Why we should be wary of Sinn Féin in government
A feature of the party’s rhetoric is its pervasive air of self-righteousness and smugness
The party faithful are conditioned to accept what the leader says, and indeed don’t care if he was in the IRA or not.
Following the remarkable success of Sinn Féin in the recent local and European contests, and in reasonable anticipation of further gains in the next general election, speculation is already rife on the party’s place in probable coalition groupings. Its untested economic policies (the main basis of its popular appeal) have been constantly criticised by its opponents. But there are other features of the organisation which prospective partners would do well to examine closely, not least its rhetoric and terminology.
The term “republicanism”, never off the lips of Sinn Féin speakers, originally meant, from the 1920s to the 1950s, anti-crown and anti-commonwealth. “A mad republican” was then a common phrase. The usage gradually changed after the formal proclamation in 1949 of the Republic of Ireland as the description of the 26-county State. From the outbreak of the Troubles in the late 1960s, “republican” came to mean a supporter of a united Ireland in general sympathy with the IRA. But for most republicans the armed struggle dimension is no longer a factor since the Belfast Agreement.
Over the years when someone such as Martin McGuinness referred to “republicans and nationalists”, he was presumed to mean Sinn Féin and SDLP followers, respectively. As used today, the phrase suggests “republican” is superior to “nationalist” and, by extension, to common Joe Soaps in parties in the Republic. A feature of Sinn Féin rhetoric is its pervasive air of self-righteousness and sanctimoniousness.
Spurious distinctionBut nowadays the distinction between “republican” and “nationalist” is spurious. Not only that, but we are all “republicans” now and the distinctive and exclusive use of the term by any political party (including Fianna Fáil!) is meaningless if not hypocritical. Every citizen in the South lives in a republic, we subscribe to a non-monarchial form of government, we are in favour of territorial unity by peaceful means (just like Sinn Féin) and we profess the principles of social equality and civil rights. In short, we satisfy all the criteria of being “republican”. So how can Sinn Féin constantly claim to be more republican than the rest of us? Go ahead, ask them.
Another peculiarity of Sinn Féin modes of speech is the refusal to accept the legal forms and common usage of “Northern Ireland” and “the Republic of Ireland” as the correct descriptions of the two political entities that comprise the island. Sinn Féiners refer to “the North”, “the North of Ireland”, “up here” and “the Six Counties” but never to “Northern Ireland”. Similarly they use “the South”, “the 26 counties”, “down here” or, if they are really being naughty, “the Free State” but never “the Republic”. In a recent, hour- long interview with Marian Finucane on RTÉ radio, McGuinness employed the usual verbal evasions with remarkable agility in order to avoid giving its proper description to the state of which he has the honour to be Deputy First Minister.
In the tortured theology of Sinn Féin nationalism, accepting and using “Northern Ireland” and “Republic of Ireland” would be to accept partition and, even worse, to compromise and betray “the true republic, as in 1916 established”. Irony of ironies, Sinn Féin played no part at all in Easter 1916! All this juvenile, fantasy-land stuff is an indication of arrested political development on the part of Sinn Féin. And it raises the large question which should be ceaselessly put to Sinn Féin’s leadership – if you can’t bring yourself to describe the State properly, do you really recognise it at all? Are you not still “a slightly constitutional party” as Seán Lemass styled Fianna Fáil in 1928?