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.

And…

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.