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Le Gach Dea-Ghuí don Athbhliain December 31, 2010

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Economy, European Politics, Irish Left Online Document Archive, Irish Politics, Northern Ireland, The Left, US Politics.

As ever many thanks to all the contributors to the site with a core group of four or five – or is it six or seven – now supplemented by a good number of occasional ones. It can’t be said enough how much that is appreciated. Not to forget those who passed through previously and are now AWOL – more or less!

As great a degree of thanks to those who have provided materials, suggestions for articles, pieces for scanning for the Left Archive and so on across the year (there’s a bit of a queue of stuff hence the non-appearance of some pieces – and don’t even ask about the index which there’s been no chance to update recently).

And finally thanks to everyone who comments, left right centre or otherwise, and thanks to those who don’t comment but read the site [or the Facebook page]. To say that that too is appreciated understates the importance of you all to the CLR.

This Week At The Irish Election Literature Blog December 31, 2010

Posted by irishelectionliterature in Irish Election Literature Blog.
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As I took it easy this week posting/scanning wise ….. a selection from the week, and a few from the year….
The week has a Socialist Party leaflet calling for a General Strike with the headline “Government and Bosses are not Our Partners

We also had an ad for Liz Hackett, Michael Donnelly and Stan McEoin of the Workers Party from the 1991 Local Elections

Then from the year ….

Starting off with possibly my favourite post of the year….  Election Lookalikes

Then a leaflet for Don Lydon (charged with corruption in October) where he is in a wonderful picture with Bertie
(As a tribute to his retirement, I’ve thrown up a widget with a selection of Bertie material)

I had to Sneak in the PDs “Left Wing Government No Thanks” leaflet as well.

This year also saw the launch of the United Left Alliance.. the poster for the launch.

Finally leaflets from some of those that have passed on during the year….

Sean Dublin Bay Loftus and Tomás Mac Giolla

This Weekend I’ll mostly be listening to… Brandt Brauer Frick December 31, 2010

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....

Here’s something a little bit different to end one year and start another. A German outfit who’ve gone back to basics – literally – by using piano, double bass, organ and drum kits to create minimal music which has the timbre of more traditional musical forms while retaining the functional elements of dance, and perhaps more particularly house.

It doesn’t quite end there. They are happy to use atypical means of making sounds to fill in the gaps. This is perhaps not a huge surprise given that Frick has a classical background and Brandt and Brauer have one rooted in jazz and also worth noting that all three members of BBF have had previous careers in house working both together and individually – Frick releasing material under his own name and Brandt and Brauer releasing material as the minimalist house and jazz tinged Scott who released a series of well received 12″ in the last three or four years.

Now this would all be so-so if it weren’t for the fact the music really works. Listen to B-side, Paino Shakur which builds and builds insistently across 6 minutes 27 seconds but in a muted way. What’s particularly interesting is to hear the only very slightly treated sounds that are used to create familiar yet subtly altered patterns as with the insistent looping melody on Bop (and nor are they afraid to take the piss as evidenced by the video for that track) or the keyboard part that emerges around 3.50 on Mi Corazon which is pure early 1990s.Their first album, ‘You Make Me Real’ was released earlier this month.

In a way they slightly remind me of The Field in intent. It’s not jazz (or, perish the thought, classical), not exactly, and it’s not dance either, or not exactly. But the mix works – although they’ll probably fall between the two stools of being not sufficiently one for some, or insufficiently the other for yet more. And while clearly in attempting to work with jazz, classical and house they are meddling with forces beyond their comprehension, there’s more than enough here to enjoy.


Mi Corazon

‪Paino Shakur‬


And here’s them in a slightly more traditional setting playing parts of R.W. Johns amongst others.

The Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble

And from an earlier period

Paul Frick – Got the Blues

And a track or two from Scott


As Long As I Got You


Memory Core – remixed by… yeah, Paul Frick

A few more thoughts on the polls… December 31, 2010

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.

It’s now so close to the end of the year, and the unlikelihood of any further developments on the polling front (though recent political developments such as the ‘retirement’ of one B. Ahern have interesting implications for local contests) mean that the latest crop will presumably stand until the end of January. A lifetime in politics, and instructive to see if that break is something of a breather for a Fianna Fáil now hardly able to believe the straits to which it has come.

By the way, hitherto I’d always written off the idea that the Croke Park agreement was some sort of sop to the unions by FF – not least because the terms were vastly less generous than I’d have thought they’d be if that were the case, though interesting that the IMF, for all the huffing and puffing in the usual quarters, saw no problem with those terms. But anyhow, now I’m beginning to wonder. Sure, it looks like FF used Croke Park as a means of buying time with the unions, and more importantly a union membership who – one suspects – had there been a more, shall we say, energetic response earlier in the day might have provided a genuine bulwark against what was taking place and not merely in the more constrained context of PS employees but much more widely for workers across the economy. But the suspicion must remain that as with pensions they also sought to minimise future damage to them, and could turn around in 2016 and say, ‘well, we didn’t go back to the well’. Of course all the preceding paragraph is positioned not within a left critique but within the orthodox analysis.

If so it clearly didn’t work, at least not so far. Nothing has staunched the flow of support away from FF, perhaps, in fact more likely than not, due to the excessive rhetoric about these matters that they used early on and which their cheerleaders in the media were all too keen to add to the swelling chorus. FF may yet rue the day Harris was brought into the Seanad, though it doesn’t do to overstate his influence.

Anyhow, if that was indeed the situation then FF has learned a useful lesson, though too late. Don’t screw over your support base. Ever. And if you’re going to do bad things to said base [and not in the True Blood sense of the term, although, now I think about it…] you really have to sugar the pill, something this administration simply couldn’t get their heads around for reasons that one could only ascribe to being in power far far too long. I’m no fan of one B. Ahern, or indeed a certain C. Haughey before him, but at previous points in our economic history where cuts were made the pointless and self-defeating (from an FF perspective) anti-Public Sector rhetoric we’ve had displayed in more recent times was much much less in evidence.

Still all those figures from the polls are remarkable. Okay, not all, but enough.

People who formerly voted FF (and perhaps some long time LP supporters) want an alternative, not necessarily a lot of people, 3 or 4 per cent filtering from Labour to SF. But small parties have lived on that sort of vote for quite some time. Another thought, they’re not going to the parties further to the left in huge numbers, at least not in numbers given that the Independents/Other figure isn’t rising dramatically. So the message is that they don’t entirely buy the LP propositions, have haltingly gone leftwards to SF as it has articulated at least some defiance to the orthodoxy, and only some are going much further.

A lot to consider there.

Is it that this society has always had a space for a left of Labour party? That’s obviously true in some respects, from Clann na Poblachta onwards there has been clear room for a radical party. The same is true of the WP during the 1980s and in a lesser way both the DL vote in the 1990s and the GP vote in the latter part of the 1990s and on into the 2000s. The Sinn Féin vote during that last period also seems to align with that model, and perhaps indicates that there was room for a number of left of Labour parties (granted the GP hasn’t exactly lived up to expectations on that front). For those who point to the SP, and others, well, the numbers returned remain on the low side for that model. Now, if the SP sees a breakthrough in 2011 above one TD returned it too may be added to the mix.

Of course the polling numbers going to both the LP and to SF are much greater than those that sustained those parties. That’s a step change – at least if it continues, and no wonder we keep hearing the calls about a ‘new party’ in the media. This must disturb at least some on the right of centre that the movement has been essentially leftward across the last three years, even if it has been to the rather mild centrism with a dash of liberal leftism of the LP. In fact in polling terms it’s all been leftwards with FG simply not soaking up the ex FF vote.

I’d love to see that as evidence of a left support bloc, but I’m not so sure. Yes, there appears to be a core group of 20 – 25 per cent who vote for centre left and left parties and crucially this includes the Labour Party, Sinn Féin (at least drawing support from this grouping), smaller parties and left Independents. But there’s a broader pool of people, probably in or around 20 to 25 per cent who will vote leftish in the right circumstances. That ‘ish’ contains within it a fairly variegated crew, those who’d vote Labour but never Sinn Féin – and vice versa. All will get a nod. There are a lot of ‘liberals’ in there who it’s far from socialism were reared. And there are those who are passing through, seeking ‘alternatives’, however nebulously these might be defined. They might vote PD in one decade, LP the next, GP the next. There’s not that many of them, but they’re there alright.

How to pull that together is such a huge issue that I don’t know a way it could be done in the short to medium term. And how to pull it together so that it dominates FF/FG is another question entirely (indeed many would shy away from my not including the LP on the centre right of the spectrum). And with the LP in proto-apostate mode as regards government formation with FG there’s not exactly a lot of optimism on that score.

But I guess the positive aspect of this is that now the formations of the centre and left seem to be cohering to some degree and that support is coalescing around various centre left and left poles. In that context the transfer patterns will be useful indicators as to how this all plays out, but, that said the simple fact is that hitherto if has generally been Fine Gael that has benefited most from Labour Party transfers. To change that culture will take quite some time.

But, that’s not to say that it’s impossible. What happens next, across the next three to six months, in terms of the left – in the broadest sense of that definition, is crucial.

That election date… and other matters. December 31, 2010

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.

So there I am reading Dan Boyle’s latest remarks as reported in the Irish Times. First up the election…

“The Finance Bill is going to be published in the middle of January. It will take three to four weeks to process it in both Houses. Our commitment is to leave Government on the passage of the Finance Bill,” Mr Boyle said.

Some might quibble with that. The day they announced their protracted withdrawal from government most of us understood that they were demanding an election to be ‘called in January’.

When the Greens made their declaration of intent last November to withdraw from Government, party leader and Minister for the Environment John Gormley said: “We believe it is time to fix a date for a general election in the second half of January 2011.”
Mr Boyle commented: “We were probably over-optimistic in saying that an election could be called in January, rather than for January: there was a lot of confusion that was caused by that.”

But this ‘commitment to leave on the passage of the Finance Bill’ doesn’t quite tally with that formulation. Although there’s wriggle room aplenty in this new analysis.

“We don’t know whether there will be a government in existence for a number of weeks after we leave Government, and we don’t know the choice the Taoiseach will make as regards the length of the election campaign.

“The earliest an election could have been was mid-February and it seems the latest an election could be is late March.”

Hmmm.. what post-GP departure government would that be then. Is this preparing the ground for a minority FF administration to see the Finance Bills to a safe passage?

Anyhow, all this makes all that positioning before Christmas seem, well, a little academic.

There’s more though…

The party will be running in all 43 constituencies in the election, including Cork South-Central, where Mr Boyle himself is a candidate.
“I would be confident that we will have a Green presence in the next Dáil,” he said.

It’s odd. After all that’s happened I find that analysis disappointing, because there’s a part of me that thinks back to the Green Party prior to government and thinks that once upon a time they might have been, due to an internal culture that seemed at least a little different (though never enough, or perhaps too much so, for me to ever be tempted to join them), a bit more straight about their electoral chances and about the situation that they are now in. Sure, they wanted to win seats, but they always seemed to be a fraction more open about matters.

In a way this cross-references with the interview with the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin that I posted up yesterday. As he put it…

‘Somehow the Greens managed to do a complete turnaround and stabilise the Fianna Fáil government, and they have stayed there through thick and thin. It’s a very sad thing.’

And indeed if one looks at their demeanor in government one will note how they made great play about the constraints of being in that government. That too was meant to be a reflection of at least some aspect of an identity that was theirs, and theirs alone.

Let’s be honest. The chances of a Green Party presence in the 31st Dáil is now very very slim indeed. I had expected perhaps one TD, maybe two, to be returned. But on the current figures, as AK/IELB has noted they’d need transfers that simply won’t be there.

And once upon a time one feels that they might have been wiling to face up to this, would have been able to come out and say, ‘look we did certain things, supported certain actions, and we’ve paid an electoral price already and look set to pay a further price at the Election, but.. we think we did the right thing as best we could, and granted we’ve made mistakes…’.

That Green Party, wedded to an almost painfully consensual model, reflective to an extreme and whether one liked it or not was in some perhaps nebulous way appeared distinct from other political formations – at least in internal organization, was an alternative that was sufficiently attractive to attract a vote sufficient to see six TDs elected two Dáil terms in a row.

But that Green Party, and okay, also being honest it’s unlikely that they’d have put it quite that way, seems now to belong to history.

Did it ever really exist? Or is it that shorn of any sort of class analysis that it was simply unable to fix upon a specific socio-political/economic ground upon which to base itself. Because economically the party has been all over the shop.

Or rather given their original positions (anyone remember basic income?) they’ve aligned neatly with the orthodoxy – and this is true of their political attitude as well. Not in everything, but in far too much – and this using the apologia that they could only do so much. Now, that’s true to an extent, unlike the Progressive Democrats they weren’t kicking down an open door politically speaking. But rather than being a genuine irritant in government, an oppositional voice as it were to their partners, they appeared to be absorbed by the system.

That sense of them providing, or articulating, that oppositional voice simply faded away.

I think that that shift is what has so blindsided so many who would have supported them, or given them preferences, in the past. It wasn’t just going into power with Fianna Fáil, it wasn’t just supporting a raft of decisions that one would imagine would have made a progressive party blanche, it’s not just that they stayed on board through thick and thin. It’s that they seem to have undergone a cultural shift, where being in government was seen as almost its own validation, that doing something was always better than doing nothing, or avoiding doing the wrong thing by withdrawing. Where busy busy took precedence over asking whether this was the best possible context or way to be busy busy.

And now?

Perhaps there was no cultural shift. Perhaps it simply was that they weren’t in power. That prior to that they never had to exercise…well, anything. And that once they were in power they aligned with the prevailing modes that are extant there. Form follows function, and so on.

But if that’s the case then that’s an analysis that is depressing for more than just the GP.

A Lot Done …… December 30, 2010

Posted by irishelectionliterature in Ethics, Fianna Fáil.
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No surprise as Bertie Ahern announces he is to Step down from his role as a TD

Maman Poulet has his retirement speech here

Thinking back on his legacy , his role in the Good Friday Agreement is the one thing that will stand out.
Other than that there are naturally a lot of small things but his eventual downfall showed he , despite the carefully crafted image, was as bad as Haughey, Lawlor , Burke et al.
What he allowed Grainne Carruth go through shred the last bit of decency from his image.

Oh and despite his wonderful reputation as a constituency worker he could never do anything about my late Grandaunts water pressure on Broadstone Avenue!

Best music of 2010? December 30, 2010

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture.

I’m interested in what music people have liked over the past year. So if you have six or seven groups or tracks that have lodged in your ears over that period fire ahead…

For myself it’s been a mix between groups and songs. Brandt Brauer Frick’s take on house by way of classical and jazz will be coming to a This Weekend I’ll be Listening to… imminently, i.e. tomorrow. US outfit Quarkspace, surely the only spacerock/techno band ever to sample QPR supporters chants, are up there, The Field’s pinpoint perfect loops are another. I’ve mentioned Killing Joke’s Absolute Dissent, and I’m still listening to it. I sort of admire These New Puritans more than I like them, but each time I listen to them I find something more to admire. The same was true of The XX. Warpaint reminded me a lot of Fleetwood Mac, which is a good thing in my book, even if their videos were teeth-grindingly awful a lot of the time. And Teenage Fanclub’s Shadows was pretty good.

Anyhow, over to you…

Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin speaks… December 30, 2010

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.

Dr. John Neill, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin is interviewed in the Mail by Jason O’Toole. It’s the sort of interview you’d expect really, but his tone is perhaps a little tougher than usual. Certainly he has some harsh words for all manner of people.

As President of Tallaght Hospital it is perhaps no surprise to discover Mary Harney causes him angst…

[he] says simply that Miss Harney’s tenure as Health Minister will be remembered as ‘disastrous’. Now 65 and retiring on January 25, he refuses to go quietly, lending his support to the growing opposition to plans for a National Children’s Hospital slam in the middle of inner-city Dublin, and insisting that ‘people are longing for a general election’ so they can get rid of Minister Harney and the Greens.

He blames her for the HSE ‘monster’ that has grown up under her watch. ‘The situation over health has deteriorated rapidly. The waiting lists are appalling in accident and emergency. People are on trolleys. I’m very interested that the number of jobs being cut in the HSE is exactly what we were all crying out for but it’s too little too late. ‘Yes, it has to happen. I know it can’t happen overnight, but it should have begun long ago.’

But what of these words on the…er…Green Party;

‘We have had an extraordinary few years because we had a very strange general election in 2007, which gave no definite result. It wasn’t the result I think people voted for because the Greens were all the time going to go the other way.’

In an extraordinary attack on John Gormley’s party, the archbishop says he agrees with the view that they sold out by reneging on many of their preelection promises. He remembers being ‘very upset’ at the Greens dramatic volte face over Shannon being used by the U.S. military.

‘Somehow the Greens managed to do a complete turnaround and stabilise the Fianna Fáil government, and they have stayed there through thick and thin. It’s a very sad thing. It’s not just true of the Green Party, but it is very true of them, power tends to corrupt.’

Dr Neill is also ‘very sad’ at how our sovereignty was ‘diminished in the economic field’ by the IMF/ECB bailout. ‘We are in a mess. There’s a great deal of anger and frustration in society. I know that people are very fearful that things could get worse. ‘I think this coming year is going to be very difficult. And I don’t think it has dawned on people fully what the implications of the Finance Bill are going to be. All we hope is that there is light at the end of the tunnel.’

He says that the finger of blame for the ‘mess we’re in’ can only be pointed at the Government as ‘our own domestic policies were to blame’.

Hmmm… You know, you can read the polls and see that they’re in free fall, but it’s easy to forget that the resentment at the GP exists far beyond the left.

Interesting though too to read his take on matters theological.

[are] Catholics now turning to the Anglican churches because of the abuse cases? ‘I do know that a large number of parishes would have a great number of people who were not cradle Anglicans. There are some definitely, including clergy. There has certainly been a drift that way. There are several clergy in this diocese who were ordained Catholic priests.

Also, there was a time that inter-church marriages all went one way, but almost as a reaction they are all going the other way now. There has been quite a growth in people joining who are not cradle Anglicans.’

But he sees the issues affecting all Churches…

‘As you walk around Dublin now you see very few priests, but we know there are lots of them. So, they are not wearing clerical collars. With the Church of Ireland it’s a lot less, but it has definitely affected us.

I think the institutional churches will take probably quite a knocking – the Church of Ireland as much as the Catholic Church. ‘I think the expression of religious belief and practice will change. We have to find new ways of relating to people. ’

What else?

He also believes that Catholic priests should be allowed to marry and confesses that he would have hesitated about his own vocation if family life wasn’t permitted.
‘The fact of the matter is that celibacy has not – throughout Christian history – been compulsory. It’s certainly very much a Roman Catholic rule. We’re also living in a much more sexualised society and celibacy in thatsetting is a much more difficult rule for people to live by.

I see celibacy as having a value but only when voluntarily embraced. Marriage to me is natural. I’m extremely happy family man. I feel that it is enriching of my ministry rather than diminishing of it.’

Does he believe that compulsory celibacy has somehow contributed to sexual abuse among the Catholic clergy?

‘I wouldn’t link it totally with abuse by any means, but I think we all have to realise that sexuality is a very powerful force and when sexualityis repressed it can break out in all sort of strange ways. So, that is something to be reckoned with.

And while his views on abortion will hardly be a surprise either…

‘There are very exceptional cases where I feel abortion is justified. Apart from the medical, I am totally convinced that the rape cases are totally justified. And incest, yes, which is a form of rape, anyway. If it involves a minor it is rape. I’m convinced there are tragic circumstances in which abortion may be the lesser of two evils. But I’m certainly not in favour of abortion as a means of contraception.’

…nor perhaps will his views on same sex marriage. He’s agin.

arguing instead that civil partnership is ‘the way forward’. ‘I do feel that marriage is marriage,’ he says, adding: ‘I’ve always been fairly conservative on this.’ He does not like calling civil partnership marriage ‘because I feel it’s different from marriage. For me marriage is defined as between a man and a woman. But I don’t feel it is undermined by giving similar rights to those in civil partnerships. The official Anglican line is no blessing of civil unions. I think it will change. It will come about eventually, but I don’t think the Church is ready for it yet.’

Though for those of us who remember some contributions to the CofI Gazette over the years it will probably be as well to remind a broader audience that in some parts of Anglicanism this would be a fairly progressive line.

Anyhow, there’s more, but that gives a sense of the article.

Ceasefire magazine… December 30, 2010

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.
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…has an interesting take from a UK perspective in its regular column on the North.

Margaret Richie of the SDLP has helpfully avoided telling people how they should vote by…er… telling them who they should not vote for. December 29, 2010

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin.

I’d hoped to stay offline for most of this week but who is this unlikely figure dragging me back to the keyboard?

Why it’s Margaret Richie, of the SDLP, who has decided to offer her advice to voters south of the Border on who they should vote for at the next RoI General Election… or more precisely who they shouldn’t vote for.

Because Richie has decided that she should say the following:

We in the SDLP want good relations with the three main parties, and we would not be telling anybody how they should vote in this particular election
But what I would say to them is they will not gain any further comfort, or they will not gain any further, shall we say, legs up the ladder, if they are going to be voting for sectarian politics and the politics of division through Sinn Fein.

Let’s put aside the genuinely odd ‘further comfort… legs up the ladder’ formulation – what is she getting at, let’s try to ignore the fact she has decided to not to tell anyone how to vote by telling people how to vote (I know, I know, it’s in the title of this post), and let’s try to work through some of the issues more generally.

First visit the SDLP website to see that their vision is “a reconciled people living in a united, just and prosperous new Ireland.”

Now there’s no getting away from the fact that a united ‘new Ireland’ however one cuts it is an Ireland that has an appeal to just one community. That may change with time, or it may not. But…

Given that then the SDLP is not qualitatively different to SF in terms of how it seeks to build political support (obviously the history of the two parties is distinctly different, but if that is the terrain that is being fought on then surely that should be made explicit). Now I don’t expect SF to pick up votes on the Shankill Road in any quantity at all. But nor, in truth, do I expect the SDLP to either. And I think there’s a fair bit of dishonesty about the realities of different communities in a lot of the rhetoric surrounding this. In other words both political parties appeal to a single community, at least in the main. That in and of itself is the politics of ‘division’, at least to some extent. There’s no getting away from that, this appears to be a structural reality of the north in the short to medium term. And while the divisions can be starker, or less stark, they remain extant.

What party genuinely pulls any significant cross community vote? Why probably Alliance (and let’s note that the nature of that vote tends to be mainly middle class). And…er… that’s it. Given that Alliance’s vote historically has been tiny in contrast with the bigger battalions, this notion of some form of purity on this issue has always seemed to be more aspirational than realistic.

And the SDLP is a functional element in that mix, as indeed is every other party, whether unionist or nationalist/Republican to a greater or lesser extent.

But it’s not as if the SDLP couldn’t do something about it were it so pushed. The party could withdraw from the Executive which some argue perpetuates the division. It could refashion its program completely to jettison the united Ireland bit. It could stop being a nationalist party, stop forwarding policies which appeal to nationalists. But it does not do so.

Why not? Because it knows, as do all parties that seek a measure of political power, that there is almost no constituency beyond the divisions at this point in time. That any party that explicitly seeks to operate there will gain that 3-5% of the vote that Alliance and the much much smaller parties have traditionally seen go their way but little more. And that this isn’t going to change any time soon. And to ask them to take the risk that by taking a risk that will in itself have an exemplary effect is to ask them to be something that they and almost all other political formations are not. That may be a pity or it may not be, but there are enough members of the SDLP who remember how the tide went out almost overnight for the old Nationalist Party and how they took over the reins. They may well be counting their lucky stars that the damage SF has inflicted on their vote has been much more limited than that, that they continue to exist, even in small ways prosper given the more baroque predictions as to their future.

There’s another problem for the SDLP. I’ve often put forth the idea, half-tongue in cheek, that SF seems somewhat like the CSU in Bavaria, a regional party with links to a larger formation, the CDU. Of course the SF comparison breaks down completely in that SF has no larger party to link up to. But the regional aspect isn’t entirely incorrect when we look at the pattern of support. In all-island contexts it is clear that SF’s support is pooled towards the north-east. Not entirely, and not completely, but a clear dynamic.

On the other hand one could argue that that idea much more neatly fits the SDLP albeit its links, nebulous though they might be, extend to…well… ‘all three main parties’.

And here a cruel paradox emerges, because truth is that the SDLP is not a national formation in the way that SF is by dint of organising both North and South and that the ‘main’ parties are by dint of organising within a specific state polity. The SDLP, and again let me stress that there are those within it who I would find admirable, is a party which exists within the constraints of Northern Ireland, for better and for worse. That this is also true of the DUP is interesting, but the dynamic there strikes me as strikingly different. To seek to contain a situation, while obviously difficult over the past thirty or forty years, is quite distinct from arguing for change, however moderate and however moderately.

Indeed consequent on that thought one could enquire as to what is the SDLP’s vision of its ultimate future should a united Ireland come into being, or alternatively should that destination be delayed indefinitely? Would it see its work as fulfilled in the first case and disappear into larger all island formations, and what of the second case?

But there’s a broader point. Parts of the Irish commentariat and the UK media have long bemoaned the fact that Sinn Féin and the DUP both ‘succeeded’ whereas the SDLP and the UUP were marginalized by the peace process. Well yes (although again the functional aspects of the way in which both SF and the DUP came to the fore is different, though again interesting to reflect upon, even if it allowed both a measure of political dominance). But how could it be otherwise when the core goal of both was one centered in concepts of ‘national’ identity and the expression of same both politically and in other regards? A party pushing for all-island unity that had an all-island identity was potentially going to have a greater degree of success – at this point in time, for all can change – than one which was essentially regional with no direct linkage to cross-border formations (and arguably a DUP that had set its face against all change and established itself as the literal living manifestation of guaranteeing the Union was always going to be the only formation that could give political expression to a compromise with Republicanism/Nationalism).

How could the SDLP, or indeed the UUP (whose history was hardly stellar in terms of safeguarding the Union) possibly compete?

But even assuming, as noted mordantly by Mark McGregor on Slugger, that anyone pays a blind bit of notice in the South to her suggestion (he says: I’d hazard a guess the SDLP’s Margaret Ritchie impact on the southern electorate’s consciousness is somewhere just above that of Tom Elliott and a fair way below Peter Robinson’s), there’s yet another problem.

Her intervention, while arguably unwise, also has three further fundamental problems. Firstly by making the point she herself reifies the national issue over all others. There’s not a word about what Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or indeed the Labour party stand for. They become a lumpen political mass whose distinctiveness is intrinsic only in that which they are not, Sinn Féin. That’s all very well, but it speaks of a curious detachment from matters Republic of Ireland when there’s not an ounce of nuance about what’s actually happening within the polity above and beyond the ‘national issue’. Indeed for her to couch all this in such terms suggests that for all the talk of SF’s divisiveness she herself cannot transcend that issue itself and it is the only prism through which she views these matters. I’m sure that’s not the case, but that this statement can appear that way is the problem.

There’s an obvious corollary to that which is that she also curiously unaware of how such lack of nuance might play. Few enough will vote Sinn Féin with much thought as to matters north of the border in precise terms, though that will be a factor for some. Their current rise in support would appear to be as much a function of their response to the economic crisis, the failure of Fianna Fáil and the fracturing of that vote, and the success of Pearse Doherty as it is to the events of the last forty years. And given the status that Fianna Fáil has attained recently in the public mind as the destroyer of worlds, well, okay, the destroyer of the RoI economy, the Irish electorate is not unreasonably exercised more on that which is happening at its doorstep and those who have brought it to this sorry state. Vote for anyone but Sinn Féin, even FF, when the electorate is sharpening its – er – electoral knives to despatch that latter party, seems a strangely unreflective statement.

Secondly she completely ignores the political positioning of Sinn Féin in the Republic. Now, one can certainly take the Ruairi Quinn line articulated so eloquently last week on the radio, where he suggested – and I paraphrase somewhat less eloquently – that Sinn Féin was not a left-wing party, but instead radical nationalist or somesuch. Well, perhaps, but as was pointed out to me, given that the Labour Party of which one R.Quinn is a member has accepted the political and economic orthodoxy of the IMF etc, and Sinn Féin has long argued against that orthodoxy and produced a rationale for their arguments the jibes about where SF sits on the political spectrum seems to be a bit moot. Most observers, though, would assign it a position to the left of the Labour Party. How far left is a different issue entirely.

Thirdly, and perhaps less importantly, but it links to a point made earlier, her party sits in government with Sinn Féin. Her party does so by choice. Unless I’m mistaken, and I could well be, the SDLP abstained on the DUP/SF proposals for the draft NI Budget. Given those salient facts, doesn’t it seem as if there’s something entirely artificial about all this?

And perhaps unfortunately for her, Sinn Féin can respond, as they did last evening from – ah, wouldn’t you know – Dublin [ouch!] Sinn Féin in the following terms…

“Margaret Ritchie says she doesn’t want to interfere in the election south of the border but goes on to urge people not to vote for Sinn Féin.
“So the SDLP thinks it’s okay to vote for Fianna Fáil?
“This is more sour grapes from Margaret Ritchie, whose party has been eclipsed by Sinn Féin.
“If the SDLP wants to stand against Sinn Féin in the Dáil elections then they’re more than welcome to try in Dublin West or anywhere else south of the border.
“Come on down, Margaret.”

They have a point.

Not least because it seems curious that Richie would seek to persuade (impress? implore?) RoI voters about the bona fides of a party that they have an immediate knowledge of when she herself comes from a party that the vast majority of voters have little or none. That in truth most voters in the South have already made up their minds about SF, and those whose minds are changing are unlikely to be doing so on the spur of a moment. That SF will in reality, whatever the polls say, be glad to get the 7 TDs necessary to get speaking time. And that few enough will listen to what she has to say and that in saying it she has – perhaps – given her opponents in SF closer to home a handy little soundbite to play and replay over the next while.

So all in all not a great idea. Interesting to know though if it was made at the suggestion of others, however indirect.

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