Can Sinn Fein get beyond the IRA and move on?

In the wake of the IRA’s statement, Dennis Murray’s statement that he had never seen anything like this before on the BBC’s flagship Ten O’Clock News last night, reflects the kind of surprise that most of us who’ve been watching the Republican Movement from the outside at the latest statement.

It makes sense as a short term tactic. One can imagine that it 1 shows the IRA is serious in its call to local people to support the McCartneys, and 2 by publicly asserting its ‘right’ to shoot people it deems to be guilty by its own ‘legitimate’ internal processes it may hope to stem any further damaging revelations of criminality within its own areas.

After that, it is hard to see how this statement furthers Sinn Fein’s political cause or its longer term objective of taking power through its armalite/ballot box strategy. The confidence of its (albeit still small) middle class support will not be helped that eleven years into a ceasefire, the IRA still feels no compunction about offering to shoot people in the name of justice.

Morning Ireland interviewed a number of people coming out of a Sinn Fein meeting in Navan last night. It makes for interesting listening (sound file). One particularly articulate guy pointed out that the offer was for a local audience, another said he understood the frustration of the IRA with the antagonistic media coverage it had been getting recently. But others worried that this far into a peace process the IRA still felt it could send such a strong public signal.

The movement is losing ground in the media too. The British left liberal establishment (which some argue is now the controlling interest in the BBC), whose favour the party has courted assiduously over many, many years (and who for the most part have backed them through thick and thin), are turning on them in droves. If there is not some rigourous internal discussion on this I’d be very surprised.

The temptation in such circumstances is to circle the wagons and simply defend against the aggressive media pack. This may be a natural and perfectly understandable response. And they would not be the first to do it. It’s what the British Labour party of the 1980’s early 1990’s did until the velvet revolution of the Blair years.

Whether you see Blair as a force for good or evil (and many on the British left are genuinely conflicted on this), he picked a demoralised party up off the floor, injected it with confidence and enthused it with a new intellectual energy (which his opponents are still having difficulty understanding never mind dealing with). As a result he was able to re-engage successfully with a media that had been almost universally hostile to his party for over twenty years.

In Ireland the media’s hostility has not caused the party any visible damage, yet. What damage there is by the time of the next big elections in May may be well below the waterline – ie, they could simply fail to gain council seats they might have otherwise have expected to come to them before the bank raid. It’s doubtful they’ll be losing any.

But in the medium to long term this level of media hostility across the board is not compatible with the ambitions of a modern political party. A radical departure may be required before it can extract itself from the deep hole its been digging its way into since late December.

So, is the IRA Sinn Fein’s equivalent of the British Labour Party’s Clause IV?

If it is, it will almost certainly require a fierce internal battle. As a result, we may see things get much worse before the movement gets to grips with what the outside world sees as it conflicting messages of committment to peace on one hand and threats of violence on the other.

Despite the wishes of Sinn Fein’s most inveterate opponents, the party’s mandate is not going away any time soon. But without some tangible resolution of this conflict inside Sinn Fein, it would appear that this much vaunted peace process will not be moving on either.

  • Peter Reavy

    I could posit that the IRA statement makes further tactical sense for the movement in general.

    First, as I posted on another thread, it has created further confusion about who is in charge of of the movement, which is always helpful to the leadership.

    Second, it is a blatant insult to everyone in the peace process outside of the movement itself. And since no-one outside of the movement is actually doing anything in response, it makes the movement look more and more untouchable. Everyone outside the Republican movement is seen as weak, passive and bewildered.

    Furthermore everyone outside the movement is seen as dependent on it for peace. For Sinn Fein’s electorate, it is hard to see how the party look weaker today than it did this time yesterday. In fact the essential passivity of all other players today make SF look even more like the only party which can make a difference.

    The longer that SF can make the confusion go on, the more vital it appears to the peace process, so the stronger it is electorally, and the time gained can also be used productively by the IRA to build its crime business in the background.

    The only possible harm from the statement is that it makes the IRA look like bad men. But we either thought that already, or we will never think that.

  • Mick Fealty

    Another reader foiled by the evil TypeKey. We will get rid of it, I promise. Just as soon as we have a reliable alternative! This is from political analyst, Simon Partridge:

    In equating the IRA with GB Labour’s Clause 4 I think you have made what the philosophers call a “category error”: you’re not comparing like with like.

    Furthermore, while SF appears to be a “modern political party”, I have argued for a long time that that is to take the verbal veneer for reality.

    The Provos (aka the republican movement or SF hyphen PIRA) are essentially a regressive, quasi-religious formation in hock to a primitive view of Mother Ireland/Island which strives for a political homogeneity [and hegemony] on the island which has probably never existed ironically Union rule probably came closest] and certainly now cannot after 80 plus years of partition.

    In pursuit of this illusory, fundamentalist goal the Provos have felt justified in using almost any means [we have not yet suicide bombs though we have seen political suicides – OK I grant there are elements of Defenderism but that
    in my view is not the bedrock].

    Under the force of contemporary political realities [which include the collapse of soviet-style marxism, globalism, post-9/11 and the Belfast Agreement] the Provos are being forced to divide not into SF & PIRA but rather into the “sophisticates” and the “primitives” – the former moving away from physical force, the latter still wedded to it [i.e. the McCartney

    The uneasy compromise between the sophisticates and primitives appears to be breaking down and the outcome of this breakdown will depend on the balance of forces on each side [crudely, numbers and arms dumps]. The sophisticates probably have the upper hand but it seems to me that the
    remnant of the primitives will go not quietly – it would hardly be in the nature of the ends-justifies-the-means group culture. In short, plug ’em!

    The chances are therefore that we are heading towards a shout-out at the OK Corral – a denouement which the republican sympathsing playwright Ronan Bennett [the partner of the Guardian’s deputy editor Georgina Henry, which
    is why the Guardian’s change of tack may be so significant] predicted in his BBC TV play “Love Lies Bleeding” [insert the commas if you wish] a few years ago. On the other hand we may see internal stalemate, in which case the status quo will endure for many months or even years, no doubt breeding further Rafiaism.

    What is harder to factor in is what the effect of continuing and growing pressure from grass-roots working class nationalist communities will have –
    the No to murder and criminality brigade, led by the McCartneys. One is reminded of events in Romania, the Ukraine and now Beirut – the “authority” of the movement could suffer sudden and catastrophic collapse; they
    certainly seem to have lost their touch.

    The fact that the McCartneys have been invited to the White House and that Washington is starting to compare Adams to Arafat [McDowell likened him to Mugabe the other day] may count a great deal in Irish America and wider geo-politics.

    As the Chinese curse has it: we live in interesting times.

    Simon Partridge

  • Roger W. Christ XVII

    I love it when smart academic types come on using lots of big words and terminology and helpfully add explanations in brackets for us pitiful plebs.