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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
The Right Road To Power
Not necessity, not desire - no, the love of power is the demon of men. Let them have everything - health, food, a place to live, entertainment - they are and remain unhappy and low-spirited: for the demon waits and waits and will be satisfied - Friedrich Nietzsche
Anthony McIntyre • 12.12.03

Featuring in media discourse since Sinn Fein's electoral triumph in the Northern Assembly elections has been an element of apprehension, in some cases undisguised alarm, that the nationalist party might now do to Fianna Fail what it is in the process of doing to the SDLP - electorally suffocating it. Out of four different columnists in three separate Sunday newspapers alerting their readerships to the 'ominous' signals portending from the North, the Observer’s Henry McDonald alone sees Pat Rabbitte’s Irish Labour Party as being most at risk. Joseph O’Malley, Eoghan Harris and Stephen Collins have all sounded the siren although, in their view, it is not just Labour for whom the bells toll.

Most of what appeared in print has been distilled by Harris. Sensitive to the danger of giving legs to any self-fulfilling prophecy, he cautioned votaries of his column not to be very afraid, just afraid. Confidence in Fianna Fail’s grip on Southern political life is gnawed at by memories of events from two decades ago. In 1982 when Sinn Fein announced its intention to mount an electoral challenge in Jim Prior’s Assembly elections towards the end of that year, the SDLP, supremely confident that no pretender to its electoral throne had yet been born, arrogantly trumpeted that it would meet the challenge with 'gleeful anticipation.' It never imagined that it was staring at the opening seconds of what Dean Godson in the Spectator termed its ‘Redmond Moment’. Twenty-one years on, anticipation has been disrobed of its glee while the party’s fortunes have curdled and gone sour. Its 18 elected MLAs appear less a visionary group ready to blaze a path to the future than a mournful body of pallbearers whose main purpose is to lay to rest with some dignity the worn shell within which Northern constitutional nationalism thrived for thirty years before jumping cuckoo-like into the nest built by republicans.

In many ways McDonald’s Observer piece was the most logically anchored. The Labour Party, situated in what passes for a socialist camp in Ireland, might well anticipate a robust challenge from a party on its left flank that is not by any means a sect and has substantial popular support. Why Fianna Fail should find itself the fly in the web of the socialist spider is more difficult to discern. But is Sinn Fein really a left wing party?

For long enough speculation about the trajectory of Gerry Adams' organisation in the Republic centred on the Left constituency; the party’s brand of radicalism would corral it into the ghetto. As a consequence, some close to Fianna Fail are known to have aired the view that bringing Sinn Fein into a coalition would be the best way to finish the party off, by allowing it to peak and then deflate in front of a disaffected constituency which would by that point have disappointment to number amongst its woes. The Single Transferable Vote system is said to militate against ideology and more towards compromise. Capital rules and those who wish to govern quickly learn to compromise on capital's terms.

In this sketch Fianna Fail was considered to be under no serious threat, at most a seat here or there. But all of this is premised on the notion that Sinn Fein is genetically locked into a left wing genre, the electoral ceiling of which is not too high. It is at this point that the alarmism of the Sunday Independent’s twin lighthouses on this matter runs out of steam. When Eoghan Harris throws a barb at Richard Haass, claiming that he, a Jewish republican, was ‘assisting Sinn Fein in its project of an Irish socialist republic like Cuba’, and Joseph O’Malley sounds off about Sinn Fein's Marxism- Leninism, neither explain how Fianna Fail stands to cede its constituency to Castro-emulating totalitarians.

Ultimately, Sinn Fein might well eat into and usurp the hegemony of Fianna Fail. But not for the reasons outlined in the Sunday Independent. Sinn Fein will make its assault from the right, not the left. Not because it is intrinsically right wing. Its essence is neither conservative nor radical - the leadership is committed to power and power alone. There is no ideological compass, only an ideological vacuum. Sinn Fein is an expansionist party prepared to do what it takes in order to expand. Its present left discourse is both the sheen and the shield. Those who would style themselves radicals in the Northern end of the party were found out when the party in government vied to be as right wing as the rest, and then gathered obediently for the Bush-Blair war summit at Hillsborough in May. Its Southern radicals too shall be found out when Adams takes them into coalition.

Again, the manner in which the party tackled the SDLP is instructive. Adams once said in the first half of the 1980s that it was perhaps better for Sinn Fein that it did not bypass the SDLP as that would only lead to a dilution in social radicalism. But such social radicalism, like everything else the party held dear, was diluted in order to overtake the SDLP. We read of a ‘well known West Belfast businessman’ standing for Sinn Fein in Unionist Strangford, and the election of Catriona Ruane, a party member only a matter of weeks, in South Down. Sinn Fein is coming to be sized up by those with an eye for opportunity as either good for business or a career move. As business and careerism colonise Sinn Fein, the party will dilute its radicalism in the South to more effectively challenge Fianna Fail. And if need be it will become the party of law and order and tight immigration control. That is where power lies. And Sinn Fein will comfortably bed down with it.




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



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Index: Current Articles

13 December 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


The Right Road to Power
Anthony McIntyre


University Challenge

Seaghán Ó Murchú


Money Talks
Mick Hall


Bloody Sunday Inquiry
Liam O Comain


Stalemate for the GFA
Paul Mallon


The GFA and Other Fairystories
Proinsias O'Loinsaigh


Dies IRAe
Ruth Dudley Edwards


Conversion of Constantine
Terry O'Neill


Republican Prisoner Attacked in Hydebank YOC



Civil Rights Veterans on Prison Situation
October 5th Association


8 December 2003


Electing to Disagree
Brendan O'Neill


The GFA Revisited

Gerry Ruddy


The Problem With the Kurds
Pedram Moallemian


Even Northern Ireland Has Global Responsibilties
Anthony McIntyre


Rafah Today: The Tent
Mohammed Omer




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