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Eyes Right

Anthony McIntyre • 21 June 2004

A friend rang last night. He wanted to pass ten minutes discussing the recent elections. He suggested that the results in the Republic would strengthen the social democratic wing of Sinn Fein. Perhaps if the party’s military leadership were withdrawn from the equation it would be a reasonable assumption to make. But in a leadership-led party where authoritarianism is the centre of gravity, the social democratic wing has yet to show that it has either the will or the capacity to face down the right of centre leadership. Nevertheless, if democratic impulses are to pulsate to the point of causing fault lines then the resulting cleavage will be along reformist vis a vis authoritarian lines. Radical impulses, if they are to avoid being suffocated altogether, will need to take root elsewhere. Not that the party is without radicalism. Even in a conservative city like Belfast smatterings of radicals beaver away. At every turning point, though, the radicals have failed to turn and the conservative leadership presses on having called the radicals’ bluff yet again.

There is of course the wing constituted by the party’s militia. It however has no politics other than what Sinn Fein tells it to have. That’s what happens in social movements where the only ideology allowed to flourish amongst the grassroots is leadershipism. If the order comes down from above to expel blacks and gays from West Belfast the militia will be there doing its duty, chanting in unison, ‘Ireland for the straight Irish.’ If the party organises a ‘bomb Iraq’ rally, the militia, in their pressed green shirts, will lead the parade. And in case we are of a mind to forget that it remains in business, the election campaign seemed to have been well and truly pronounced over when some unfortunate was beaten to a pulp in South Armagh. Votes in the bag it was time, presumably, to administer a little peace therapy to recalcitrants in the community. Now we just await someone who categorically denies ever having been in the IRA to categorically deny that Sinn Fein’s militia were involved -- then we will know for sure that it was.

While some of the gloss was taken off the Sinn Fein electoral surge by the re-emergence of Fine Gael, written off by so many only two years ago, it would be miserly to denigrate the success of the Adams party machine. As Malachi O’Doherty has argued there is no point whining that the electorate made a bad judgement. That’s what elections are for. The electorate has the right to make a choice others would prefer it didn’t. Sinn Fein has the same right as every other party to go before the people. If the opposition isn’t up to the task, too bad. As Brecht might suggest, get a new party, not a new people.

In a refreshing change of tack for a politician, Bertie Ahern said Fianna Fail lost the election and Sinn Fein won. Not technically accurate but his drift was there for all to see. No waffle about how such defeats are really victories in disguise, or ‘the people have voted, the bastards.’ The bulk of what Ahern’s party dropped was not swooped on by Adams’ team. It is estimated that well under a half of Fianna Fail council seats went to Sinn Fein. The bulk went to Fine Gael, Labour and the Greens – the potential Rainbow Coalition. If this is coupled to the phenomena of Sinn Fein not having eaten into the Labour vote the signs of a future trend are emerging. Sinn Fein’s growth potential lies to the right rather than the left.

For long it has been felt that Sinn Fein would do what its predecessors in the Workers Party did and graze on the vote that traditionally sustains the parliamentary left. In that little intellectual bubble Sinn Fein could safely be corralled and there was little difficulty in placing a cap on the rise of the party – once it had exhausted the reformist left vote it would peak. At most it could expect would be a few bums on ministerial seats as a junior partner in a coalition government. But if the share of the vote obtained by the party two weeks ago carries through to the next general election there is no reason why Sinn Fein cannot emerge with 14-15 seats in Leinster House. Under its power driven leadership, fuelled by the imperative of expansionism, there is no chance of it seeking to bed down, cuckoo-like in some comfortable but limited niche for the Left.

Adams has called for a left alternative. This is an attempt to use other parties to form a useful beachhead from which later assaults can be launched. Rather than Sinn Fein becoming the Left it will, once sufficiently positioned, move to outgrow the Left by shifting right in order to appeal to a wider constituency. It is what power-chasing parties do. It will then seek to challenge the Left, showing the traditional Fianna Fail constituency that it can do what Fianna Fail did, only more efficiently. In an Ireland where left radicalism fails to offer any serious challenge, for those who hope to see an Ireland where draconian laws are out and human rights are in there are much worse things than Sinn Fein being led by social democrats. Being led by who leads it now is one of them.



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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent


All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

22 June 2004

Other Articles From This Issue:

Eyes Right
Anthony McIntyre

"Rumour Mill" - Safeguarding Nationalist Community
Sean Mc Aughey

From Alternative Press to Corporate Mainstream: The Case of the Andersonstown News
Liam O Ruairc

Taming the Celtic Tiger
Fred A. Wilcox

Weapon of Mass Destruction
John Kennedy

The Reagan Bitburg Doctrine
Francis A. Boyle

God's Command to Angels
Allama Iqbal
M. Shahid Alam (trans.)

Plan Puebla Panama And Free Trade - The Corporate Contribution To Low Intensity Warfare
Toni Solo

17 June 2004

A Day That Comes, Also Goes
Tom Luby

One of the Nine
Anthony McIntyre

IRPWA Delegation Targeted By British Army/RUC
Martin Mulholland

'The Confines of Republicanism'
Liam O Ruairc

I Was Only Following Orders
Fred A. Wilcox

Reagan's Legacy
Sean O Lubaigh

The Humanity in Us All
Dorothy Naor


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