Michael McDowell compares SF to De Valera and Collins

McDowell interviewed for new book written by former Irish Times political correspondent

Former tánaiste Michael McDowell: like Collins in 1921 and de Valera in 1926, Sinn Féin has ’crossed the line and they said they are going to pursue democratic politics and seek a democratic mandate’. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Former tánaiste Michael McDowell: like Collins in 1921 and de Valera in 1926, Sinn Féin has ’crossed the line and they said they are going to pursue democratic politics and seek a democratic mandate’. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

Former Progressive Democrats tánaiste and attorney general Michael McDowell has compared Sinn Féin’s transition into democratic politics to the acceptance of the Anglo-Irish treaty by Michael Collins and Eamon de Valera’s breaking of republican abstentionism.

In an interview in a new book, which explores the rise of Sinn Féin, Mr McDowell has said that like Collins in 1921 and De Valera in 1926, Sinn Féin has “crossed the line and they said they are now going to pursue democratic politics and seek a democratic mandate”.
“You can’t deny them that and you can’t deny them the support level they have.”

However, he expresses doubt about the level of internal democracy in the party, given the powerful position of Gerry Adams and those around them.

Power Play, The Rise of Modern Sinn Féin, written by Deaglán de Bréadún, former political correspondent and Northern editor with The Irish Times, offers an analysis of how Sinn Féin is undergoing the transition from being the political wing of the IRA to a mainstream party in Irish politics, with ambitions to lead government both north and south of the border.

De Bréadún traces the growth of the party in the south and the gradual evolution of its policies and strategies, which he argues have become more mainstream. He has allied this to suggestions that some in the party’s leadership were not altogether happy about a motion at its Ard Fheis in March  this year ruling out participation in government unless Sinn Féin was the majority party.

In addition, reflecting a more pragmatic approach to the party, Mr Adams refuses to specify either water charges or the property tax as red line issues in any negotiation on forming a government.

The author suggests that the possibility of Sinn Féin entering a coalition in the south as a minority party has not been closed off: “Becoming the largest party in the (Northern) Assembly would entitle Sinn Féin to the position of First Minister. In the South, as (Martin) McGuinness put it in his interview for this book, it would mean ‘we can dicate terms in relation to  the formation of a new government’.

He has noted: “In the south Sinn Féin is still a very long way indeed from the overall majority that all parties covet, so it may be faced with a Yes or No decision on joining a coalition in Dublin.”

Both Mr McDowell and former Fianna Fail minister and Northern adviser Martin Mansergh express the view they doubt that Mr Adams will ever play a role in government here.

Mr McDowell accepts the IRA campaign is over. He says that it has become too late for Mr Adams to change his account of his involvement with the IRA.

Dr Mansergh told the author he did not foresee Sinn Féin in government any time soon. As for Mr Adams he said that after another government term, in which he presumes Sinn Féin will not be involved, it might be too late for him. “He may be a Moses figure who won’t personally step into the Promised land,” he said.

On the controversy surrounding the continued existence of the IRA, Mr McDowell has said he has no doubt it is. “There was never a convention to disband it and it can’t disband because it is in its own mind the repository of the legitimate authority of the people of Ireland going back to 1916.”

* This article was amended on Saturday, October 17th, for clarity.