Has Sinn Féin saved the Government’s bacon?

Analysis: If the party had pulled out, the banking inquiry might have collapsed

Sinn Féin may have inadvertently saved the Government’s bacon on the banking inquiry by opting to remain on the investigative team when the politically predictable option might have been to exit on a point of principle

Sinn Féin may have inadvertently saved the Government’s bacon on the banking inquiry by opting to remain on the investigative team when the politically predictable option might have been to exit on a point of principle

Wed, Jun 18, 2014, 17:29

Sinn Féin is often characterised as an obstructionist and uncooperative Opposition party, “occupying the soft political space of protest” as Labour deputy leadership contender Michael McCarthy put it recently.

However, the party may have inadvertently saved the Government’s bacon on the banking inquiry by opting to remain on the investigative team when the politically predictable option might have been to exit on a point of principle.

Finance spokesman Pearse Doherty adopted a strikingly conciliatory tone towards Coalition “colleagues” when asked yesterday if he felt pressure to quit the banking inquiry following Independent Stephen Donnelly’s departure.

Donnelly dramatically accused Taoiseach Enda Kenny of “treating democracy in a cavalier manner” by imposing two Senators to secure a Government majority on the inquiry. Sinn Féin shares this view.

Mr Doherty re-iterated his weekend call for Labour’s Susan O’Keeffe and Fine Gael’s Michael D’Arcy to step down (which he must know at this stage will not happen) and criticised Mr Kenny for damaging public perception of the inquiry.

But, he said, “I want to work together with our colleagues”.

He emphasised the need “to leave our own politics at the door and work together to try and get the answers that the public demand”, and expressed a hope “that we’re not going to go into a position where the inquiry is going to go down a political divide”.

After Mr Donnelly pulled out, senior Sinn Féin strategists naturally discussed what the party’s next move should be.

Some expressed a pragmatic fear that the party could not afford to lose a key player and media performer, Mr Doherty, to the potential “black hole” of an inquiry in the run up to a General Election.

But those who argued Sinn Féin needed to be in the room, asking questions on behalf of their supporters, won out. Mr Doherty himself was particularly vocal in this regard.

If Sinn Féin had pulled out, the inquiry probably would have collapsed. But strategists identified a risk that it might have continued with what they like to call the “establishment parties” attempting to whitewash their past.

And of course the party would have received flak for adopting a “let this cup pass” attitude, after calling for an inquiry for years.

Incidentally, there are mixed views in Leinster House as to the wisdom of Mr Donnelly’s move.

Some believe he allowed himself to be backed into a corner and left himself with no choice but to resign. Others think he made the right call.

He was clearly offended by the Government’s handling of the issue, which his replacement Socialist TD Joe Higgins agreed was “crude and hamfisted”.

But Mr Higgins also pointed out that nothing has fundamentally changed. All parties understood the Government was always going to use its Dáil majority to have a majority on the committee, he said.

Sinn Féin remaining part of the cross-party initiative means it will definitely proceed. After the shambolic events of recent days, that can be seen as a small boost for a Government which has been busy mining a lucrative seam of bad luck.