With Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine, a central plank of Sinn Féin's foreign policy has gone up in smoke. A party that has long equivocated over Putin's brutal regime has felt compelled to ditch its previous positions and embrace new ones. This has not been accompanied by any evident self-reflection within the party about why it could be so wrong about something so important for so long. On the contrary, the party simply wiped thousands of embarrassing statements from its website. The material was "out of date", it said.
Among the pronouncements Sinn Féin presumably wishes to forget are then-MEP Lynn Boylan's suggestion in 2019 that the EU was being "overly confrontational" towards Russia. Four years earlier, Boylan joined the party's other MEPs in abstaining on an "unbalanced" resolution condemning rights abuses in Russia and criticising Russia's annexation of Crimea. In 2018, party leader Mary Lou McDonald claimed Ireland had breached its military neutrality when it expelled a Russian diplomat after Russia's deployment of a chemical weapon in England. Former foreign affairs spokesman Seán Crowe called for the abolition of Nato, a "Cold War relic" whose positions "have always been wrong". Tell that to the people of Poland or the Baltic states as they watch Russian missiles hitting Ukrainian cities.
Sinn Féin has gone on similar journeys before. It once denounced the European Union as an imperialist tool of exploitation but now runs on a mainstream platform that would cause no real difficulties in future coalition talks. Other positions, often characterised by off-the-shelf good versus bad clichés that saw the West as the root of all evil in the world (party patriarch Gerry Adams, ironically enough, decried "militarism" in international affairs), have undergone a similar evolution.
These moves are welcome. A party that aspires to lead the next government ought to be thinking seriously about the wider world. But a more honest reckoning would involve openly discussing the shift and the reasons behind it rather simply pretending that the past never happened.