Jude Collins

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Whither Sinn Féin?

Where is Sinn Féin going? "Nowhere, in the south anyway" was the answer  Eoghan Harris gave,  a few short  years back. Then  at the last election Sinn Féin almost trebled its numbers in the Dail. Even this was a minor disappointment for some of the more ambitious party members.

Writing in The Irish Times today, Paul Cullen reckons the party have a five-year plan and are working "with a view to further gains in the next general election and the pivotal role in forming the next government that would accompany such success".

Since that statement could be made about nearly any political party, Cullen has hardly produced a major insight. If you listen to the Shinners' opponents, and to some extent to Cullen, you would conclude that their goal is power and that they have ditched and will ditch any principle  to acquire that power. But power to do what?

Ask the average punter on the street what Sinn Féin stands for and you'll be told "A united Ireland". How would gaining power or sharing power in the south advance that ambition? Well, some people believe that the sight of, say, a Sinn Féin Minister of Education in the south meeting with a Sinn Féin Minister of Education in the north would be a powerful symbol of the strides the party has made towards Irish reunification. Those opposed  would say that like the cross-border bodies, such a meeting would be a  meaningless gesture, the kind that Fianna Fail and other southern governments have been making towards Irish unity over the last eighty or ninety years.

It depends on how you see Irish unity coming. If you believe  it will come, if at all, in one intense, probably violent short period, as did the establishment of the Irish Free State, you'll dismiss Sinn Féin in government in the south and north as sell-out window-dressing. If you believe that Irish unity will come gradually, as more and more powers shift into the hands of Irish people,  then you'll see Sinn Féin's five-year plan and beyond as  important and so far, in the teeth of fierce opposition, successful. The increasing integration of the party into mainstream politics north and south can be seen as the betrayal of everything Irish men and women fought and died for over the past forty years, or the practical, patient movement towards realisation of their dream.

One thing is sure: the major barrier to Irish reunification now lies south of the border, not north of it.


  1. Jude
    I don't know if they will wither, though they may wilt a little.
    Seriously though, I can't quite see how your piece points to the major barrier to reunification being south of the border.
    Do you now see the 50% + 1 scenario as a foregone conclusion in Northern Ireland ( sorry the north of Ireland!) ?
    Surely if that comes to pass then reunification would be more or less inevitable?

  2. gio - no - change of constitution would require majority on both sides of border.

  3. Jude
    I know Article 3 requires a referendum south of the border,but I could not really see that vote going against reunification, could you?
    Surely the main obstacle remains the achieving of a majority in the North?
    All kinds of other problems would present themselves of course, but that is another issue.

  4. gio - I made a holy New Year resolution not to get involved in blogsite discussion - life's too short - but I'll make an exception in your case. To answer your question: judging from the reaction in the south to Martin McGuinness, fed by an energetic media, I think there would be a lot of southerners who'd see 'Nordies' as a complicated addition that would change what is/was for many a cosy set-up. Northern unionist ability to work with Sinn Féin shows how far ahead they are in their thinking compared to people south of the border. Re 50+ 1 north of border, I've mixed feelings. On the one hand, what's the point of an Agreement that has a meaningless central clause? On t'other, I believe unionists and nationalists or Protestants/Catholics, whatever you want to call them, are understanding each other better and even LIKING each other better with every passing day/year. An Irish union that was entered into willingly by ALL sides is indeed far preferable to the letter of the law.

  5. Jude
    Thanks for the reply. It would be a pity if you decide to avoid the below the line discussion. Often I disagree with your initial piece, but find something in your additional comments that I can agree with.
    I am sure there are many southerners who see us as troublesome relatives, but I can't believe that would translate into a vote against reunification
    Admittedly I haven't seen any polls on this lately. Would be quite interested if you know of any.