objection in principle to a deal with Sinn Féin.

Which is nice of them…

Meanwhile there are precedents for this sort of dealing:

Parties have often traded votes in past Seanad elections. In 1992 the Progressive Democrats and the Workers’ Party entered a voting pact that gave each party a senator.

In 1997 and 2002 the PDs voted for Fianna Fáil candidates and in return were given Seanad seats among the Taoiseach’s 11 nominees.

Somehow there is a more pointed aspect to this election. Already there has been the controversy over the Green/FF voting pact for their respective candidates. I’ve mentioned that on IrishElection, and it continues to rumble through. There does seem to be something a tad calculated about that particular pact, as if the Greens are being dragged into a process they are not particularly comfortable with. Which indeed according to the IT, they’re not:

Green councillors were informed that they would have to vote for specified Fianna Fáil candidates and that they would have their ballot papers inspected to ensure that they fulfilled the pledge.

A number of Green councillors expressed reservations about voting for specified Fianna Fáil candidates and said they would not allow their ballot papers to be inspected.

Perhaps it is the inspection aspect of the process which is difficult to reconcile with what should be a partnership. And the obvious implication of any such process is that there is a serious lack of trust that Green councillors will vote the ‘right’ way. And indeed perhaps that is correct. The privacy of the ballot is one of the few places that a political protest at the dynamic of the new coalition can be registered. To be honest I think FFs fears are somewhat unfounded. There is a considerable, and to my mind entirely appropriate, appetite to to bring Dan Boyle back in. It will be interesting to see if the second Senator that is being mooted as an appointee will come from some other section of the party in order to assuage continuing doubts.

Returning to the Labour/SF talks, this is a process driven by the numbers. Labour needs SF votes (all 58 of them) to have a candidate elected on the Cultural and Education Panel. By contrast Labour has 125 votes which should see their candidate sail through to victory on the Agricultural panel and have sufficient left over to see Pearse Doherty elected.

And that means that this is a purely technical process that doesn’t indicate anything much one way or another in political terms. After all, if the PDs and the WP were able to work together then anything is possible. SF has become a significant enough bloc to be attractive to any party in a voting deal. Indeed, and perhaps ironically in view of Aherns quip about ‘ye haven’t got the numbers’ in the Dáil as regards speaking rights being curtalied due to their lack of ‘group’ status, even FF and SF might have (or might still if the talks go sour) struck a deal.

Still, the optimist in me – and I share this I think with Cian (or as he notes “This may end up coming to nought, but to see the logic of seats winning out over a long standing principle of boycott suggests that the principle of boycotting Sinn Fein itself is now quite weak in some quarters and Sinn Fein’s confidence that parties would come knocking if the numbers stacked up was not unfounded”) – thinks that a direct engagement between Labour and Sinn Féin is no harm in itself. It is not as if informal contacts don’t exist on a local basis. I’ve long been at meetings with councillors and TDs from both SF and Labour where there has been a broad meeting of minds, even – dare I suggest – a tinge of leftist camaraderie, although sometimes I think that that is engendered by the process of local government rather than ideological similarity.

A pity that that sort of discourse is seemingly difficult, if not impossible, to replicate at a higher level because it is going to be a long five years and the role of the left elements of the opposition are going to be crucial…

One last thing. I’ve mentioned this before, but it really is remarkable how a number of FG members on Politics.ie are seemingly open to SF being involved at 2012. Now, these are a minority, they may well be unrepresentative. But, political circumstance makes strange alliances, even of those who loathe each other. And I can’t quite shake the echo of Trevor Sargents comments in the Dáil debate a week or two ago where he lambasted FG for not negotiating with SF…

……………………………..

Meanwhile, and perhaps appropriately on foot of the post about Ed Moloney, Alastair Campbell’s diaries indicate a fairly intriguing meeting of minds in December 1997 when Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness arrived. In an excerpt published today in the Guardian Campbell indicates that McGuinness was much less emollient than Adams (a highly entertaining and, worryingly, not entirely improbable take on this meeting is at Dublin Opinion).

Some of the games played are almost laughable:

They came inside and we kept them waiting while we went over what TB was due to say.

Yes, great. Just the way to handle a conflict that had seen 3,500 people die in the previous quarter century. Although he also records that Blair ‘came over as friendly’.

Then there was an interesting admission regarding Martin McGuinness:

I shook McGuinness by the hand, who as he sat down said, fairly loudly: “So this is the room where all the damage was done.” It was a classic moment where the different histories played out. Everyone on our side thought he was referring to the mortar attack on Major, and we were shocked. Yet it became obvious from their surprise at our shock that he was referring to policymaking down the years, and Britain’s involvement in Ireland. “No, no, I meant 1921,” he said. I found McGuinness more impressive than Adams, who did the big statesman bit, and talked in grand historical sweeps, but McGuinness just made a point and battered it, and forced you to take it on board.

Indeed one gets the feeling that Campbell thought McGuinness the more substantial figure, and perhaps more difficult to deal with.

I was eyeing their reaction to TB the whole time, and both Adams and McG regularly let a little smile cross their lips. Mo got pissed off, volubly, when they said she wasn’t doing enough. TB was maybe not as firm as we had planned, but he did ask – which I decided not to brief, and knew they wouldn’t – whether they would be able to sign up to a settlement that did not explicitly commit to a united Ireland. Adams was OK, McGuinness was not. Adams said the prize of a lasting peace justifies the risks. Lloyd George, Balfour, Gladstone, Cromwell, they all thought they had answers of sorts. We want our answers to be the endgame. A cobbled-together agreement will not stand the test of time.

That’s quite an admission regarding Adams and for all those who have already questioned his bona fides it is likely to add a little bit more petrol to the fire. Or is it? Reading the text it is not entirely clear that Adams said that he would ‘sign up to a settlement that did not explicitly commit to a united Ireland’. What it does seem to say is that he implied ‘risks’ were worth taking. A different matter. In any event it made perfect political sense for Adams and McGuinness to run a ‘soft/hard-line’ routine, even at this level of engagement. The British Army has acknowledged that there was no military solution to the situation in the North and that the best they could do was to prod the main players towards some level of non-armed resolution. That was quite a strong hand for SF to be playing and a nuanced negotiating strategy which sought to project a sense that their much vaunted unity of purpose covered a more fissiparous situation would be straight from “Negotiations Strategies 101”.

Campbell notes that:

He [Adams] pushed hard on prisoners being released, and the aim of total demilitarisation, and TB just listened. TB said he would not be a persuader for a united Ireland. The principle of consent was central to the process.

An important, indeed a central, demand articulated by Adams, and consider, this was 1997 when such things were anathema, where the out-going Conservative government would have found them impossible to achieve. A mark both of how far and how relatively rapidly this process has gone. It’s irritating to realise that this is just the level of information considered reasonable to release and that there must be considerably more.

And, of course, all this must be taken with the proverbial quantity of salt. Who knows how much of this is spin to help his Dear Former Leader, or indeed the Dear Former Leaders new ‘best friends’ in the Republican Movement.

Still, an interesting, if clearly partisan, insight into our recent history.

Comments»

1. Ed Hayes - July 11, 2007

Does anyone actually remember the details of the 1992 voting pact between the PDs and the WP? Who was the WP senator? I can’t remember this and Stephen Collins isn’t always the most reliable source.

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2. WorldbyStorm - July 11, 2007

Twasn’t the WP, it was New Agenda, and it was Joe Sherlock as I recall…

Amazing, isn’t it? That’s really recent history and yet it’s gone gone gone…

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