Sinn Féin’s nine months of madness continues December 26, 2007Posted by franklittle in Democratic Unionist Party, Ireland, Irish Election 2007, Northern Ireland, Republicanism, Republicans, Sinn Féin, The North.
Beginning with a public apology to WBS for leaving him so long to carry the site by himself, something he is more than able to do I should point out. But the strains of moving house in December caused more than a little difficulty in the Little household.
It’s a pity, because when I read this fantastic story where, as I’m sure people already know, Sinn Féin’s former Unionist Outreach official Martina Anderson argued that immigrants were the wrong sort of Catholics I would have given a great deal for a good broadband connection. Beneath the lunacy there is a serious point that nationalist areas continue to be more economically deprived than unionist areas and there is, I suppose, a legitimate concern that Polish immigrants might skew the numbers due to their ability to get jobs when the Sinn Féin voters of West Belfast cannot. But the manner in which it was made, and Anderson’s failure to realise that it is Sinn Féin’s habit of thinking along sectarian lines (Not the same, before the crypto-provos that I was amused to see inhabit the site descend on me, as saying it is a sectarian party) that created the problem in the first place.
It is difficult to think back to the position Sinn Féin enjoyed in the second week of March. They had just achieved another triumph at the ballot box in the Northern Assembly elections, managing to give the SDLP a kicking on one of their flanks, and a motley crew of alternative republicans a kicking on the other side. The party leadership had delivered an endorsement of policing by the members little short of unanimous and they faced into an election here in May with every chance of doubling their seats in Leinster House and livening up their Dáil team. There was an expectation of a dividend from Southern voters for the Assembly being re-established and the image of Paisley and McGuinness sitting down together drawing a line under so much of the negotiations impasse. If there was a slight cloud on the horizon political anoraks might have noticed Adams’ appalling performance on A Week in Politics the night of their Ard Fheis, but few people watched that show and surely they would have sorted out the problems, such as not knowing what tax rates his party was proposing, by the election.
And then, it all went horribly wrong and has been continuing to go wrong since. The election result in May has already been analysed to death but the party has lost a number of councillors since then in the South. Some for political reasons, some for personal ones and some for ‘personal’ ones. I reckon a number of people saw the bandwagon was running out of steam and decided to get off before it collapsed altogether. The DUP have bitch-slapped them around the place on the Irish Language Act, which the Shinners concentrated their attentions on while ignoring economic issues. Caitríona Ruane has proved an unmitigated disaster in education with her handling of the classroom assistants dispute set to enter the textbooks of administrations on both sides of the border about how not to handle an industrial dispute. Her proposed alternative to the 11+ is confused, scanty on details and poorly thought out. There is no sign of any momentum for devolution of policing powers and indeed the resignation of their Fermanagh/South Tyrone MLA and former Agriculture Spokesperson Gerry McHugh along with the refusal of Sinn Féin councillors in Strabane to sit on the Policing Boards shows that the anti-policing section of the party retains some pull. Conor Murphy hasn’t done a bad job on water charges, approaching it in a sensible fashion regardless of what the far left thinks, and Gildernew has managed to hold the fort in Agriculture as well, but there has been nothing spectacular from Sinn Féin in the North. Except for attacks on Margaret Ritchie of course, which seems to have a lot more to do with attacking the SDLP regardless of what they’re doing than anything else.
Down here, the party has reviewed itself thoroughly and decided that it did nothing wrong, or at least its leaderships did not. It is telling that despite Fine Gael’s success Kenny fired Phil Hogan and a question-mark remains over Kenny’s leadership. Rabbitte and the authors of the Mullingar Strategy in Labour have been cast aside. Sinn Féin’s upper leadership remains intact and the move of key northern activists like Declan Kearney into positions of authority in the party in the South suggests that Adams, having listened to the opinion of Southern members for the last six months has decided to ignore it and continue to centralise control in the mistaken belief that someone other than him, and he alone, is responsible for the party’s disastrous election campaign. The murder of Paul Quinn brought out the standard Sinn Féin approach of blackening the name of the victim with accusations of criminality that seem unproven. What seems more clear is the eager desire among their political opponents to hi-jack the Quinn’s case to attack Sinn Féin, but they would have no campaign to manipulate were it not for Quinn’s murder and how Sinn Féin handled it.
WBS has already looked at the coverage of the Sinn Féin conference and the only thing I would add to that is McDonald’s comment that Sinn Féin does not have an ‘open door’ policy on immigration is no policy shift. The Shinners, despite the accusations of far-right lunatics on Stormfront, have never had such a policy but the party’s strong support for immigrant rights has often seen them cast that way, though like WBS I don’t think it affected their election performance. What interests me is the conference in Dublin Airport, at which the press were not welcome, held a couple of weeks beforehand. Criticism of the leadership, and of Ruane’s performance in education in particular, was much in evidence and my Southern SF based source who attended was slightly surprised to see the extent of the internal criticism of Ruane from Northern colleagues.
For the Shinners, they have two opportunities to get themselves back in the game in 2008. The first is their Ard Fheis in March. The reality is that the party is still shaken and still lacks energy. The Ard Fheis is also the most likely time and place for leadership changes to be announced with members of the current leadership not contesting positions and newer, probably Southern, people being put forward for one or two of them. It will also be interesting to see if there are candidates against leadership choices for the main positions from the grassroots. If there are to be some of the serious internal reforms the party needs and have yet to appear, this is the place for them.
The second is the EU Reform Treaty. This brings me neatly to a favourite topic, which is the madness of Vincent Browne who argues at the back of the current edition of Village that Sinn Féin has not made its position on the EU Reform Treaty clear and it is his opinion they are likely to back it. Ahh Vincent, take thy head out from the Mahon Tribunal and read a paper. Sinn Féin’s party leadership, and McDonald & Adams in particular, have been making clear their intention to not simply oppose the Reform Treaty, but to lead the opposition to it. Most recent press statement from the party on it is here. What makes Browne’s error all the more mystifying is that the former Sinn Féin European Director Eoin O Broin now writes for his magazine. This referendum campaign gives Sinn Féin the opportunity to portray itself as the ‘real’ opposition to establishment centrist politics and even the possibility of fighting a winning campaign, which would be a massive boost to a party going into Local Elections in 2009, and European Elections where only a miracle will save their seat in Dublin.
As for the party in the North, it’s not my area of expertise but I suspect the DUP and the Northern Ireland Civil Service will be allowed to continue to drive the agenda on important issues while Sinn Féin shout about the Irish language or wrestle with the conundrum of whether Polish Catholics are ‘real’ Catholics or some sort of ‘provisional’ Catholic. There is an old saying that in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is King. Lacking such a person, I suspect for Sinn Féin in the North it will be whichever one of them has the stick.
A long way from the heady days of March 7, 2007.