The Blanket

Merger Mania

Ciarán Irvine

In the immediate aftermath of the Republic’s General Election there was a brief flurry of speculation on possible re-alignments and mergers in the Irish political scene. One of the possibilities was a link-up and formal merger between the northern SDLP and one of the southern parties. Recent articles in the Derry Journal and other Derry-based newspapers have brought this issue to the fore once more - only this time with the finger pointed firmly at Fianna Fáil as the prospective partner. According to these reports, some preliminary discussions have already taken place.

The whole thing could, of course, be mere silly season idle speculation by bored journalists. Or even a deliberate smokescreen erected to distract us all from whatever is actually going on, for the conspirologists out there. But let us, for the purposes of this article, assume that something is indeed afoot, and the SDLP and Fianna Fáil are considering climbing into bed together.

For the SDLP the attractions are obvious. FF’s fundraising and electoral machines are the stuff of legend, and an injection of Soldier of Destiny professional know-how into the SDLPs creaky and amateurish, shambolic set-up can only be good for the party. Being part of the real party of power in the Republic is a powerful counter-argument to SF’s all-island pretensions - because after all SF do not, in reality, have any power in the Republic, whereas Fianna Fáil unarguably are the south’s “natural party of Government”. Such a monolithic centrist/centre-right all-Ireland party would probably do much to halt and even reverse the recent flight of the northern Nationalist middle-class to Sinn Féin. As a downside, at least initially, marrying FF would cause those small but growing numbers of middle-class Unionists who currently, cautiously, give the SDLP at least a transfer or two to flee back into the dead embrace of the UUP.

For Fianna Fáil, the exact same fear drives this move - fear of SF. Even though the last election showed that SF, in the Republic, are busily hoovering up the disaffected and disadvantaged vote and have little middle-class support, Fianna Fáil at heart remains terrified of the Shinners. Witness recent party posters - “Fianna Fáil, The Real Republican Party”. Would this make the PDs or Fine Gael the Continuity Republican Party, I wonder?

FF hope that a merger with the SDLP would shore up their “Republican” credentials with their own grassroots (staving off any defections to SF) by actually being seen to be doing something about Unification. All SF’s carefully-constructed rhetoric about “seizing power on both sides of the border” and by so doing driving Ireland “inevitably” towards Unification would collapse - with powerfully destabilizing effects on their grassroots, many of whom believe that this is The Plan that justifies the ritual slaughter of herds of sacred cows.

A FF/SDLP merger would probably deliver a Unification of sorts eventually. But it is hardly likely to be a Unification to the taste of many in the radical/progressive wings of SF - or any of the rest of us for that matter. A mildly right-of-centre supremely “pragmatic” capitalistic tax haven playing Boston against Berlin for 30 pieces of silver is the inevitable result of allowing the forces of conservatism to dominate the political playing field, and the moves towards ending Partition. I have to note that, over time, such an agenda could possibly win back and win over more middle-class Unionists than would flee from the initial shock, and indeed the SDLP may be counting on this.

So what is to be done? How can those of us who wish to see a caring, sharing, tolerant, richly diverse, socially progressive and internationally responsible Ireland prevent the forces of narrow, cynical, dog-eat-dog capitalist conservatism from railroading through their deeply destructive vision?

Any social democratic tendencies the SDLP still possess will be consumed by a merger with FF. Those social democrats will need a home. But it will not be found in Sinn Féin while that party continues its dogmatic “One True Church” fanaticism and arrogance towards all other organisations and groupings on the island. If SF are to play a useful role in reconstructing Ireland they need to drop the pretence and self-image as the sole inheritors of Revealed Truth; recognise that there are many political groupings out there with valid philosophies, platforms and policies of their own; and take their place as one of a range of progressive groupings (albeit one of the largest) looking to make Ireland a better place for all her people - not just the True Believers.

Many of SF’s opponents, especially in the mainstream parties, continually concentrate on SF’s links to the Provisionals. This link, they claim, is where SF’s transition to “democracy” will be measured. They are missing the point, and merely handing SF a propoganda tool to use on the more gullible voters - “Poor us, persecuted for events we have no control over. It’s because we’re right you know, they have to try and silence us to keep control…” Yes, the MOPE Complex is alive and kicking, it has just transmuted into a more subtle form within SF.

The true test of whether Sinn Féin has come to terms with the whole concept of democracy lies in its relationship to and behaviour towards other (non-violent) groupings and parties. Can SF ever reach the point where it can comfortably work together with other oppositional groups on some common goal while respecting their rights to their own platforms? Or must they continually try to play Big Brother, censuring and hectoring and bullying others into accepting that only SF knows The Way? Maligning, harassing, intimidating opponents? Dropping mob-rule boot-boy tactics in favour, solely, of reasoned argument?

Only then will SF have come to understand democracy. Only then will all the groups opposed to jungle capitalism be able to come together and work constructively on changing the course of Irish history and society. Away from vicious, heartless, ruthless winner-takes-all competition and ever more centralised power; and towards functioning, balanced communities with control over their own affairs, looking out for the disadvantaged and the weak. The game being played out in the coming years will have long and far-reaching consequences for all the children of the nation - and at the moment it is the forces of conservatism that hold the best cards.






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If you stand up and be counted, from time to time you may get yourself knocked down. But remember this: A man flattened by an opponent can get up again. A man flattened by conformity stays down for good.
- Thomas J. Watson, Jr

Index: Current Articles

22 August 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


Listen Rather Than Punish
Anthony McIntyre


To Hell With the True Believers
Newton Emerson


Merger Mania
Ciarán Irvine


Interface Workers Snubbed
Billy Mitchell


A Vibrant Feile
Sean Smyth


RIRA & CIRA: No Support and Going Nowhere?
Liam O Ruairc


18 August 2002


Unidentified Mob Rule
Aine Fox


The West Belfast Feile
Newton Emerson


The Most Useless, Most Spineless, Most Pointless of Them All
Ciarán Irvine


North Belfast: A Resident's View
Joan Totten


A Tawny Sinew
Anthony McIntyre


Deepest Sympathy


Ahmed Al Kouraini
Sam Bahour


A Personal Voyage of Taboo

Davy Carlin


Reading Connolly
Liam O Ruairc




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