Tuesday, 4 March 2008

The failure of Sinn Fein is demonstrated as they chase unattainable pipe-dream


Sinn Fein held their annual conference in Dublin last weekend. The venue reflects the party’s nominal all-Ireland status, although Fergus Finlay in the Irish Examiner argues that Sinn Fein are becoming increasingly redundant in the Republic of Ireland, whilst Alex Kane points out that the party's strategic failures have ensured that they are operating institutionally within the context of a stronger Union and a more robust Northern Ireland.

These analyses have merit. Fianna Fail is often cited as the precedent for violent republicanism developing to become a dominant political force, with the assumption being made that SF’s rise will continue along a similar path. However Ireland is a considerably different place, both north and south, from the island in which Fianna Fail affected that rise. It is possible that in the absence of the carrot of credible practical policies, rather than Sinn Fein’s violent past becoming less of a disincentive for voters, as the party’s previous misdeeds become yet more strikingly incongruous with current normality, voting for Sinn Fein will become associated with anachronism and regression.

This tendency is yet to manifest itself in Northern Ireland, where Sinn Fein is still benefiting from calling an end to open violence and a perception that their form of nationalism is fresher and more challenging to unionists than the SDLP’s brand. But slowly this perception is changing, as the party becomes associated with an ineffective and divisive carve-up of power in government. In the Republic of Ireland in contrast Sinn Fein is already viewed as an irrelevant anachronism representing an embarrassing past. The party’s ethos is grounded in a prescriptive nationalism which the Republic is moving rapidly beyond and a backward economic outlook which could not be more inimical to the southern state’s self-image as a modern, knowledge based economy.

Despite Gerry Adams attempts to rally the troops (no pun intended) to push for reunification of Ireland by 2016, the failure of SF in the Republic shows that partition is more firmly rooted than ever. Sinn Fein aspires to the status of an all-Ireland party, but it is itself graphically reflective of the partitionist reality. Indeed during the Dail elections, southern voters frequently complained that the northern leadership simply had little understanding of the Republic of Ireland’s political culture and complexities. In Fergus Finlay’s article he insists that most people in the south of Ireland see the north as a strikingly separate place and indeed he believes that the IRA played an intrinsic role in the partitioning of minds in the Republic’s establishment.

Meanwhile Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland are firmly entrenched in the apparatus of a state which their raison d’étre is still rhetorically to destroy. Surely the internal contradictions of Martin McGuinness administering this system within the United Kingdom, whilst still contending that he would if possible have “killed every single [British soldier] without any difficulty whatsoever”, will not prove endlessly soluble for a thinking nationalist electorate?

Whether Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland follows the downward trajectory which their southern efforts have assumed remains to be seen. I certainly foresee a decline in support when the party are next tested at the polls. More pertinently both these articles, from their divergent sources, arrive at the same incontrovertible conclusion. Sinn Fein’s unification project is doomed to failure and for the foreseeable future partition is as firmly grounded as it has been in 87 years of two separate Irish states.

14 comments:

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kensei said...

The spammer is wrong. Shit blog.

First up, I know it must frustrate you that Nationalists aren't Unionists, but we are unlikely to give up our aspirations, or attempts to get them any time soon. Rhetorical flourishes supposing inevitability are worthless. It's a weakness of Nationalism you don't want to pick up.

Second, SF aren't on a massive decline in the South. They've declined in Dublin, certainly, but their overall vote has stayed fairly stable and remained so in opinion polls. They might pull in another seat or two in Donegal at the next election, they might lose a couple. It's tough for small parties. But while they have a beachhead in the North they will always be able to mount campaigns South. That's why FF have been drawn Northwards, which is possibly the most significant consequence of it all. And heck, they could lose two seats in the next election and still wind up in Government if the numbers fell right. Ask the PDs.

Third, there is not some giant hole in SF's strategy by being in Stormont. They have simply from violent Republicanism to Constitutional Nationalism. What they are trying to do is both well worn and well understood. You could claim it is at variance with the past, which is true, but it is also true they tested the alternative to destruction. Moreover, they have no particular desire to destroy the UK; just to remove the six from it.

Lastly, there is no evidence to suggest that SF is due for a dip here AT ALL. Even the bi-election in Dromore was a reasonable good showing for them. They are not going to spontaneously combust any more than the DUP is likely to. Even if they were minded to, they have to overcome the shitness of the SDLP people. FF may dramatically change the game, but until then, it/'s simply fantasy.

Chekov said...

“The spammer is wrong. Shit blog”

Thanks for your kind comments.

”First up, I know it must frustrate you that Nationalists aren't Unionists, but we are unlikely to give up our aspirations, or attempts to get them any time soon.”

I don’t believe I suggested that you would.

“Rhetorical flourishes supposing inevitability are worthless. It's a weakness of Nationalism you don't want to pick up.”

I did not use any rhetorical flourishes supposing inevitability. I am quite aware of the weaknesses of nationalism in this respect and have no intention of picking them up. I posited that SF’s rise may not be inevitable and I also stated that the present position is that partition is firmly entrenched.

“Second, SF aren't on a massive decline in the South. They've declined in Dublin, certainly, but their overall vote has stayed fairly stable and remained so in opinion polls.”

I’m no great authority on Southern politics, but I believe Dublin is rather a big deal in the ROI. SF certainly have not made the in roads that were predicted and Gerry Adams has acknowledged a perceived failure in the last general election. SF’s seats declined. I’d say that’s a good indicator of stasis if not decline and given the party’s ambitions that is analogous to the same thing.

“ They might pull in another seat or two in Donegal at the next election, they might lose a couple. It's tough for small parties. But while they have a beachhead in the North they will always be able to mount campaigns South.”

And their fortunes will dramatically diverge, thus demonstrating that the party are not desperately relevant to southern politics.

“Third, there is not some giant hole in SF's strategy by being in Stormont. They have simply from violent Republicanism to Constitutional Nationalism. What they are trying to do is both well worn and well understood. You could claim it is at variance with the past, which is true, but it is also true they tested the alternative to destruction. Moreover, they have no particular desire to destroy the UK; just to remove the six from it.”

But the point of course is that the presence of SF in Stormont demonstrates the failure of their previous strategy.

“Even if they were minded to, they have to overcome the shitness of the SDLP people”

I wonder, given perceptions of for example the performances of Margaret Ritchie and Caitriona Ruane amongst the general public, are the SDLP really seen as “shitter” than SF?

kensei said...

"I don’t believe I suggested that you would."

It's certainly the implication.

"I did not use any rhetorical flourishes supposing inevitability."

Really?

Sinn Fein’s unification project is doomed to failure

"I’m no great authority on Southern politics, but I believe Dublin is rather a big deal in the ROI."

Dublin is indeed a big deal. But if you are a small party on 4 seats, picking up 2 in Donegal is as good as picking up 2 in Dublin. The last election was not a success, but neither was it the spectacular failure sometimes presented. SF have about found their level in the South. If they want to get better they will have to seriously up their game. I think they at leasts acknowledge that, though maybe they don't have the talent to do it. But they won't be so toxic next time round, nor will parties run on keeping them out. So their chances of getting into Government increase, even if they do nothing more.

Also: FF are organising up here. Sf's strategy writ large.

"And their fortunes will dramatically diverge, thus demonstrating that the party are not desperately relevant to southern politics."

Again, you are making assumptions. SF's vote has held steady at 7-8% in polls. If they retain 4 seats and end up in Government, they are relevant. And for a small party experience in Government is a big advantage to point to, if they don't fuck it up.

"But the point of course is that the presence of SF in Stormont demonstrates the failure of their previous strategy."

I think they've acknowledged it didn't work and couldn't bring unity. In fact, that's why they said they changed. Sounds a sensible rationale to me.

"I wonder, given perceptions of for example the performances of Margaret Ritchie and Caitriona Ruane amongst the general public, are the SDLP really seen as “shitter” than SF?"

It could well have an impact in South Down but this is like asking if the performance of Poots will dramatically affect the DUP's directory. No.

Chekov said...

“It's certainly the implication.”

It is not the implication.

“Sinn Fein’s unification project is doomed to failure”

SF’s stated aim is to achieve unity within the next eight years. To point out that this will not happen is certainly not ‘rhetorical flourish’. It is an extrapolation to which almost any observer will readily assent.

“SF have about found their level in the South.”

Indeed. Hopefully they will now find their live in Northern Ireland too. Nevertheless the party is presently dramatically partitioned

“Also: FF are organising up here. Sf's strategy writ large.”

And barring a deal with the SDLP the chances are that FF will make as little impact in Northern Ireland as FS are making in the south.

“Again, you are making assumptions. SF's vote has held steady at 7-8% in polls. If they retain 4 seats and end up in Government, they are relevant. And for a small party experience in Government is a big advantage to point to, if they don't fuck it up.”

A stark contrast with their performance in Northern Ireland and therefore indicative of a divergence of fortunes in the two states. That is even before we start on the amount of ‘ifs’ that this ‘advantage’ is dependent on.

“I think they've acknowledged it didn't work and couldn't bring unity. In fact, that's why they said they changed. Sounds a sensible rationale to me.”

Whoops! I’m afraid the 30 year sectarian murder campaign didn’t work. We’re not sorry for it, but we hope you’ll vote for us as we try something else.

“It could well have an impact in South Down but this is like asking if the performance of Poots will dramatically affect the DUP's directory. No.”

The performance of Poots and others will undoubtedly affect the DUP.

kensei said...

"It is not the implication."

It is the direct end of the inevitability talk.

"SF’s stated aim is to achieve unity within the next eight years. To point out that this will not happen is certainly not ‘rhetorical flourish’. It is an extrapolation to which almost any observer will readily assent."

SF's stated aim is to achieve Irish Unity in the next second, if possible. They have long since, shall we say, "adjusted expectations" on 2016.

"Indeed. Hopefully they will now find their live in Northern Ireland too. Nevertheless the party is presently dramatically partitioned"

They will not drop to 8% no matter how hard you wish it. The party is also not particularly partitioned. There are no rival factions within the party, and Adams is President of SF, North and South. Partition itself is reality, so they have to approach North and South differently. That's simply smart politics.

"And barring a deal with the SDLP the chances are that FF will make as little impact in Northern Ireland as SF are making in the south."

In the first instance I think a deal with the SDLP is likely. But regardless, I don't think so particularly if they keep at it and build a base.

"A stark contrast with their performance in Northern Ireland and therefore indicative of a divergence of fortunes in the two states. That is even before we start on the amount of ‘ifs’ that this ‘advantage’ is dependent on."

Your entire point is: SF more successful North than South? What's new? They are never going to have the same position in the South as they do North. The big breakthrough would be to hit 10-12 seats and be a significant block in the Dail. Being a senior partner isn't in the plan except in the very, very, wishful thinking long term. It doesn't change the strategy, or the significance they could play in the South even well short of being the major partner. So I fail to see your point. They had a setback, no rise is inevitable. So they get up and try again. And likely will continue to do so.

"Whoops! I’m afraid the 30 year sectarian murder campaign didn’t work. We’re not sorry for it, but we hope you’ll vote for us as we try something else."

I didn't comment on the morality; I simply said its rational.

"The performance of Poots and others will undoubtedly affect the DUP."

Not by an major amount in the foreseeable future. What the UUP are going to take over? The TUV?

Reality check.

Chekov said...

"It is the direct end of the inevitability talk."

Holding that an aspiration will not soon be realised is not the same as saying that those aspirations will disappear. I'd like them to disappear, I want unionists to attempt to persuade nationalists they should disappear, but I certainly do not believe that they will disappear.

"They have long since, shall we say, "adjusted expectations" on 2016."

Gerry Adams reaffirmed at the weekend the importance of a big push for 2016. I'm sure that expectations have been readjusted, but the party are still alluding to this landmark date (as they see it).

"They will not drop to 8% no matter how hard you wish it."

What never? What were you saying about inevitability?

My point by the way is contained within the blog I wrote. I assume you did read it? It runs along these lines: SF have failed to bring unification substantially closer, they are failing to make inroads in the South and in my view will continue to do so, they are a bigger noise in the north which illustrates the effects of partition graphically - but it is not an inevitability that they will remain as popular up here even in the immediate future.

"I didn't comment on the morality; I simply said its rational"

As I have argued in the article, the morality may yet play a role in shaping people's opinions of the party.

"Not by an major amount in the foreseeable future. What the UUP are going to take over? The TUV?"

I have nowhere claimed that there will be a dramatic overnight change in the political landscape here. I do think that people will gradually return to the UUP.

kensei said...

Gerry Adams reaffirmed at the weekend the importance of a big push for 2016. I'm sure that expectations have been readjusted, but the party are still alluding to this landmark date (as they see it).

MMG has already said it doesn't matter if it happens in 2020 or 2025. More than once. They talk up 2016 because its a significant date, and they don't want to concede it to dissidents either.

What never? What were you saying about inevitability?

On a long enough time scale anything can happen. But in the short to medium term, barring serious dramatic events, that is a seriously unlikely possibility. They pulled 11.4% in 1987, for heaven's sake.

And continuing Unionist obsession with SF merely helps them. Take a leaf from FF and treat them like any other party.

My point by the way is contained within the blog I wrote. I assume you did read it? It runs along these lines: SF have failed to bring unification substantially closer,

I disagree entirely. I believe that we are closer to a United Ireland than 10 years ago. Lack of violence means we can start to try and bring down barriers. Republicans have their hands on power both in council and Assembly level and can work towards creating conditions that make it more likely. They can prevent Unionism doing things they don't like. Demographics are still shifting our way and will continue to do so for a time yet: Unionism has almost lost its Assembly majority.

You might read those things differently, but that is simply a point of view. I am happier that we have the potential for a live debate than merely sectarian headcount, because I believe the republican argument is stronger.

Whether SF are capable of delivering further gains I don't know. But I think they've made some progress up to this point (and a lot of mistakes, but so does every party) and they aren't our only option.

they are failing to make inroads in the South and in my view will continue to do so,

I say again, since you aren't listening: they don't necessarily have to make huge inroads in the South to be significant. In fact they don't even need much more

they are a bigger noise in the north which illustrates the effects of partition graphically - but it is not an inevitability that they will remain as popular up here even in the immediate future.

Zero evidence otherwise at the moment. They even had a slight boost in Dromore. The only thing stopping me from laying a £100 on it now is that FF are a serious wild card.

"As I have argued in the article, the morality may yet play a role in shaping people's opinions of the party."

If it hasn't done it by now bud, it never will.

I have nowhere claimed that there will be a dramatic overnight change in the political landscape here. I do think that people will gradually return to the UUP.

Ah, sorry, my mistake. I thought I was talking to a sane person.

Chekov said...

"MMG has already said it doesn't matter if it happens in 2020 or 2025. More than once. They talk up 2016 because its a significant date, and they don't want to concede it to dissidents either."

So SF have not only been forced to readjust their aspiration on numerous occasions, they have now recognised that they will not realise them on any meaningful timescale. That denotes failure.

"On a long enough time scale anything can happen. But in the short to medium term, barring serious dramatic events, that is a seriously unlikely possibility. They pulled 11.4% in 1987, for heaven's sake."

That is a judgment call and I have already outlined reasons why I think you may well be wrong.

"You might read those things differently, but that is simply a point of view. I am happier that we have the potential for a live debate than merely sectarian headcount, because I believe the republican argument is stronger."

Firstly the republican argument cannot be so swiftly divorced from violence. Secondly you have strongly implies that in no way are you wishing to move beyond a sectarian headcount.

"Demographics are still shifting our way and will continue to do so for a time yet"

"I say again, since you aren't listening: they don't necessarily have to make huge inroads in the South to be significant"

They need the election results to fall in a particular way. So rather than having any realistic expectation of winning over a substantial number of people in the ROI to their politics, SF are hoping to exert undue influence as a matter of accident rather than design. That is your strategy!

Anonymous said...

People in the South don't associate Sinn Fein with Irish unity. They associate Sinn Fein with bombs and balaclavas.

However, the lack of interest in Sinn Fein in the South doesn't matter. If there was a referendum in 2016 about unification then it would get a yes vote in the South. Sinn Fein need to get stronger in the North and unity would become a reality.

Sinn Fein will not be a major political player in a unified Irish state. Their northern vote will dwindle once it's achieved.

Dub said...

There you go again, Chekov. "87 years of 2 separate Irish states".

Or are you going to argue that the Uk is an Irish state???

Chekov said...

It is a state with an Irish element ergo it is an Irish state (particular the part of it in Ireland), it is also a Scottish state, a Welsh state and an English state.

Gary said...

It's that old argument Chekov, that nationalism has the monopoly on Irishness. Being British and being Irish are not mutually exclusive, just as being Scottish and being British are not mutually exclusive ideas/identities.

Chekov said...

Entirely right Gary.