Any advance beyond 2016 without a reckoning of Sinn Fein’s past, will yield rotten fruit


Gerard Howlin, a former special advisor to the last Fianna Fail led government, has an interesting column in the Irish Examiner today on the democratic problem Sinn Fein’s troubles legacy poses for the Irish state..

As he notes that though the tide of independents may ebb, Sinn Fein’s presence is very real and considering the much higder level of resources they are able to pump into the Republic’s system from elsewhere (no one else can afford to stand professional candidates for instance), they aren’t going away you know…

Given his background, he adds some useful context to his government’s decision to reintroduce the commemoration of 1916. He claims it was…

…both progress and politic. It said that the Rising was not the ideological property of the Provos. The Easter commemoration was put in a carefully balanced context where for the first time, the Battle of the Somme was commemorated as well.

Not only could the Easter lily be worn with pride, so too could the poppy. Ireland has different and identities and thenceforth they would be honourably celebrated in harmony.

If statecraft was one influence, so was practical politics. 2006 was both the 90th of the Easter Rising and the year before a general election. Fianna Fáil intended to enforce its constitutional republican credentials in the face of Sinn Féin’s challenge.

He continues…

Since then a lot has changed and much of that change is irreversible. It is Fianna Fáil who were subsequently on the receiving end of an even greater reverse in 2011. Whatever the scale of its future revival, it will not in a foreseeable future be the political power or the pillar of constitutional republicanism it was in 2006. Sinn Féin has moved on, not only electorally, but politically.

The ambiguity that marked its absence from the 90th centenary will be history when it attends the centenary in 2016. I accept the genuineness of their commitment to the peace process, and I fully understand the importance of their role in sustaining it. But if some ambiguities have been clarified, others remain. If largely ignored, they are also inexorably coming centre stage.


There is an omertà, of unspoken but open secrets, about what went on, went unreported, and remains unacknowledged within nationalist communities. The irony of apparently ever increasing electoral support for Sinn Féin is a jettisoning by default, of the inherently partitionist posture of southern politics.

The ultimate consequence will inevitably at some point be a reverse takeover of both a responsibility and a demand for accountability for the recent nationalist past in Northern Ireland. While Sinn Féin remains in opposition, its past is the currency of political charge, but no more. In government, holding the seal of office, an unresolved, and unmediated past will become a central issue for the integrity of the State.

Then the crux of the piece (and, perhaps, the whole matter)…

This cannot happen without a reckoning, and a truth telling. Any attempt to advance beyond 2016 without such a reckoning, will yield rotten fruit. A commemoration that is not an exorcism, as much as a remembering, will fail in ultimately its only useful purpose; the modernisation of the Republic and the stabilisation of the peace process.

He concludes…

The lesson of our recent history is that eventually every omertà collapses. Unaddressed and unresolved, its past role in its own communities will inevitably collide with the future it expects in government.

Industrial schools, Magdalen laundries, and Mother and Baby homes all stood for decades in plain sight. What they were for, was unspoken, but never a secret.

  • Mc Slaggart

    Will the Soldiers of Destiny call a ‘political ceasefire’?

    Apparently not. Good luck to them but they also need to address “what did you do in the war daddy”

  • Mick Fealty


    I mentioned the FF connection so you didn’t have to. How long is it since your last Red Card?

    In the meantime, read the whole thing?


    Adds: Retribution will have to wait as we are moving away from this platform later today.

    Suffice to say that Slugger has a reputation for grown up conversation.

    That’s in part because we don’t treat news as though it were yesterday’s chip paper. We also value diversity in those who blog fo us and those who comment.

    It’s also because the moderating policy (play the ball, not the man, in case you had forgotten) is intended to privilege signal over noise.

    You have offended for the last time. So, you may take this as a Black Spot. I don’t intend to implement it technically here or on the new Disqus driven comments, as I’ll trust you (initially) to abide by the ref’s ruling.

    So long McS, and thanks for all the fish

  • Nevin

    “In government, holding the seal of office, an unresolved, and unmediated past will become a central issue for the integrity of the State.”

    From an Irish government perspective, why are parapoliticians in government not a problem in Belfast but would be a problem in Dublin?

  • Mick Fealty

    Well it isn’t, unless someone chooses to make it so.

    Howlin seems to be laying down a marker/standard for the sovereign executive of his own country in a way that clearly concerned him less regarding Northern Ireland when setting up the Belfast Agreement/St Andrews Agreement.

    That doesn’t mean he’s wrong. Some of this is about flagging serious lessons from history (even if it is inconveniently recent). So there’s a very loud echo of this ‘rotten fruit’ analogy in Peter Preston’s sonorous warning from 2007 that ‘nothing good can be built on such poisonous foundations’ (…

    It certainly beats a cheap haymaker from An Taoiseach in the Dail…

  • Mick Fealty

    Yes Joe. We are lucky to have Brian O’Neill from working on a new, less resource hungry site right now. It will also make it easier for people not registered with Slugger to comment. In the meantime, McS has a history of hijacking/misdirecting threads just like this one.

    I do not issue black cards lightly (less than ten in five years) He’s not coming back under any circumstances.

  • Fortlands

    I’m not sure what Mc Slaggart’s sin is; but if he’s unambiguously critical of the OO, surely he has a right to be so? And grounds for it. The most cursory reading of the OO’s history show that it is a force for division in Irish history, that it is deeply conservative ( anti-Catholic Emancipation 1829, anti-Great Reform Act 1832) and that it is anti-Catholic. There are of course thousands of decent Orangemen who look to the Twelfth for a bit of crack in a dull summer; but the organisation to which they belong has rules and history that are shameful.