Hail Mary, David Gordon & a Transitioning Sinn Fein

A fortnight ago, I was in Dublin to watch the opening game of the first Saturday of the American college football season between the universities of Boston College and Georgia Tech.

It was an exciting encounter between two well matched teams, the latest in a series of Dublin-based fixtures that has brought tens of thousands of additional American tourists to Ireland in the past five years. The Belfast equivalent has seen a US college ice hockey tournament held in November 2015 and scheduled again for this year, bringing an albeit significantly smaller number of sporting tourists over from the States. Little acorns…..

Boston College (BC) brought a large contingent of fans, but their team could not see the game through to the end, losing to the Yellow Jackets in a thrilling final minute’s action.

Boston College is one of only two Catholic universities playing football at the highest level (FBS), the other being the university of Notre Dame (the Fighting Irish). BC’s successes on the football field are threadbare when compared with those of the Fighting Irish. Fans of the National Football League will recognize the name of Matt Ryan, the Atlanta Falcons’ quarterback, and it was during Ryan’s time as BC’s quarterback in 2007 that the Massachusettes’ university last sat at the top table in the college football rankings- and then only for a fleeting period of time.

Prior to then, Boston College’s finest moment occurred in November 1984, when their star quarterback and soon to be Heisman Trophy winner, Doug Flutie, successfully completed a Hail Mary pass into the end zone against Miami (Fla), thereby ensuring that he would forever be remembered as a legend at Chestnut Hill, even being carved in stone outside the stadium.

The Hail Mary pass is so called because it represents a last throw of the dice. Here’s one online definition:

A Hail Mary pass is a very long forward pass in American football, made in desperation with only a small chance of success. In the Hail Mary pass all receivers run straight toward the endzone and the quarterback will make a long pass that is often “up for grabs.”

As a term, it somewhat fittingly describes many political moves deployed by politicians and parties.

In one sense, the Border Poll pitch by republicans at this time represents a Hail Mary pass. There is no one, republican or otherwise, who credibly believes that a poll held in the short term future will lead to a majority voting for Irish unity. Pitching for unity in the face of all compelling evidence pointing to a defeat would appear, at face value, to be a Flutie-like toss into an end zone in the hope that unforeseen events somehow transform the political landscape and lead to a dramatic change in perceptions.

Of course, the Border Poll appeal is actually part of a longer term strategy which, for Sinn Fein, requires that Irish unity remains never far from the political agenda until a critical point in time arrives when a winnable plebiscite campaign can be launched.

It’s quite a blunt instrument, laced with an element of insecurity, reliant on millenarian instincts and with the added advantage of not requiring anything remotely resembling the 600 page plus document produced by the SNP ahead of the Scottish Independence referendum, nor the years of preparing the groundwork inside and outside of government to deliver a referendum campaign that shook the British state to its foundations.

In reality, it’s part of a holding position for a Sinn Fein party whose leadership is aware of the fact that the party is long past the point of needing to effect significant changes in both personnel and policies to make it fit for purpose in a post-peace process era requiring a change of direction to begin the generation-long work of preparing for the real referendum which the party- and nationalists in general- can confidently envisage being in a position of readiness for in a medium term context.

And the evidence suggests that the process has begun, with Adams, McGuinness and other leading republicans using opportunities in public and private to increasingly talk about the party being ‘in transition.’ In the past few days, this has included Adams intriguingly speaking of a plan being agreed regarding the ‘when’ of his departure.

But it is not just in the context of changing the face of its leader that Sinn Fein is in transition.

As I have written about before on Slugger here, there is a significant difference in terms of northern and southern Sinn Fein which can be attributed to the conflict legacy but which has meant that the southern wing of the party appears in a much healthier state with regard to its capacity to effectively function in the post-peace process era.

Effecting changes to improve the capacity of northern Sinn Fein to fulfill its functions as a governing party and the lead voice for nationalism will require leadership-instigated measures to bring in new voices equipped with the skills and experiences to advance the party’s performance at Stormont and within the Executive. The moves to begin examining and ultimately shelving the salary policy are in recognition of the fact that, if republicans are to maximize the potential to advance their agenda from their position of relative electoral strength, north and south, then they need the best and brightest inside the party as both elected representatives and advisors.

That will not be easy for Sinn Fein, because it will necessitate not simply shuffling the deck to alter the face of the party presented to the electorate, but actually ceding power and influence to a new generation and away from a generation that has retained authority and moulded the internal culture of the party for more than 30 years.

In the past week, the local political scene was rocked by the news that the Executive parties had managed to secure the services of the exceptionally talented, David Gordon, as their Executive Press Secretary. The lengths that Sinn Fein agreed (with the DUP) to go to in order to attract Gordon demonstrated a commitment to attract someone presumably that they believed could deliver (in a presentational manner) for both parties. If this move signals a similar desire to attract and maximize the skills and experiences of the best and brightest into Sinn Fein, then it would represent a significant leap forward for the party.

Expect to hear a lot more from Adams and McGuinness about transition, but, more importantly, watch for the moves taken to better prepare the party for when that moment arrives. I would envisage a number of O’Muilleoir style co-options in the short term, and by that I mean the strategic retirement of MLAs that allow the party to address gaps by ensuring replacements can bring much needed skills and experiences to the party team.

Change is coming.

  • chrisjones2

    A Hail Mary pass relies on a prayer for success. The plan you propose for SF acknowledges that the primary – indeed utterly defining – objective of the party is unattainable in the lifetime of the current membership. What then is the raison d’etre of SF?

    And having just elected a rack of MLAs as their representatives on a ticket voters can look forward to their replacement not because of any failings on their part but because others (one of whom is not elected here) have decided to take the party in a different direction and they are no longer wanted on voyage. Its ironic perhaps that 2016 is the year where “a united Ireland in 2016” or was it 2026 or 2036 …… …has morphed into the realisation of “someday, maybe, never” and the recognition that half the Catholic electorate in the North currently would not support it

    In making this transition you seem to have great faith in the willingness of voters local party groups and MLAs just to do as they are told. As North Antrim, Cork etc shows, this may be misplaced. Northern party members , used to being top dog in the party, will also have to reconcile to those in the South calling the shots and being consigned to a backwater

    Still at least we now know that SF’s leadership are changing and finally acknowledging their (and the IRAs) utter defeat. The DUP should recognise that and respond magnanimously to help SF voters towards the light – if not the party while the Stoops might have the gumption to make some hay – though I doubt that they will show the necessary drive or intelligence

  • Glenn

    Mary Lou was asked on Sunday politics did she know of the sainted Gerry’s plans for the future of shinners/provos after their 2 day love in. It look’s like the sainted Gerry did his usual hot air trick, but forgot to tell the rest of the cult.

  • Declan Doyle

    For the last three months at east there have been meetings and discussion groups all over the country about the leadership, brexit, policy, irish unity and everything in between. The Shinners seem very energised about it all and happily anticipating the future. Surge in the polls is a welcome little boost too.

  • chrisjones2

    That’s what Gods do. Only the High Priests are told and only when the God is good and ready

  • chrisjones2

    Baaaaa?

  • T.E.Lawrence

    I like this little badge the “Patriots” who come from good old Boston ! And it’s Colours they Are Fine ……………… RED WHITE & BLUE ! Reminds we of a team I also love from good old WINDSOR PARK in Belfast !

  • Nevin

    “there is a significant difference in terms of northern and southern Sinn Fein which can be attributed to the conflict legacy”

    The militant republican family is certainly still struggling with its Athboy legacy. SFHQ reaching out, as articulated by Declan Kearney, finds itself in opposition to, for example, the Rasharkin Residents Association and the Rasharkin Residents Collective.

  • Glenn

    Maybe the shinners/provos could throw some light on this since they are in outreach mode. The shinners/provos stated that the 2 convicted of constable’s Carroll’s murder are political prisoners therefore should the media now desist with the prefix “dissident”??? These 2 now have the shinner/provo seal of approval as political prisoners. Therefor they are not “dissidents” in the eyes of republicans they are the current republican terror campaign.

    Lets remind ourselves that when the current republican terrorists murdered Stephen Carroll, Martin McGuinness stood on the steps of Stormont Castle with Peter Robinson and PSNI chief constable Hugh Orde, and said “These people are traitors to the island of Ireland, they have betrayed the political desires, hopes and aspirations of all of the people who live on this island. They don’t deserve to be supported by anyone.”

    So what is it, are they “traitors to Ireland” or “political prisoners”???? Or is it just about votes???? So many questions?????

    On the border poll.
    http://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/ireland/poll-shows-voters-would-reject-united-ireland-if-it-led-to-tax-increases-755224.html

  • Zig70

    Should be interesting, if SF go down the O’Muilleor route then they leave the door open for pbp and potentially move on to ground occupied by disillusioned nationalists that moan but don’t vote. The gfa and subsequent tinkering have resulted in a tribal government with only one issue and little power. Until they have some power or look like getting a UI then the disillusionment remains. Added to that a UI won’t look likely until the southern parties put their shoulder to it and currently it would give them a disadvantage in votes in a 32 county.

  • Declan Doyle

    I can’t see where SF actually said the were political prisoners can u provide a link?
    Similar to Unionist politicians meeting loyalist inmates, nationalist politicians should do likewise to try and get thru to them.

  • Glenn

    “Party chairman Declan Kearney was speaking after he led a “fact-finding delegation” into Maghaberry Prison last week to meet with “political prisoners”,
    http://www.irishnews.com/news/northernirelandnews/2016/09/12/news/declan-kearney-voices-concerns-about-stephen-carroll-convictions-690750/

  • Declan Doyle

    Did he actually say “political prisoners” or did the newspaper editorial use that term? I can’t see the article.

  • chrisjones2

    …bet they are not disillusioned. The pools seem to show that they are very happy ….at least verry happy in the UK

  • Zig70

    You hold on to that, the votes (which count) show some nationalists (ex SDLP voters) have stopped turning out but virtually all that do or did vote for parties that support a UI.

  • Glenn

    “Party chairman Declan Kearney was speaking after he led a “fact-finding delegation” into Maghaberry Prison last week to meet with “political prisoners”, non-paramilitary inmates and prison authorities.”

    As these two are paramilitary murderer prisoners they are in the shinner/provo category of “political prisoners”. He stated it on news reports on TV, can’t find link to the TV clips.

    http://www.irishnews.com/news/northernirelandnews/2016/09/12/news/declan-kearney-voices-concerns-about-stephen-carroll-convictions-690750/

  • Nevin

    Declan, the Declan Kearney comments are on YouTube:

  • Glenn

    “While much progress has been made in improving the quality of the prison environment for both prisoners and staff, it is clear there is some distance to go to deliver on the completion of comprehensive prison reform. Both political and ordinary prisoners, as well as members of staff, are all entitled to be treated with the highest standards of equality, respect and dignity.”

    “political prisoners” of the republican variety!!!!

  • Declan Doyle

    So he referred to them in the third sense as political but you have no link to a statement from sf declaring them “political prisoners”. So it’s just the side pass opinion of Mr kearney?

    Moreover, are there not questions over the conviction of these men? Let’s be honest, “British” justice has been found to be pretty feeble in the past. Lets wait until it’s fully worked out.

  • Glenn

    “Only a third of voters in the Republic would support a united Ireland if it meant paying more tax.
    A Behaviour and Attitudes survey for the Sunday Times has found just 32% would back Irish unity if that meant higher taxes”.

  • Glenn

    British justice and prisons is and are better than Sinn Fein/IRA summery justice. As a good shinner/provo supporter you would say that wouldn’t you. But you can deny the reality all you want but he states he met republican murdering terror “political prisoners”, and so the terror goes on. The “traitors”!!!

  • Declan Doyle

    Calm down a bit lovey. The quality of British justice should not depend on the actions of others. Although I am glad u accept the reality of British injustice, fair play.
    Now, u have no evidence of SF press office publicly declaring these lads as political prisoners, in fact you can’t even point to any statement by MMG or GA which supports your claim. In other words your are a crazed obsessed fantasist who quite likely is a far bigger danger to decent society than and ‘would be’ political prisoner.

  • Declan Doyle

    And 70% said they would back unity as is. It’s a loaded question, the individual has no idea of exactly ‘how much’ the extra tax will be. A fiver a week per worker might not raise an eyebrow. The real fear for Unionism is that they will actually have to ‘pay for themselves’ rathe than rely on English charity ; which is rapidly drying up.

  • Zig70

    Why do the British seem to assume that everyone else’s nationality is cheap?

  • mac tire

    T.E. you have mistakenly posted this on Slugger.

    Facebook is that way ——->

  • AntrimGael

    BOOOOMMMM! Steven Agnew tonight on Sunday Politics with a technical KO of Arlene Foster.

  • Jollyraj

    No comment on the youtube clip Nevin provided?

  • Jollyraj

    “He stated it on news reports on TV, can’t find link to the TV clips.”

    Sadly, as we see with our Mr Declan Doyle, there are none so blind as those who refuse to see.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Ach ! don’t be a “Kill joy” Mac. The article reminds we of my time living in Boston and supporting the local sporting teams of The Patriots, The Red Sox, The Bruins and ssssssh don’t tell my Blue Nose friends, The Celtics too ! There is an interesting grain in the make-up of us Belfast Working Class Prods, everywhere we travel to work and live we shall endeavour to get involved and support the local sporting teams !

  • T.E.Lawrence

    With the proposed new Westminster Boundary Changes for a South West Belfast Constituency O’Muilleoir would be Odds-On to take this seat in the next Westminster Elections. The Thousand Dollar Question this would pose is would there be enough other O’Muilleoir Clones to be able to change the miltant brigade’s stance of not taking it’s seats at Westminster ?

  • Zig70

    Seats at Westminster is a non issue. Nobody who would potentially vote for sees Westminster as relevant.

  • Declan Doyle

    What happened?

  • chrisjones2

    its the Irish edition of the Sunday Times – as much Australian as British

  • chrisjones2

    I fear you are approaching this from the wrong end.

    Kearney just admitted that Republican Political Prisoners can be (as Marty characterised them)

    ” traitors to the island of Ireland, they have betrayed the political desires, hopes and aspirations of all of the people who live on this island. They don’t deserve to be supported by anyone.”

  • john millar

    “. The real fear for Unionism is that they will actually have to ‘pay for themselves'”

    Surely -they welcome the day when NI spends what it generates in taxation -what this means for the DLA brigade is of course a different matter

  • NotNowJohnny

    Little power?

    What additional powers would you like SF to have?

    Currently they have the ministry of finance and consequently effectively hold the purse strings for the region. They also have the ministry of health with the biggest budget of any minister. Added to those they have the Ministry for Infrastructure and the joint first minister, effectively joint prime minister of the North. Furthermore SF sits on the all Ireland North South Ministerial Council and as the representative of Northen nationalism gets to be represented at all NSMC meetings. I think it’s fair to say that SF has as much power as any other party when it comes to all Ireland business and much more than the governments of de Valera ever had.

    It appears to me that some want to keep setting the bar higher and higher for SF so that is forever unobtainable.

  • mac tire

    Fair enough. Point taken.

  • Zig70

    Really? I wasn’t getting at SF ministers, all of them are pretty much donkeys in flags due to the way gfa has played out. What has any Stormont minister actually achieved? 11+ is still there albeit in a more dysfunctional way. The health service seems to go from one crisis to the next. Without the ability to control taxes and revenue then they are just administrators. No more, no less, simply tasked with not screwing it up.

  • NotNowJohnny

    I’m struggling to grasp your point I’m afraid. You claimed SF has little power and I give you a (not jnsignificant) list of powers it had and now you claim that Executive Ministers gave achieved little. I could give you a list of the achievements of ministers but I suspect you would (again) move the debate on to something else. It appears to me that your gripe is with the GFA rather than parties or ministers as parties and ministers are constrained by the GFA in what they can do. I assume you’re not promoting the idea of an independent Northern Ireland as an alternative whereby the executive (or its successor as the national government) would have full fiscal powers. So what is the alternative you are seeking? The devolution of income tax and VAT in Northern Ireland to the executive? The end of the block grant?

  • billypilgrim1

    “So what is it, are they “traitors to Ireland” or “political prisoners”????”

    I think the contention is that they are innocent.

    Personally I’m not familiar with the details so I offer no opinion on whether they are, but that’s what people campaigning about the so-called “Craigavon 2” claim.

    I suppose as a general rule, if there’s credible evidence that a miscarriage of justice may have occurred, elected representatives shouldn’t be knocked for bringing it to light. Chris Mullin did it with the Birmingham Six, to his eternal credit.

  • chrisjones2

    “I think the contention is that they are innocent.”

    They must be because as Gerry said “you cant be a republican and a criminal”

  • billypilgrim1

    No, what the people campaigning for them say is that they didn’t do it.

    Again, I reiterate that I don’t know anything about the case, and offer no opinion on the guilt or innocence of the two men.

  • chrisjones2

    Those powers can largely only be exercised with DUP agreement – and vice versa so perhaps ‘influence’ might be a better description

  • chrisjones2

    How do you know they are ex stoops voters? SFs voters aren’t turning out any more. Throughout the Troubles the core SF vote was 7 – 8% so now many of the rest will automatically follow them in future

  • chrisjones2

    They have watched Irish behaviour in Europe perhaps?

  • chrisjones2

    Nor do I …I was simply quoting Holy Scripture

  • NotNowJohnny

    I believe that the Minister of Health can, and does, exercise her powers without DUP agreement. What is the point you are trying to make here?

  • Croiteir

    Like St Galls

Join us for the Slugger End of Year Review Show, Wed 14th Dec 2016
Get your tickets