Sinn Feins position over the home coming parade has been analysed and discussed in withering, nay tedious, detail. In the absence of much else happening politically it has been the most interesting (and hence, the most over covered) event recently; apart of course from various BBC presenters and their behaviour. In the absence of much else to talk about and since I have not blogged for a while (due to a computer fatality) I thought I might add my tuppence worth.The most surprising thing about the controversy has been the fact that people seem surprised that Sinn Fein has done this. What do people really expect of them? Suggestions that we should have moved beyond events like this are naïve in the extreme. Sinn Fein is of course a political party. It also more than that; it is a part of a movement. Things like movements need to do stuff like protesting and furthermore to protest against the home coming parade makes perfect sense from their position.
To object to the parade has many very positive aspects for SF: It allows them to antagonise the overwhelming majority of the unionist community yet pretend to allay themselves with the broader progressive left, many of whom oppose the war in Iraq. Conflating the war in Iraq which was controversial from its inception with the war in Afghanistan is of course an extremely common tendency and one by no means limited to SF. It is, however, worth remembering that very few voices were raised against toppling the beheading, limb amputating, and women suppressing Taliban as compared to the opposition to the invasion of the WMD-less Iraq (a secular nasty dictatorship which just happened to be run by a Muslim).
Attacking the army either physically or otherwise has of course always been very popular with republicans. The fact that the overwhelming majority of these soldiers are actually from Northern Ireland and are probably mostly Protestants allows that perfect combination for republicans of sectarian Prod bashing hiding behind opposition to the British army (how many times have we seen that, especially 21 years ago, with particularly brutal results). The fact that a significant number of the soldiers are not actually Protestants can of course be ignored, as can the fact that large numbers of these supposed imperialist aggressors are actually doctors and nurses who have been looking after the sick from all sides and none in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Whilst SF will claim to the progressive left that the opposition to the home coming parade is opposition to one of the most unpopular wars since Vietnam, they may well paint a different picture to their Irish American supporters (best not to do things a bit like the Phelps), just as they have painted a very different picture here. Adams is not alone in majoring on the unacceptability to republicans of the British army in the troubles and again conflating the two issues is as easy for republicans as it is useful for their aims.
In addition the rally and protest will give the republican base something fun to do on a boring November Sunday, especially one near the hated Remembrance Day. Keeping the grass roots happy and involved and making sure that they do not feel that the republican movement has lost its way has always seemed to be an overridingly important aim for Sinn Fein. The protest will be a most effective way of doing this and will demonstrate that it is not just éirígí and such like who are still interested in these sorts of protests. In this it is of course a bit like Martina Anderson and her Standing up for Derry earlier in the year. Like that episode it is also gaining additional public attention for one of Sinn Feins younger rising stars, in this case Paul Maskey, who seems to be the lead person for this latest episode.
This protest also has similarities with another Martina Anderson fronted episode: Unionist Engagement. Like the late lamented Unionist Engagement, this episode can be presented in a relatively favourable light to some liberals and those outside Northern Ireland. Just like unionist engagement, however, it is an event planned to antagonise unionists who have unsurprisingly risen to the bait: not to do so would have been completely impossible. Republicans can then play the injured party and denounce unionists for opposing their freedom of speech. The storm of protest about SFs plans from practically all sections of unionism and from many outside it simply helps the republicans in this game. At the event itself, if there is any violence SF can denounce unionist aggression and no doubt police brutality. Even if there are no problems there will undoubtedly be claims of intimidation of various sorts. If republicans cause any trouble their actions can of course be explained as provoked, if they cause none it will demonstrate their reasonableness in the face of provocation.
Again like unionist engagement any opposition to or concern about the parade from any unionists or others can be presented as showing how supposedly divided unionists are, how bigoted those taking part in the homecoming parade and their supporters are and hence, how completely reasonable SF are in protesting. The suggestion by a Presbyterian minister who was with the forces that a service would have been more appropriate fits perfectly with the divided unionists narrative and chimes with Adamss supposed reasonableness in suggesting something other than a parade.
The only surprising thing in all this is the surprise and anger from many that SF are doing what they are doing. Some might like to believe that SF have had manners put on them and are now house trained or have “moved on.” Episodes such as this merely show that SF are as clever as they have always been and are still hold to exactly the same world view. After Sunday, however, I am sure there will be a bit of denouncing and complaining from the likes of the DUP, along with the suggestion that SF are now reduced to only being able to complain and cause minor trouble like this; such is the completeness of the supposed DUP victory scored at St. Andrews. That of course fits perfectly with the DUPs narrative.