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Carnival of reactions: Part 2 – Sinn Féin and Fine Gael… and (deep breath) …Fianna Fáil June 3, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.

There’s little better in politics than seeing someone say something that everyone knows intuitively is the truth but almost all attempt to avoid articulating. And in that spirit can I award the First Cedar Lounge Award for “Saying it like it is even while everyone else is saying otherwise” to Frank Flannery? The award is worthless, its provenance highly suspicious and I doubt the redoubtable Mr. Flannery will know of it or take the slightest bit of comfort from it. However, in truth I think we should applaud Flannery for at least having the honesty, or let’s call it basic cop on, to say something that for all the hand waving we know to be true.

Over the weekend, Mr Flannery said that the doctrinaire opposition of Fine Gael to Sinn Féin no longer applied. He referred to the peace process and the party’s involvement in government in Northern Ireland.

“We haven’t really discussed it internally at all yet, it’s a matter which I think will arise when we are approaching the next general election.

“It is in my view a theoretical possibility for the future,” he said.

At some point, sooner more probably rather than later, the larger political parties will do a deal with Sinn Féin if the need arises. Indeed, as we know from Dublin City Council Fine Gael and Sinn Féin are already working together if not entirely comradely at least to the point of issuing joint statements.

And pardon my cynicism having seen a very very similar process in action in the early 1990s where Fine Gael’s aversion to Democratic Left – due to their former association with the Workers’ Party – eventually subsided in, what was it, two years or so from the 1992 General Election where John Bruton ruled them out as a coalition partner to his embrace of them… when the numbers turned right…and Taoiseach-hood was beckoning.

The arguments that have been arrayed against SF are intriguing. For instance Colm Burke, FG candidate in the South constituency was upset by the news…

The Cork-based MEP said he knew that Mr Kenny had clarified it, but it had not stopped the issue being raised with him by constituents.

Well, in fairness to Enda Kenny, short of visiting each door with Burke what more can he do?

“People have raised it with me here [in Co Cork] today. It has raised a question.

“It needs full clarification that there’s no change in policy until there is a full debate in the party,” he said.

And about said debate?

“I am quite surprised. I got no indication that it was coming down the line. Party policy has been quite clear. I welcome an open debate on it, but I wonder whether or not a week prior to an election is the right time to be raising these issues. It’s not the appropriate time,” said Mr Burke.

Too true, and although I raised the idea that this might be a clever ploy to gain transfers (or as someone else suggested it might be a bid to scupper Ryan’s chances in Dublin for FF by tacitly assisting Mary Lou McDonald) that seems a little unlikely. And all too likely to go wrong if there were a backlash against FG on the ground.

But those reasons?

He instanced Sinn Féin’s stance on the Lisbon Treaty and the party’s refusal to condemn the killing by the IRA of Garda Jerry McCabe in 1996.

Hmmm… that’s it?

I’m not being entirely facetious. What of the small matter of a thirty year insurgency conducted using very brutal means? Remarkable to see that history distilled to Lisbon and the murder of Garda Jerry McCabe, which while in the latter instance appalling seems somewhat out of balance with the losses suffered by the RUC. And yet I think it speaks of a perception within this state, and I use the word state very deliberately.

The issue isn’t what happened within the North, instead it is how that conflict touched the twenty six counties. How does one parse that out? Is it an ignoble impulse to ignore our separated brethren or is it a pragmatic aversion to trouble? Whatever the motivation the dynamic is clearly extremely powerful.

However, that is not to say that the rest of that history has no traction. Clearly it does and I’m not suggesting for a moment that that plays no part, yet not in quite the same way as those irruptions into this body politic. Why else select those examples?

The Lisbon issue is no small thing, but Lisbon will – most likely – be resolved one way or another within a few short months. And I also recall being a member of a rather euro-sceptical Democratic Left in the early 1990s, a position that did not fundamentally stymie progress (if that is what we wish to call it) towards coalition.

But the reality is that which Flannery pointed to… Sinn Féin sit in government on this island. It may be a limited government subject to the whims of London (and God knows Dublin as well, poor them), but it is a government underwritten by international treaty and a government which, as I noted at the weekend has powers that allow it to engage with Dublin on the basis of peers. And there’s no evading that fact…

Which makes Fianna Fail’s rhetoric little better…

Taoiseach Brian Cowen yesterday said that Mr Kenny’s personal intervention was another example of the internal divisions within the Opposition.

He said Fianna Fáil’s policies were incompatible with Sinn Féin’s policies.

“We don’t believe they have the pro-enterprise, pro-Europe Union policies that are compatible with the Fianna Fáil position,” said Mr Cowen.

Hard to credit that Cowen believes there are any serious divisions within FG on this issue. Still, it makes for good copy. And perhaps wise for him to concentrate on policy divisions exclusively rather than his colleague Dermot Aherns superheated rhetoric of ‘stomach-churning’. But even that is hard to take seriously. After all, somehow, somehow, Sinn Féin appears to be able to work reasonably well with the right populism of the Democratic Unionist Party.

Which means that – as noted above – sooner or later the Soldiers of Destiny have a date with Sinn Féin. As most likely do Fine Gael. And all the hand-waving and huffing and puffing isn’t going to change that.

And meanwhile Dublin constituency FF candidate Eibhlin Byrne (curiously shy on her current crop of posters as to her party allegiance) can’t resist entering the fray…

[she] pointed to the current alliance between Sinn Féin and Fine Gael on Dublin City Council.

“In a city where we are fighting a very serious crime issue, the party that won’t condemn the murder of Garda Jerry McCabe can sit with a party which claims to stand for law and order. There’s something intrinsically wrong with that,” she said.

Or perhaps there’s something unseemly about the way in which issues that have real potency and emotional charge are being dragged into the electoral politics of this state as if they have no traction and no impact. As if by using them as political charges – not you’ll note to attack Sinn Féin but to attack political opponents – there is no potential downside or future ramification. In a way the Southern Irish polity (and media commentariat) has always played it fast and loose with the North, close enough to always have an opinion, far enough away and detached enough to never have to stand over said opinion. And constrained by the context to never have to actually underwrite their responsibilities. Not much seems to have changed and with the potential conjunction of political forces massing on our horizon both here and in the UK it doesn’t look likely to change.

There’s little worse in politics than seeing that. And definitely something intrinsically wrong with it.

Postscript: I read, with no enthusiasm the latest report in the Irish Times on this matter this morning…


1. Damian O'Broin - June 3, 2009

The reaction, especially FF’s has indeed been stomach-churning. But then you know FF are in trouble when they wheel out a red-scare.

As to the reasoning behind Flannery’s comments, I think they may have been directed at Labour, in a do-what-you’re-supposed-to-and-fall-meekly-into-line-behind-us-or-we’ll-ditch-you-and-hook-up-with-the-shinners kind of way.


2. Jim Monaghan - June 3, 2009

SF should look at the history of Clann Na Phoblachta. After the embrace of FG it disappered. The rest is just idle point scoring. The awful disease of pragmatism and the search for a state car means that an allliance will be cobbled together to “rule” over us.
Has anyone though of a FF/FG alliance to”save” the country and take the “strong measures” necessary to do so.The bould Garret is pointing in this direction.


3. shea - June 3, 2009

iam a shinner voter but have to say all this machivianian motivation put down to flanerrys statement is a bit much. one week to go to an election, que the traditional picture of garda mcabe in the papers and stories like that. there press office dropped the ball, great for SF, taking the sting out of all theese types of stories, but for them daft.

maybe there that far ahead in the polls they can afford it, and theres lessons in that as well for SF and labour if they do do a deal. but think people are giving them to much credibility. from there point of view this is a stupid move imo.


4. Vabian - June 3, 2009

De Rossa said years ago that a FF/FG merger would allow normal
right-left politics to emerge in Ireland.I’m not sure about that-wouldn’t
this new party have different factions with regards to the North?


5. Stephen Spillane - The Last Day - June 4, 2009

[…] Carnival of reactions: Part 2 – Sinn Féin and Fine Gael… and (deep breath) …Fianna Fá… (cedarlounge.wordpress.com) […]


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