Rossport and the dead hand of Northern politics?

There was an interesting piece in the Sunday Independent on the Shell to Sea campaign. Recent protests at Bellanaboy and a heavy police response has galvanised some attention online, with some exaggerated claims of parallels with the brutalisation of the Ogoni in Rivers State and the Niger Delta. But it was the involvement of Sinn Fein in the campaign that caught Declan Lynch’s eye:

…here is their schedule for one day, according to an internet source.

Sinn Fein picket at Shell in Clare Hall; Sinn Fein picket at Donnycarney church; Sinn Fein picket at Shell in Glasnevin; Sinn Fein picket at Shell at Lucan bypass; Sinn Fein picket at Shell, Taney Road, Dundrum; Sinn Fein picket at Shell in Dalkey; Sinn Fein picket at Statoil in Castleknock; Sinn Fein picket at Statoil in Hartstown.

Picketing was from 5pm to 7pm, and venues outside Dublin were not listed.

He goes on:

Could Sinn Fein, indefatigable as they are, have invented a controversy more suited to their needs than Rossport?

Here in one package is the perfect gift for them, wrapped up in an emerald green ribbon – an apparent David vs Goliath struggle which can make them look good, for a change; an issue which stirs the old nationalist blood, with the all-powerful foreign oppressor looting the natural resources of Ireland and grinding down the poor but defiant Irish people; a controversy which can advance Sinn Fein’s project in the South, and a means of getting an immediate result by chipping away at the local political establishment, the Enda Kenny types who echo McDowell’s dark talk about “Provo tactics” when they refer to “outside forces”.

All of this, he argues, is likely to be counter productive so far as the wider Irish population is concerned:

…any vaguely normal Irish person has already turned away from Rossport, for one obvious reason: when the light catches it a certain way, what’s going on there looks like something brought down from the North. Which, to the vast majority of folks watching the “clashes” on the RTE News, means that they don’t want to know about it.

The blazing intensity of it, the sheer west Belfast style of the protests, including some outstanding footage of men resisting arrest, writhing in the ecstasy of oppression as they are carried away by the peelers, all this turns the hearts of the people of the Irish republic to stone.

He concludes:

…part of the statement issued by the Rossport 5 on their release might have been drafted by Adams himself, with Ferris pacing the floor adding helpful suggestions. It went: “We remind Shell and their Irish Government partner that imprisonments have historically and will always fail as a method to secure the agreement of the Irish people.”

Ah yes, it’s that old ecstasy again – though with the TV cameras rolling and the press writing it all down, and an appearance on the Late Late, these days even oppression is not what it used to be. At this point the men were evoking the tradition of romantic republican heroes, the last line of resistance to the Crown.

At this point too, the cause was lost.

An interesting conclusion, the truth of which very much remains to be demonstrated in practice. Not least at the polls next summer.

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