Sinn Fein has overplayed its hand

Ed Moloney reckons that the Republican movement has overplayed its hand in the last year and in doing so have landed Northern Ireland little more than a long peaceful period in which nothing much happens on the political front.

Throughout each phase of the process the demeanour and response of the IRA and Sinn Fein leaderships to events has been remarkably similar and consistent: do just enough not to lose the support of the British and Irish governments or enough to seriously unsettle their own supporters, but never do enough to satisfy unionists sufficiently that they will embrace the notion of sharing power with Sinn Fein.

he refusal or reluctance of unionists to share power over, for instance, the IRA’s unwillingness to decommission or to do so convincingly, allowed Sinn Fein to portray unionists as unreasonable bigots and to present itself to northern and southern nationalists as sincere seekers of peace constantly thwarted by irreformable political dinosaurs.

That this was a successful stratagem is beyond doubt. On both sides of the border nationalist voters flocked to Sinn Fein, the SDLP all but collapsed and it looked as though it would only be a matter of time before Sinn Fein knees were under the cabinet table in Dublin. The tribal imperative worked its way through unionism as well, leading to David Trimble’s fall and the rise of the DUP, a development which promised even more resistance to power sharing and was thus entirely to Sinn Fein’s liking.

An unambiguous judgement from the IMC, he argues, indicates that this strategy is still in force. But circumstances have changed. The previous nationalist consensus has broken down around the alleged actions of the IRA, whilst an opposing Unionist one has begun to emerge. And even the status of the IRA has changed. But Moloney states that Sinn Fein’s reputation as a reliable source has also suffered:

…more and more people recognise that the Provos tell lies in the way that normal folk breathe – that is all the time. This was the principal consequence for the IRA and Sinn Fein of the Northern Bank robbery and the cover -up of the McCartney murder, and it means that when Martin McGuinness fulminates about the IMC only the faithful really believe him.

Of course one man’s lie is another man’s economy with the truth. But there is a serious non political point here: the primary loss to Sinn Fein in the year since the Northern Bank has been it’s loss of credibility with previously friendly outside audiences.

If it is true that Sinn Fein has effectively lost the blame game then Moloney reflects:

Most people may be happy to settle for the peace, however imperfect. That’s one conclusion. The other is that the Provos have badly overplayed their hand.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty