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The legitimacy of the state and all that… January 14, 2022

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Entertaining to see this week that the IT decided to poke SF in the eye over – of all things, its supposed disbelief in the legitimacy of this state, that is the Republic of Ireland.

What actual proof was there of this terrifying notion that SF doesn’t accept the legitimacy of the Republic. Well Kathy Sheridan based her thesis on all of one tweet emanating from those loveable, or not – depending upon one’s point of view – rogues in Ogra Sinn Féin.

But before addressing that she went a bit further putting forward a rather dubious argument that Sinn Féin and its supporters were somehow unaware of the mechanisms by which governments are arrived at in this state.

Many on this island seem to lack even a minimal understanding of the State’s electoral system if reaction to the 2020 election is any guide. This included the notion that if a party got a majority of first preferences its leader automatically became taoiseach. Another reaction was that a candidate’s election on a later count meant they were less legitimate somehow than the poll-topper. The intricacies of our PR-STV system, the parties’ good or bad management of multi-seat constituencies, the pressure on the main vote-winners to cede territory to a party rival to maximise seat numbers; all seemed lost on them.

This may be, this may not be, but without actual evidence that this is the case it seems a slender thread to hang a good part of a column on. The best she can do is imply that:

If much of this confusion originated north of the Border it was probably not surprising. MPs are elected to Westminster on the first-past-the-post principle, while Assembly members are elected by single transferable vote. Cabinet selection is mathematically mandated to guarantee powersharing rather than by the more usual thrashed-out agreement to produce coalition government.

But the same misunderstandings surfaced frequently enough in the Republic to be disturbing. While we pride ourselves on the thrilling unpredictability of week-long counts and the impressive proportionality between votes cast and seats won, there were plenty who felt thwarted enough by the Coalition outcome to believe it was rigged in favour of the not-Sinn Féin parties.

There was some rhetoric, though not from anyone of any substance and most of it online, about SF being the largest party, but my sense was that that there was much more made of the idea that SF should be part of government formation talks which is both a different thing and entirely legitimate. In any event the largest party line is one others have deployed at various times in the past.

But consider this contribution at the time:

On 12 February [the election was on the 8th], Leo Varadkar conceded that Fine Gael would likely go into opposition. Varadkar argued that since Sinn Féin finished with the highest vote, it had the responsibility to build a coalition that allows it to keep its campaign promises, and that Fine Gael was “willing to step back” to allow Sinn Féin to do so.[93]

How much does Sheridan believe that statement which came in the immediate aftermath of the election added to attitudes about the centrality of SF to government formation? She does not say. She does not reference it

And needless to say SF itself sought, as any political party making the gains that it did would to capitalise on the situation:

Sinn Féin stated an intention to form a broad left coalition; combined, left-leaning parties have 67 seats (37 Sinn Féin, 12 Green, 6 Labour, 6 Social Democrats, 5 Solidarity–PBP, and 1 Independents 4 Change), but other parties of the left have raised doubts about such a prospect. In addition, Sinn Féin would need the support of at least 13 independents (out of 19 total) to form a government.[92][94]

Polling at the time suggested that an SF led left coalition was equally as popular, or unpopular, as an FFG one.

A new poll has found that just 15% of voters want a second election.

A Sunday Business Post/Red C poll of 3,700 people was carried out between last Wednesday and Friday.

When asked about a preferred government coalition following the election, 26% favoured a “grand coalition” involving Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and smaller parties.

Another 26% said they would favour a Sinn Féin led government involving left-wing parties.


As we know that was simply too tall an order for SF – as it would almost certainly have been for any party. And the opposing FF/FG configuration of 72 seats had less far to go in terms of building sufficient support.

Of course there was an effort by SF during this period to build support for a coalition led by them – and to have supposed ‘rallies’ communicating this to the general population. This caused another scare in the media. Until even the IT was forced to admit:

Sinn Féin had the perfect advertisement in Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s claim that the events were the next stage in what he claimed was a “campaign of intimidation and bullying” by the party. When they turned out to be largely the same as any other political public meeting, although bigger in scale, Varadkar looked foolish, as even some in Fine Gael acknowledged.

So, all this is considerably more complex than Sheridan is presenting.

That said if one is taking as a lead the responses on social media – as Sheridan appears to be doing she may be inadvertently reifying that which does not deserve to be reified. For Private Eye noted some weeks back a Pew Research poll that among US users ‘the top 25 percent of tweeters produce a vast 97 percent of content’. It may be the same here, it may not, but at a minimum that should provide a cautionary insight into why twitter should not be taken as representative of anything other than itself and certainly not actual political dynamics.

But tellingly it is to a tweet, a single tweet at that, that she next turns her attention in order to suggest that not merely people – that is SF supporters/voters/representatives (delete as is applicable or expedient to the argument being made!) – are not just ignorant of the ways of our state but actively disdainful of the legitimacy of the state. 

Ógra Shinn Féin marked the Anglo-Irish Treaty centenary with this tweet: “Despite what the Free State establishment want you to believe, the Treaty did not give Ireland independence. Ireland is not independent. But together, we can change that.” This is the youth wing of a party confidently gearing up to govern this State.

From which she comes to the following conclusion:

The statement not only denies our legitimacy; it also denies the referendum that overwhelmingly accepted the principle of consent and therefore the existence of Northern Ireland.

This is but a single tweet. But even there one has to wonder whether on its own terms it is saying what she is saying? For any leftist of near enough any stripe it is hardly controversial to suggest that Ireland is not independent, though what that means may be rather different depending upon who one talks to. Those who decry our position in the EU will argue we’re not independent in that context, others will suggest we are not independent with regard to our position on neutrality, others again – I’d probably be close to this – would argue that as an integral part of capitalism Ireland is not independent in that sense. Some might even see this as a good thing. I’m no fan of the EU as presently constituted but national independence is near enough impossible as an absolute in a world of over-lapping sovereignty. Indeed there are those who argue that this lack of independence is a good thing, something that is a virtue in the modern world. I tend to think that sharing of sovereignty is a good thing.

But the point is that independence, or partial independence, is quite distinct from the legitimacy of the Irish state. If the ambition is a United Ireland then it is clear that independence was only partial, and that achieved by the twenty-six counties, with six counties yet to become independent from Britain.

In any case, all this is rather tedious given that recognition of the state was surely implicit in the vote in 1986 to enter the Dáil – a vote that split Sinn Féin at the time. And then there’s the small matter of the party being a co-signatory of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement which in provision after provision recognises the legitimacy of the Republic of Ireland, as well as that of Northern Ireland, but crucially – something seemingly forgotten by some, allows explicitly for people to peacefully articulate a position in favour of the Union or in favour of a United Ireland and to organise peacefully to that end.  Let’s just revisit that last legitimisation of this state:

The agreement was made between the British and Irish governments and eight political parties or groupings from Northern Ireland. Three were representative of unionism: the Ulster Unionist Party which had led unionism in Ulster since the beginning of the 20th century, and two smaller parties associated with Loyalist paramilitaries, the Progressive Unionist Party (linked with the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)), and Ulster Democratic Party (the political wing of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA)). Two were broadly labelled nationalist: the Social Democratic and Labour Party, and Sinn Féin, the republican party associated with the Provisional Irish Republican Army.[5][6] Independent of these rival traditions, were two other Assembly parties, the cross-community Alliance Party and the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition. There was also the grouping Labour Coalition. US senator George J. Mitchellwas sent to chair the talks between the parties and groups by US president Bill Clinton.[7]

The agreement comprises two elements:

  • a treaty between the two states, signed by the leaders of the two governments; and
  • a more substantial agreement between the eight political parties and the two governments.

The former text has just four articles; it is that short text that is the legal agreement, but it incorporates in its schedules the latter agreement.[8] Technically, this scheduled agreement can be distinguished as the Multi-Party Agreement, as opposed to the Belfast Agreement itself.[8]

The vague wording of some of the provisions, described as “constructive ambiguity”,[9] helped ensure acceptance of the agreement and served to postpone debate on some of the more contentious issues. Most notably these included paramilitary decommissioning, police reform and the normalisation of Northern Ireland.

Kathy Sheridan knows this. She knows that Sinn Féin in government is not going to delegitimise the very state that it has sought to come to power in. That if it were to do so it would generate a political backlash of immense proportions. She knows that it is entirely legitimate to recognise this state and to also seek constitutional change in respect of the situation on the island – in precisely the same way that it is entirely legitimate for Unionist parties in Northern Ireland to seek to maintain the status quo in the context of constitutional political activity. There is quite literally nothing in what Sinn Féin is doing that is unconstitutional with regard to that. And all she can offer is a tweet of dubious relevance and some nebulous stuff about attitudes to political activity and attitudes around the last election. To call this performative is to be overly generous.






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