“It wasn’t meant to be like this..”

In the Sunday Times, Liam Clarke has a critical assessment of Sinn Féin’s fortunes following their weekend Ard Fheis.

The party is struggling despite conditions that favour it. Parties of the far left and far right traditionally do well in recessions when establishment thinking is seen to falter. Nationalism can also prosper at moments of economic crisis.

But to do so, a political movement needs a clear vision, must seize the popular imagination and develop policies that offer hope to the dissatisfied. This is what Sinn Fein lacks. Its history has not prepared it for the current situation. After the Good Friday agreement, failures and setbacks were not in the script. Sinn Fein assumed the glamour of the peace process, the sense of relief it engendered, and the apparently charmed leadership of Adams would pay political dividends indefinitely.

For a time the payback did flow. The party thrived by extracting concessions from the British and Irish governments in return for IRA weaponry. As its leaders shuttled between Downing Street, Dublin and the White House, the reflected glory burnished Sinn Fein’s credentials as the only nationalist party tough enough and influential enough to deal effectively with the DUP.

The process of selling the guns was played long and skilfully. But now it’s over, leaving Sinn Fein, in Sands’s image, looking rather like a lumbering, flightless dodo.

It wasn’t meant to be like this. Sinn Fein’s strategy was to move so quickly that it would never hit the ground. It would speedily enter government north and south, enabling it to squeeze unionists from both sides of the all-Ireland bodies and make the prospect of a united Ireland by 2016 look less of a hopeless case than it does now.

Read the whole thing.