The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Doing Well For Themselves Alone
Mick Hall • 30.11.03

Many years ago, the day after Gerry Adams was first elected as West Belfast's MP, I spoke at a conference organised by the T. U. C. Trades Council section in the north of England. I was so overjoyed that he had been elected I mentioned it in my speech along with an ANC/Spear of the Nation attack on a South African SASOL oil refinery, which had also taken place the previous day. As you can imagine it did not exactly go down well with the T.U.C. bureaucrats sitting on the platform, however many in the audience were sympathetic. That I did so shows how clearly back then these struggles, along with others such as the Palestinians, were linked. All three being against the injustices left behind by British imperialism and any victories such as the attack on SASOL and Adams election inspired anti imperialists the world over.…

Afterwards I was asked by a trade union sister how will we know when the struggle in the north of Ireland, is not only over, but had been worth all the sacrifices. I replied somewhat light heartedly, "when come election night I watch the TV results programme and all the political talking heads are as boring as those that now appear on similar occasions on TV in the South of Ireland and in London." In other words when the situation was one of total normality, which I believed could only come about with a United Ireland. Never did I imagine that this stage would have been reached with the border still firmly intact and those boring talking head politicians would include the very man whose election I had been applauding all those years ago, along with those who he clearly regards these day's as the cream of the leadership of Sinn Fein.

But this is what has happened; I witnessed it myself on the evening of the recent Stormont Assembly elections whilst watching some of the results come in on Ulster TV. It seems from once being a vibrant, radical party, which had a clear idea of the type of society it wished to see in Ireland, a party consisting of passionate, self-sacrificing, angry people, the overwhelming majority of whom came from the working classes in town and country, Sinn Fein has been transformed into the SDLP mark two. Its candidates now speak like the old SDLP and worse bore like the old SDLP. Sinn Fein's younger activists and those chosen to be electoral candidates increasingly come from lower-middle or middle class backgrounds like the SDLP. Having had University educations like their counterparts in the SDLP, when at one time it was a proud boast of SF that there was not a degree amongst its leadership. Apart from, that is, revolutionary studies, awarded by the University of Long Kesh.

They dress in suits and ties like the old SDLP, although admittedly somewhat smarter. And these days, they are increasingly appealing politically to the same middle class electorate as the SDLP. Arrogantly confident that they can ignore the immediate needs and demands of their core working class support, in the belief that the nationalist working class have no other party to turn to; in this they are aping New Labour in the rest of the United Kingdom and the Clinton Democrats in the USA.

How long can it be before the SDLP and Sinn Fein merge - these days there is little difference between the two parties' policies? What differences still exist, like that over policing and taking up Westminster seats, looks like being overcome in the near future. How long will the Adams leadership be able to resist the pull of approximately half a million plus pounds a year, the amount a handful of Sinn Fein MPs would pull into the party's coffers if they sign up to sit in the Westminster Parliament? When Adams first started negotiating with the SDLP's John Hume to take Sinn Fein into what is now called the Pan-Irish Nationalist Front, few of even his closest supporters could have envisaged that this would entail ditching Sinn Fein’s core radical, socialist and Republican values.

Instead of Sinn Fein having radicalised politics in the north of Ireland, the Adams leadership has trimmed its political beliefs down to the bone and adapted, if not stolen the majority of the SDLP’s policies, even down to increasingly calling their party Nationalist. Imitated SDLP strategy and aimed at its constituency, this being so I suppose it is only fair for them to take on board those SDLP politicians they have forced into redundancy. If Sinn Fein continues to go politically to the right, they may need an intake of experienced politicians to replace those SF members who have either been driven out or who cannot stomach it any more.

What is wrong with this, many would say. After all are not politicians in politics for political power? The answer is yes and the one thing you cannot deny the Adams leadership is that they have taken their party forward electorally, gaining the largest number of Nationalist seats in the recent election in the North. But this is a well trod road that has been mapped out long ago by Irish Republicans such as those who ended up in Fianna Fáil and on a smaller scale, The Workers Party. The thing that in the past made SF and its activists different, and gave them the support of radicals the world over was they were not solely in politics for Power. They were activists who wished to gain power for one reason, to transform their country and the lives of the working people who live within it. Yet today's SF manifesto is as bland as bland can be, it does not even advocate a woman's right to choose, let alone advocate any form of a just socialist society. It is the worst kind of reactionary Liberalism and an acceptance of the status quo,

In a recent discussion with a Sinn Fein activist, he said to me the trouble with the left is that they are not prepared to carry out the onerous tasks that it is necessary to do if one is to succeed in politics. On inquiring what these onerous tasks were, he mentioned the courage Sinn Fein's two ministers had shown in the north, whilst in office at Education and Health in introducing Public Private Finance initiatives, knowing full well that this in the long term would be detrimental to the people of the north. It had to be done, he went on, because there was simply not enough money in the coffers to do otherwise. With courage like this, I thought to my self, Ireland would have had a united socialist democratic Republic years ago.

This to me sums up Sinn Fein's position today, for the Adams leadership 'Office' is all, because from Office springs power along with its trappings. But is this an illusion? Is it not time those left within Sinn Fein who are still inspired by the idealism of republican socialism asked themselves what benefits have their core supporters gained from ‘Power' and organise themselves accordingly as a Republican socialist faction within the Party.…For if the aforementioned period of office is to be the example from which to draw a judgement on SF's record whilst in office, it appears wanting. Little more seems to have come to SF core constituency than a promise of a further period of Office for Sinn Fein. Plus a season ticket for its leadership to sit on a regular basis in the anti chambers of the Irish, British and US ruling classes. None of which bring much direct benefit to those who were originally and still are today SF foremost supporters.

Thus today, Sinn Fein finds itself within the same political circle that former Republicans did in the past, as I said above within such parties as Fianna Fáil, who trod a similar road themselves. Like them Sinn Fein's membership now truly has their very own groundhog day. They work hard electorally to gain power, when they get it they do little with it that would benefit the mass of working people, because to do so would be against the ruling elite's interest and encourage their wrath. Having behaved themselves whilst in office SF are thus given another shot in power and so it goes on. Is this really what Republican's and their supporters struggled so hard for with so much sacrifice and heartache? Is all it amounts to - going to be the sight of this or that SF politico on the TV or radio, or when they drive by in their government limo, are those who have not been selected to become part of Sinn Fein's new political elite going to say to one another, "I used to know that man, he surely has done well for himself, shame, he used to be someone."





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Index: Current Articles

30 November 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


Anthony McIntyre


Special Election Coverage:


Ignore the Headlines

Tom Luby


Doing Well for Themselves Alone
Mick Hall


Our Day Has Come...
Liam O'Comain


Paying the Price
Anthony McIntyre


Sinn Féin Advances Enhances Process
Fr. Sean Mc Manus, INC


'RSF satisfied with outcome - time to consider alternatives'

Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, Republican Sinn Féin


Poll Result Highlights Flawed Agreement
Andy Martin, 32 CSM


Election Comment


28 November 2003


Where Two or Three Shall Gather...
Liam O Ruairc


Julian Robertson Interviewed

Anthony McIntyre


From the Franklin River to the Chalillo Dam
Toni Solo


Rafah Today
Mohammad Omer




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