FF’s adversity, SF’s opportunity?

John A Murphy with a southern perspective on Sinn Fein’s consolidation in Northern Ireland. He thinks that if the economic conditions conspire against the government, then Sinn Fein may be in a good position to exploit Fianna Fail’s internal and organisational weaknesses (not least the Cooper-Flynn controversy).

Last Sunday, in a preliminary reaction to the election results, I said that SF’s enhanced electoral strength (though the increase was not spectacular) will result in more urgent pressure on the government here to take a united-Ireland policy (a central feature of SF’s election manifesto) more seriously. Unity is a sacred cow for all Southern parties, particularly for FF, and no Southern politician wants to risk being labelled “partitionist”. Nonetheless, we need a clear and courageous government response along the following lines: “Look here, we all desire unification but it simply isn’t feasible either financially or politically and certainly not before some signs of reconciliation within the North begin to appear. In fact, unification rhetoric runs counter to the reconciliatory spirit of the Belfast Agreement.”

Meanwhile, SF are set for further electoral gains in the Republic in two years’ time but obviously not on the same scale as in the North. However, the picture could change alarmingly in the time ahead as we approach the god-date of 2016, especially if the Celtic Tiger should falter once more. Economic discontent and Anglophobic nationalism would form a heady brew, expertly mixed by SF. And last week the alarm bells that sounded the parlous state of the FF organisation will ring as sweet music in the ears of the other, and much more driven, “republican party”.

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