It was a surreal moment to read on the anniversary of the death of IRA hunger striker Frank Hughes, comments by Sinn Fein MLA Raymond McCartney, himself a former hunger striker, that the reestablishment of a subsidiary branch of the British government at Stormont, with Mullah Paisley at its head, amounted to a gigantic step towards a united Ireland. The question immediately prompted by McCartney’s pronouncement is a how rather than a when one.
It was the sort of politics Hughes’s fiercest critics within the nationalist community and Dublin 4 might conceivably have articulated at the time of his hunger strike. It resembled nothing Frank Hughes was ever known to have said or believed. The statement from the protesting prisoners at the conclusion of the 1981 hunger strike effectively rubbished anybody who entertained such ideas. Terms like imperialist lickspittles and Redmondites, that were used to describe the receptacles of such notions, were part of the republican lexicon of the day. Stormont and power sharing were inflexions located squarely within an ‘anti-republican’ discourse. As Patrick Murphy writes in the Irish News today: ‘apart from the present Sinn Fein leadership, it is hard to think of anyone claiming to be from the republican tradition who could comfortably stand at Stormont.’
If McCartney’s initial assertion did not sound totally implausible it most certainly did by the time, when for purposes of authentication, he quoted the greatest liar of modern British politics, Tony Blair, in support of his contention that Sinn Fein had not deviated one iota from its republican politics. If need be, on the grounds of political expediency, Blair would testify that Friday is the day immediately preceding Tuesday, or that Myra Hindley was the Mother Teresa of England.
Whether Raymond McCartney really believes what he said about a united Ireland via Stormont or is only leaving a nail in the seat of the DUP throne in the North’s partitionist parliament for the purposes of creating a little sectarian animation is a moot point. Selling the normally unpalatable to your own community is always easier if a bit of balloon popping is inflicted on the other community. It just won’t do to have Jeffrey Donaldson rain on the peace process parade by writing that Sinn Fein moves ‘are a million miles away from 1916 and the declaration of a 32-county republic. In short, the IRA has lost the battle for a United Ireland.’
In one of those double-entendres the Sinn Fein leadership is so adept at pushing, IRA leaders appeared in the public gallery at Stormont for the inauguration of Europe’s only theocratic premier. On one dimension, it was about unnerving the DUP with the message ‘they haven’t gone away you know.’ That would please the party faithful, but they ultimately matter little in leadership considerations. More importantly was the other side of the message that was being transmitted ahead of today’s general election in the Republic. It was tantamount to saying that if the IRA can be brought along to applaud this farce it is evidence of how deep within the peace process the organisation has become entombed and from which there is no escape. The message is simple: Sinn Fein is okay to vote for. It really is an establishment party.
Raymond McCartney’s evaluation of where Sinn Fein strategy is leading looks anaemic when judged against Malachi O’Doherty’s more wholesome observation: ‘Martin McGuinness fawning over Paisley like a wee boy hugging his granda’s knee. Had he fought to be loved by a big cuddly prod?’
If he fought for anything else his outstanding achievement has been to conceal it.
Index: Current Articles + Latest News and Views + Book Reviews +
Letters + Archives