last year's Assembly elections in the north of Ireland,
most commentators in the Media seemed to feel Sinn
Fein is on an ever-upward march. They are now the
largest 'nationalist' party, as far as votes cast
for, in the North of Ireland and using the same criteria
the second largest 'Republican Party,' behind Fianna
Fail in the South. During the last two elections on
both sides of the border, they have been able to steadily
increase the number of votes cast for them. However
the question that now needs asking is this, is much
of this deceptive? Or can SF carry on moving forward
on it's ever upward march to eventually become the
largest Party on the Island.
In the North further political expansion on the part
of SF is by no means a forgone conclusion. It is possible
that SF may continue as they have in the recent past
to take votes from the SDLP, but this is far from
being certain, depending as it does on whether PIRA
destroys the overwhelming part of their weaponry.
That they continue to hold these weapons almost ten
years since the first PIRA ceasefire frightens the
life out of the northern 'nationalist' middle classes
as much if not more than their Unionist middle class
neighbours. Unless the aforementioned happens accompanied
by a major electoral break through by SF in the South,
it is hard to see the northern Catholic middle classes
going over en masse from the SDLP to SF. As we can
dismiss out of hand northern Protestants becoming
a source of votes for SF, the Party therefore has
little room to manoeuvre politically as far as increasing
it vote in the north is concerned.
In the South of Ireland Sinn Fein has basically reached
the point the Workers Party once attained as far as
members of the Dail is concerned, Today SF has five
TD's; the WP and its off shoots once had six. The
core support base of both SF and the WP at its height
lay in working class areas. There is room for SF to
expand and develop its support base in these areas
and to date it has done so with some success. Its
candidates, political activists and elected representatives
work hard canvassing and serving their constituencies.
The Workers Party is a shadow of its former self having
been split asunder by defections and political differences.
Whilst the Irish Labour Party hold on the allegiance
of the Southern working classes looks increasingly
frail, under their current leader, who at one time
belonged to the WP stable, it seems to have recognised
this and has of late been aiming its propaganda at
the liberal middle classes, a la the UKs New
SF electoral advancement in Eire depends on the path
Gerry Adams and his small coterie of advisors maps
out for it. Even if SF were to gain the allegiance
of all of the south's working class voters, it would
still be in the position of the LP and WP before it.
That is to play any role in an 'Irish' government,
the best it could hope for is to be a minority partner
in a Fianna Fail led coalition. On reading statements
and articles from leading SF members it increasingly
looks that Adams aims to move the Party towards the
centre ground, indeed this process has already started.
Whilst hoping to retain the working classes votes
as New Labour has in Britain and the Clinton Democrats
did in the US by the simple process of letting the
working class know that they have no where else to
go electorally, and must get used to the fact of living
in the hope of SF, if it gains power, throwing them
the odd scrap from the masters table. To me this seems
a very risky strategy born of a certain arrogance
if not ignorance. Although, it has to be said, it
worked for Clinton and to date unbelievably continues
to do so for Blair. Although for how long is any one's
guess. If one takes into account that Sinn Fein only
has approximately 5,000 members throughout the island
of Ireland, the vast majority of whom are working
class or the less well off in the rural areas, which
incidentally is one of the reasons that makes them
so attractive to the Irish working classes in the
first place and possibly so unattractive beyond a
few SF leaders to the Irish middle classes on both
sides of the border, the risks involved in aiming
at the centre ground become pretty stark.
it is true and it's importance should not be overlooked
that SF does have a wheel barrow full of money in
its coffers. Although even this may become a burden
as SFs political opponents will increasingly
demand to know how much and where this cash originated.
Also one cannot help wondering if Sinn Fein is to
continue the move to the centre ground politically,
if Adams and co have not failed to take into account
the tenacious nature of the Party they will have to
defeat to do so. In the South Fianna Fail will be
a formidable opponent; it can in no way be compared
with the SDLP who have been SF's main 'nationalist'
rivals in the north for decades. In many ways FF is
a mirror image of Adams' post cease fire SF, having
grown from the same Irish Republican tree. Like Adams'
SF, it claims to be all things to all men, it understands
the bar room brawl, close quarter, Tammanny Hall aspect
of Irish politics, having practised it for decades;
legality is not a matter of principle, whereas winning
is. Having been the governing Party more often than
not once De Valera recognised the legitimacy of the
Free State, it knows where all the 'bodies are buried'
as far as southern Irish society is concerned, having
had a hand in turning the sod in which many of them
There is another pressing reason why Adams is likely
to increasingly turn towards the centre. The strategy
of steadily increasing Sinn Feins working class
constituency and becoming the major party of the left
in Ireland has a major flaw as far as Adams leadership
is concerned. It will increasingly force him and his
party to come into conflict with his financial backers
within Green Corporate America. The more so if SF
enters into government in the South as a minority
partner, as the interests of these green Corporations
and the Irish working classes are in direct contradiction.
Just as important to Adams is the fact that if he
goes down this road the best he can hope for is for
SF to be a minority player in any southern government.
Thus it will not be in a position to force through
an agenda of reuniting the country, something he has
promised his hard line Republican supporters by 2016.
cannot but feel that Sinn Fein's move to the political
centre in the South is driven by the motor of Gerry
Adams' personal ambition and the place, as of right,
he sees for himself in Irish history. In this I fear
he is doomed to fail. If the sacrifices made by the
members of the Provisional Republican Movement and
the working class communities from whence they came
and who nurtured them in their darkest days are to
have any lasting memorial and if Adams continues to
choose to take the aforementioned road to the political
centre, the membership of Sinn Fein should reject
Adams, politely thank him and send him on his way.
Perhaps by proposing him for President of Ireland
or some such token job for politicians who have outlived
their usefulness and suffer from the sin of vanity.
If there is no vacancy for the 'job', I'm sure his
new found pals in Green Corporate America can find
him a visiting professorship in conflict resolution,
at some US university, with a few part time directorships
thrown in to ease his retirement.
Sinn Fein could then get on with the only viable and
dignified option open to it. That is becoming the
leading party of the Irish left, north and south and
representing and supporting the interest of the very
people who have given so much to place the likes of
Gerry Adams on his pedestal.
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