The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Sinn Féin’s International Perspective:
From Conservative to Radical in the Blink of an Eye

Deaglán Ó Donghaile

On Saturday, January 25th, Martin McGuinness told listeners to the BBC Radio Ulster Inside Politics programme that he is opposed to the forthcoming war on Iraq. “I am opposed to war in Iraq,” he said. “I do not believe that the situation that is before us is a healthy situation. My concern about a war in Iraq centres around the concern that people will be killed in that war - whether they be Iraqi civilians, or American soldiers or even a British soldier.” As we say in Derry, all of this concern for civilians and British soldiers is “a quare change” from McGuinness’s earlier vintage, such as when he promised “a continuation of the struggle and the certain deaths of British soldiers” at Bodenstown in 1973. His recent embarrassment on US radio, when another 1970s gaff, this time stating that nosey bystanders had their injuries coming to them when caught up in explosions, also springs to mind.

But McGuinness’s humanitarian imaginings stretched further than the oncoming conflict as he expressed his misgivings for the future: “the big difficulty about war in Iraq given the state of play between East and West in the world is the concern that I have that we could conceivably be facing into a situation where the world could be at war for the next five decades.”

The irony of Martin McGuinness’ concern over a potentially decades-long conflict barely requires explanation. After all, Irish people don’t need to look as far away as the Middle East to see what a war, characterised by its lack of objectives, might look like. Indeed, the IRA is fond of reminding its supporters that it’s war hasn’t ended after three decades, even if it did take seats in Stormont. Martin McGuinness could teach George W. Bush a thing or two about hoodwinking people into believing that even phoney wars can last a long time.

“I'm not talking about a war on the scale of the First or Second World War,” he said, “ but I do think that there could be huge conflict in the world for the next five decades if this issue is not dealt with sensibly… the view of Sinn Fein is one of total opposition to war in Iraq.” So, for McGuinness, a future of self-perpetuating low-intensity conflict would be immoral. Unless bus-drivers from Derry happen to be on the receiving end of it, of course.

As McGuinness’s words hit the airwaves, another burst of party double-speak was unleashed, this time via the internet. The Sinn Féin e mail service, RM Distribution, which delivers party blah straight into subscribers’ inboxes, this weekend celebrated the recent manifestation of anti-war sentiment. Under the title “Worldwide Anti-War Protests”. The statement described the previous weeks rallies across the globe in protest at any possible attack on Iraq. It described how speakers at anti-war rallies in the United States claimed that ” Bush was killing the American way of life in this war for oil,” stating that

“the marches amounted to colourful opposition to the US government's drive to war with Iraq.”

It also reported how the anti-war march in San Francisco included a radical component:

“Later in the afternoon, one thousand people joined a radical anti-capitalist breakaway march and militantly marched through the financial centre, smashing windows and graffitting the San Francisco Chronicle building, the British Consulate, CitiCorp, the Immigration & Naturalization Service building, Starbucks and Victoria's Secret.”

Doubtless, should any similar protest occur in Ireland, Sinn Féin will make sure that the anti-capitalist element won’t break too many windows. After all, during the numerous anti-British riots that have occurred in Derry since 1996, Sinn Féiners, including Martin McGuinness, worked hard to protect corporate property, preventing protestors from venting their anger on banks, bars and buses.

The statement also reports that “in the Netherlands, about one hundred civil inspectors gained access to the grounds of Volkel military air base in the southeast of the country. They cut through the perimeter fence in several places at once.”

The implied message in the statement is more interesting than what it appears to say at face value, and the hidden meaning is that is that it is okay to be radical in the United States, where breaking windows and writing slogans on news paper offices is acceptable. So is breaking into Dutch air force bases. After all, such bases do contain “weapons of mass destruction”. Of course, the moral objection in this case would be against mass-produced, factory-manufactured weapons of mass destruction. We can only presume that Provisional IRA exports, such as mortars and ANFO car bombs, aren’t included under this descriptive title.

Now that Sinn Féin has been kicked out of Stormont, the party lacks direction, and this is revealed in the party’s uncomfortable relationship with the Bush administration. This has resulted in the transformation of its “foreign policy”, which has almost overnight mutated from confident conservatism into a facile and uncertain radicalism, as expressed in these recent attempts to hang on the coat-tails of the global anti-war movement. While Sinn Féin goes cap in hand to its corporate allies in the US, party hacks and apparatchiks like Aengus Ó Snódaigh take adavantage of growing anti-war sentiment in the 26 counties.

Ó Snódaigh is opposed “to the Irish government decision to allow US planes to over flight and refuel on Irish soil.” At a rally in Shannon, the Sinn Féin spokesperson on International Affairs and TD stated the party's opposition to the use of the airport as an "immoral, unconstitutional, and illegal" staging post in advance of a war on Iraq.”

He declared: "One of the main reasons why successive generations of Irish people fought for independence was so that we would no longer be embroiled in Britain's imperial wars. Now an Irish government seeks to embroil us in the new imperialism as represented by the drive to war by the US and British governments."

But now that Sinn Féin is reasserting its opposition to “US imperialism”, it’s worthwhile recalling how the then Sinn Féin mayor of the city, Cathal Crumley, shared a platform in Derry City with ex-US President Bill Clinton IN May 2001 (Gerry Adams sat right behind Clinton at the event). That morning, “militants”, as Sinn Féin would describe them, pelted Clinton with eggs as he visited Magee College. That afternoon, Mayor Crumley saluted Clinton, and then glared at the same “militant” protestors as they voiced their opposition to the arms trade and sanctions against Iraq.

Now that Clinton’s power is gone Sinn Féin’s is diminishing as well and, from Colombia to Shannon, the party is finding itself at odds with the world’s sole super-power. Nowadays the political wheels aren’t being greased as generously as they had been before under Clinton’s Democrats. But the party’s sudden turn toward insincere radicalism points to a more substantial problem - that, in matters of policy of any description, it cannot appear consistent.

We can only wonder what Sinn Féin’s position would be had the Democrats won the narrowly-contested presidential election of 2000. The September 11 atrocities would certainly still have occurred, no matter which party was in power, and, given the Democrats’ record, they wouldn’t have had much difficulty in overcoming the moral qualms that they are now expressing about the war on Iraq. And Sinn Féin might still be in Stormont, had their Democrat friends been able to swing the political balance in their favour. But they weren’t. They lost that election, and the political gravity changed for Sinn Féin and the IRA. And their contradictory, hypocritical attitude toward the present US government, and toward the rest of us, is proof that they are unable to regain their balance.




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



Follow the path of the unsafe, independent thinker. Expose your ideas to the dangers of controversy. Speak your mind and fear less the label of 'crackpot' than the stigma of conformity. And on issues that seem important to you, stand up and be counted at any cost.
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Index: Current Articles

26 January 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


Sinn Féin's International Perspective: From Conservative to Radical in the Blink of an Eye
Deaglán Ó Donghaile


Northern Ireland's Political Goodwill Games
Paul A. Fitzsimmons


New Year's Greetings

Jimmy Sands


Why Ireland is Unfree; Continued
Chris Fogarty


Youth Against the Dictatorship of the Clerics
Anthony McIntyre


West Belfast Anti-War Meeting - Belfast March
Davy Carlin


Conversation with a State Assassin



23 January 2003


Answers Needed Now
Francie Perry


Where are the courts of Human Rights?
Victor Barker


Principle, Pragmatism and Lies

Ed Moloney


Historical Unconsciousness
Seoirse McLaughlin


Fallen Anglicans and Other Limping Analogies
Eoghan O'Suilleabhain


A Message from the Heart of the Empire
Michael Youlton




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