LIAM Clarke suggests that Fianna Fail could provide a lifeline for constitutional nationalists if the SDLP collapses to Sinn Fein in the May poll.
Sinn Fein is good at playing for sympathy in the court of public opinion. Until recently, the temptation for other nationalist parties like the SDLP and Fianna Fail has been to give them a soft ride for the sake of the peace process and to support Adams against the hardliners who are supposedly yapping at his heels.
As things stand, the main effect of the robbery will be to prolong political stasis in the north, preventing the return of devolved power sharing for the foreseeable future. That is something that Sinn Fein can play to its advantage, pointing to it as evidence of the irreformability of the northern state, the intractability of unionism and the need for rapid movement toward Irish unity.
It is not a bad line to pursue over the next year of Ruane-led celebrations, in which they will push the Irish government for a green [sic] paper on how a united Ireland will be achieved. Looked at from that perspective, a failed settlement in Northern Ireland and an IRA that is still there in the wings doesnt look bad for Sinn Fein provided there is no return to violence.
Sinn Feins big card will be that it is the only all-Ireland party, that it represents the majority of nationalists in the north and that it is the next big thing in the south. The SDLP now looks like a loser and some of its brightest and best young talent, men like Martin Morgan, the former lord mayor of Belfast, are thinking of stepping aside. Its former links with the Irish Labour party, which is already recruiting members on its own account in the north, count for less and less.
Connections with Fianna Fail could change all that. It would certainly attract new members and could halt the haemorrhage of old ones. It would also give Fianna Fail an all-Ireland organisation that could counter Sinn Fein.