The bizarre defection of Harvey Bicker, a member of the Ulster Unionist Party (albeit latterly an inactive member), to Fianna Fail raises issues as to the varying reasons why people are motivated to become involved in politics or join political parties in the first place. Without meaning to cast aspersions on Mr Bicker, has he really completed an ideological journey from convinced unionism to expounding 32-county republicanism in a matter of a few years?
The stated reasons for Bicker’s defection are a mixture of the cynically pragmatic and slightly bizarre. He sees the move as logical because he is now spending more time in the Republic of Ireland and he claims to wish to represent the views of his “community” within his new party. However far Fianna Fail may be held to have strayed in actuality from its stated ethos, the party still identifies itself as “The Republican Party”. If Bicker intends to articulate the unionist position within this party he must do so as a member of a political structure whose very existence purports to advance an end diametrically opposed to that position.
In actuality then, we can probably discount principle or representing anyone in particular as a prime motivating factor. Mr Bicker is spending more time in the Republic of Ireland and belonging to the Ulster Unionist Party there does not afford influence, networking, status, advancement or any of the other benefits which someone might seek by becoming a member of a political party. I do not know Harvey Bicker, and perhaps I am being excessively cynical, but if espousing a particular set of political beliefs or articulating a deeply held and thoughtful philosophy were his prime motivators, I fail to see how he could have made this political journey so quickly and in the terms which he has desultorily laid out.
It would be disingenuous to conflate a present day political party with its previous incarnations or with its historical precepts, but Fianna Fail does make a conscious attempt to retain a link with its founding ethos. That founding ethos of course rooted itself in anti-Treatyite republicanism, an affirmation of exclusive nationalism on an explicitly Catholic / nationalist model and refutation of the legitimacy of Northern Ireland itself. The modern day party has moved on from each of these strands, but retains rhetorical and emotional links to its past. Any meaningfully engaged unionist would find aspects of Fianna Fail inimical to his or her political motivations.
It is my contention that this defection simply demonstrates what we logically know, that ideas and beliefs are not always the prime reasons that lead people to become involved in politics.