Below is another extract from the final chapter of ‘Resurgence’- part 2 of the Catholic Predicament in ‘Northern Ireland – due out this summer:
The scapegoating of Sinn Fein in the South for the conflict in the North has portrayed it as having wantonly began an illegitimate and unnecessary War against a normal system of government, despite the fact that, up until the Republican War had achieved the Agreement of 1998, the Republic’s Constitution had asserted that, not only was the system of government in the North undemocratic, but that British sovereignty over it was illegitimate.
This denigration has come about through Dublin’s increasing denial of Britain’s fundamental responsibility for establishing and maintaining the thing—’Northern Ireland’—that caused the War in the first place—something which Dublin was certain about as that War got started in 1969-70. Dublin has revised its view of the fundamentals of the problem of the North in the course of the War. It issues only mild criticisms of Britain’s lack of will to see that justice was done internally in the Six Counties but steers clear of acknowledging its central responsibility for the existence of ‘Northern Ireland’. There is no consideration of Britain’s motivation in setting up its undemocratic system of government for its own interests.
That has presented Dublin with a political predicament it does not wish to confront as it abandons its convictions and moves towardsbecoming normal, ordinary, liberal and progressive in the world—which means, of course, more British. And so it scapegoats Sinn Fein, a symptom of ‘Northern Ireland’, rather than its cause.
It is unsurprising that Sinn Fein gathered real momentum in a society that is in denial about the North after its efforts to encompass it went awry. Sinn Fein, a coherent, rational and purposeful force, was confronted by the hysterical reaction of time-servers who have made no attempt to understand what now confronted them.
Sinn Fein, in its Northern manifestation, has itself shown great willingness to learn about and adjust to the South, whilst the political class that went into hysteria preferred to know nothing about the North. Dublin even found itself wrong-footed by Sinn Fein in the Republican reconciliation with the British Monarchy. Under such circumstances the centenary of 1916 presented a great problem for Dublin.
Dublin’s purpose in helping things towards the edge was partly to stop the momentum gathering in the South around the 1916 Centenary, which showed itself in the tremendous enthusiasm that manifested among the Dublin working-class during Sinn Fein’s re-enactment of the O’Donovan Rossa funeral. At that point the Irish Times almost immediately began linking the shooting of Kevin McGuigan, an ex-Provo with a hot-head and a long- standing grudge against those who attempted to calm his hot temper, with the O’Donovan Rossa event (Stephen Collins, ‘McGuigan killing raises questions for Rising tributes’ 22.8.15). The wind needed taking out of the Sinn Fein sails by the tried and trusted (though previously unsuccessful) method of linking it to sporadic violent events in the North. So, by late 2015, with Sinn Fein having established a substantial electoral presence in the South, the strategy was to deal with the party’s rise by denying it voting transfers. Transfers are vital in PR systems and analysis of data showed this to be Sinn Fein’s weakness (see Stephen Collins, IT 31.10.15).
The 2016 General Election became the anti-Sinn Fein election. Before the poll the chief objective of all the main parties was to prevent Sinn Fein being in government. The sentencing of Thomas Murphy, the South Armagh Republican, in the Special Criminal Court for minor tax arrears was arranged to occur on Election Day and featured in news broadcasts during the day. Sinn Fein had itself closed off the possibility of going into government through Motion 52 passed at the Derry Ard Fheis in March. This forbade the party from entering “a Fianna-Fail led or Fine Gael led government”. The party won 23 seats and narrowly lost out by transfers in a number of close contests.
After the election the objective of both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael was to prevent Sinn Fein becoming the main opposition. Sinn Fein had succeeded, at least temporarily, in altering the basis of politics in the Southern State.
The threat of Sinn Fein also forced the political Establishment in Dublin to move beyond the low-key, mealy-mouthed “shared history” approach that it had planned for the 1916 Centenary to a more enthusiastic embracing of the event which produced the founding of the State, and that new approach was welcomed by the mass of the people.
It is possible that the relentless offensive waged by the Southern political Establishment will stem the Sinn Fein tide and keep the Northern Catholics boxed in to the confinement they were sentenced to in 1921. However, the mere existence of ‘Northern Ireland’ condemns the rest of the island to its political consequences for as long as it is maintained in separate existence. That, after all, was the original intention of it. And the mess the South has made in reconciling itself to the obvious political facts of life in the North is no insulation against it.