Send Sinn Fein to ‘re-negotiate’ Lisbon?

Gerry Adams quite rightly praised his party’s southern Referendum team. Although, he might have been better advised to let a rather more impartial observer identify it as a ‘Mary Lou’ factor. The team, notable for the absence of the Dail team, was youthful, thoughtful and reasonable. So reasonable that it has occurred to Fintan O’Toole that they, rather than Brian Cowen should be asked to ‘re-negotiate’ the arrangements for the future (subs needed).

I want to make a suggestion that many readers will find disturbing and that some will see as fanciful. But I don’t make it in any spirit of facetiousness or bluff-calling. Things are far too serious for any such self-indulgence. The job to be done now is to mediate between the Irish refusenik majority on one side and the leadership of our EU partners on the other. I want to suggest that while no one is ideally placed to do that, one party is much better placed than any other. That party is Sinn Féin. The people have spoken and Sinn Féin comes closer than anyone else to speaking for them.

I say this for two reasons. One is that Sinn Féin, unlike the other major No factions, is a national political party. This is not true of, for example Libertas, whose prominence in the No campaign was purely a function of money. (It is ironic that Libertas, the least transparent and accountable body ever to have played a major role in Irish democratic politics, campaigned for transparency and accountability in Europe.) Neither is it true of Youth Defence (which declined to seek a mandate by deciding not to campaign under its own name) or of the many small left-wing groups whose energy and activism contributed greatly to the strength of the No vote but who would not claim a broad national profile.

The second reason why Sinn Féin is best placed to articulate the No vote is the nature of its campaign. Its main advocates, Mary Lou McDonald and Pádraig MacLochlainn, performed very impressively and, for the most part, without resorting to hysteria.

The coincidence of the highest No votes with areas where Sinn Féin is strong suggests that it was also very effective on the ground. And crucially, Sinn Féin’s whole appeal was based on a simple proposition: “A Better Deal In Europe”. The argument it made, and that a majority of the people bought, was that, if we voted No, we could go back to the table, get a better deal on a range of issues, and vote again. Whether you think this is true or not (and I don’t), the fact is that the Irish people chose to believe that it is.

The one patent absurdity in Sinn Féin’s otherwise effective argument is the repeated contention that “A No vote on June 12th will give the Irish Government a strong mandate to negotiate a better deal for Ireland”. It is pure nonsense to suggest that a No vote gave the Government a mandate to do anything. You get a mandate by winning the popular vote, not by losing it. The peoples’ democratic verdict is that it does not trust the Government to negotiate on its behalf in this area of vital national interest. The people trust Mary Lou McDonald much more than they trust Brian Cowen to do a deal for us in Europe. The political establishment can’t cop out from that reality – but neither can Sinn Féin.

It’s an intriguing thought experiment. He suggest the following format:

Replace Dick Roche as Minister for European Affairs with, say, Pádraig MacLochlainn (via the Seanad). Give him the sincere and whole-hearted backing of the apparatus of the State to deal with the EU leadership. If he gets a fraction of what Sinn Féin believes to be attainable, it will be a wonderful achievement. If he doesn’t, the electorate will at least know a fundamental premise of the No vote was mistaken.

Aye. And perhaps, one day, pigs will fly too Fintan? 🙂

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