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Stephen Collins: Martin’s courageous stance on Sinn Féin is correct

Getting a Dáil foothold would be Sinn Féin’s first step to acquire total power in the State

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has staked his political future on a pledge not to enter coalition with Sinn Féin after the next election. His courageous stance could cost him the taoiseach’s office, but he is on solid ground in believing he is acting in the long-term interests of his party and the country.

Martin’s renewal of his commitment to eschew coalition with Sinn Féin in any circumstances was one of the few clear commitments to emerge from the political party think-ins that preceded the return of the Dáil from its summer break.

It followed months of speculation that a Fianna Fáil-Sinn Féin coalition deal was becoming a real possibility following declarations from Gerry Adams and Mary Lou McDonald that they were willing to enter coalition as a junior partner.

Ruling out a coalition deal could help Martin in his ambition to restore Fianna Fáil as the biggest party in the country

A number of Fianna Fáil TDs had let it be known, publicly and privately, that they were open to the idea in light of the prospect that the numbers will add up for the parties after the next election.


By ruling it out, Martin has limited his room for manoeuvre in post-election negotiations, but it could help him in his ambition to restore Fianna Fáil to its position as the biggest party in the country.

Adopting a clear position on Sinn Féin should help protect Fianna Fáil from leaking support to Fine Gael during an election campaign. The prospect of a deal with Adams or McDonald would certainly have the capacity to scare middle-class voters into the arms of Leo Varadkar, and to shore up Fine Gael’s recently acquired status as the biggest party in the country.

Dangerous embrace

More importantly, even if the numbers do add up, a deal to form a government with Sinn Féin would prove a very dangerous embrace for Fianna Fáil. Just look at how Sinn Féin gobbled up the SDLP after the Hume-Adams process – or how it is manipulating the political situation in the North, using the powersharing institutions established under the Belfast Agreement as pawns.

Some Fianna Fáil TDs, besotted with the prospect of getting their hands on the levers of power in the short term, seem oblivious to the long-term threat posed by Sinn Féin.

Since it adopted the policy of pursuing war by other means Sinn Féin has shown itself to be far more strategic, organised and ruthless than any other political party on either side of the Border. Getting a foothold in the corridors of power in Merrion Street would be the first step in a long-term plan of Sinn Féin to acquire total power in this State.

There is every chance that, if in power, Sinn Féin would adopt the kind of policies that Hugo Chávez implemented in Venezuela, with catastrophic consequences

There is a widespread assumption that once in power Sinn Féin would be tamed and assume the responsibilities of taking the difficult decisions that go with office. That could be naive in the extreme.

There is every chance that, if in power, the party would continue to pursue a populist agenda and adopt the kind of policies that Hugo Chávez and his successors implemented in Venezuela, with catastrophic consequences for that country.

After all, Sinn Féin and its allies such as Jeremy Corbyn have cheered on the radical drift in Venezuela, even as the appalling human cost of that country’s slide into an economic morass has become all too evident.

Even if the party adopts a more grown-up approach to economic management, the fundamental issue of its association with a 30-year campaign of terror which destroyed so many lives will not go away. Far from distancing itself from the violence of the past, Sinn Féin is engaged in an ongoing campaign to justify, and even glorify, the actions of the Provisional IRA. The recent comments by Adams about the murder of Louth farmer Tom Oliver are a case in point. Achieving power in the Republic would be the ultimate justification for rewriting the past on its own terms.

Martin is entirely justified in saying that a change of leadership in Sinn Féin changes nothing, as McDonald says whatever Adams says.

Nonetheless, his firm line entails a big political risk for him. Martin’s preference after the next election would probably be for a coalition involving Fianna Fáil, the Labour Party and a number of Independents.

This will require significant gains by Fianna Fáil and the resurrection of the Labour Party. The problem is that either of these developments would in all likelihood be at the expense of the other.

Biggest party

Another option, if Fianna Fáil is the largest party, would be a confidence and supply arrangement with Fine Gael or an outright coalition. However, if Fine Gael remains the biggest party, either of those options would prove very difficult to sell to his party.

If the two parties have roughly the same number of TDs, the option of a coalition involving rotating the taoiseach’s office could be on the agenda, but if Fine Gael has a significant lead it is difficult to see how Martin could agree to go into coalition as a junior partner.

One thing he cannot do is go back on his pledge not to do a deal with Sinn Féin, even if the numbers add up. Martin can only trust that fortune will favour the brave.