What’s the point of Sinn Fein’s United Ireland campaign?

Free of his Policing Board constraints, Denis Bradley has made a curious contribution to the “National Question.” In its United Ireland campaign in the US and NI (with more in Westminster from Gerry Adams on Tuesday), he urges Sinn Fein to stop attacking Fianna Fail.

Sinn Fein is attempting to be the primary champion of a united Ireland and a normal political party at one and the same time. It can be a champion or it can be a normal political party. It cannot be both.

He also wants it to drop its version of socialism on the grounds that there is already a Labour Party on the island.

I was arguing that any reference to socialism was a big mistake. It was complicating and obscuring the focus on a united country. It was a distraction from what Sinn Fein should be.

From Sinn Feins’s point of view I can’t see anything wrong with its claim to be the keeper of the unity flame, having fought and died for it etc. And its popular marxism is a useful sticky burr for picking up protest votes, even if it fails to impress southern voters at the moment. Bradley seems to be arguing for Sinn Fein to abandon its unique selling points. What is it then left with? A conspiracy theorist (not that I’m one) might suspect he has not got Sinn Fein’s interests at heart. My own view of course is that the Unity/ Unionist argument is a sterile one these days. Far better even for its own sake, for Sinn Fein to try to kill unionism by kindness and cooperation and ease up on political fundamentalism. While there’s a gap between how public opinion registers on the issues ( see Life and Times survey for 2008) and bottom line voting, there are signs that voters filter out fundamentalism anyway. I can’t see where a purely consolidation strategy like its United Ireland campaign is taking Sinn Fein. The big question is how to build momentum. It’s a different world over there in some respects, but Sinn Fein should take a look at how astutely Alex Salmond is increasing the popularity of the SNP, with an appeal that stretches beyond the core. Why not give it a try?

  • The problem for SF were it to go down the road of the SNP, is who would it appeal to. SNP has combined nationalism with centre-left reformism (old labour to you and I) They have been able to carry this off in Scotland because the Labour Party has moved so far to the right, Thus the SNP has stolen its old clothes and abolished prescription charges, Uni fees, etc, etc.

    True this type of thing would be popular with northern nationalists, but SF already has the majority of that vote and unionists cock a deaf to any party that calls for political unity on the island.

    Yes, such a program may also be popular in the south, but others have got there before SF, Labour for one. I see no alternative in the short term for SF but being a party of protest and that in Irelands means being on the left.

    As to Bradley’s game, if we dismiss dishonesty, could he be the frontmen for those within FF who believe the best way to deal with SF is to incorporate them within the FF fold. Of course this would mean offering the SF tops the prospect of office and the foot shoulders can F— off and form their own party or remain with the shell of SF, much like happened with the Workers Party after the tops upped and left for Labour.

    Preposterous perhaps? but few other parties in Ireland are as leadership top heavy as SF and despite all their claims as independent beings, when Mr Adams says jump, the SF rank and file replies how high Uachtarán na hÉireann.

  • Brian,

    I should have added that only last week there was talk that Adams should resurrect the pan nationalist front, could those who suggested it foresee SF and the SDLP being merged into FF?

  • Ray

    The united Ireland stuff is simply a red herring to take attention away from the hard cold reality that Sinn Fein’s participation in government has been a failure with the situation at community level continuing to deteriorate economically, socially, and education-wise. Crime has jumped up over the past several years.
    Sinn Fein has brought nothing to the table to benefit the little people on the street who first put SF in power.
    Giving the Shinners the benefit of the doubt anymore is starting to run out for many people.

  • John O’Connell

    Giving the Shinners the benefit of the doubt anymore is starting to run out for many people.

    Well said. Combined with the hunger strike issue, which is going to remove the “supernatural” element to Sinn Fein’s support and render them a normal party playing on a level playing field with the SDLP in the North, the timing now seems clear for the DUP-esque collapse in their political support. There may not even be a need for a Jim Allister republican to do a job on them, as the SDLP has been shadowing Sinn Fein (because Sinn Fein have been stealing their clothes) for some time now.

    I predict a large swing soon to the SDLP and away from Sinn Fein due mainly to the leadership of Gerry Adams going sour.

  • seamus friel

    Methinks Dennis Bradley certainly is not giving advice which is in Sinn Fein’s best interests. Could he have been approached by his senior Fianna Fail buddies and ask to float this one. Does Dennis believe that Sinn Fein will reply, “yes Dennis you are a very wise man, we will take your course of action which, as you know, will eventually finish us off for good!!!”
    As for the SDLP they are finished. They will keep their support in their stronghold Derry for the Forseeable future but they are finished everywhere else. Strange as John Hume, world statesman for 25 years delivered nothing for Derry but travelled the world picking up awards. At least Sinn Fein are trying.

  • I expect the SDLP to keep South Down as well as Derry. South Belfast might also stay with them. They are not as moribund as people like to think.

  • John O’Connell

    Perhaps this United Ireland campaign is really a smokescreen to deflect attention away from the fact that Gerry Adams is up shit creek without a paddle in relation to the hunger strike issue.

  • Ray

    John O’Connell,
    Not only is Gerry Adams up your favourite creek in relation to the hunger strike, he and his comrade, Martin McGuinness, are also up that very same creek in regard to Sinn Fein’s behind-the-scenes campaign to repress the Irish language.
    You start to connect the dots and you find an ugly pattern of deceit and lies that seems to benefit only those in power and not those at community level who need the benefiting the most.

  • With regard to what sinn féin offers people continually forget that the options down here are limited. I consider myself to be on the left and I consider myself a republican, so who can I vote for?

    Fianna Fáil offer the working people of Ireland nothing. They have presided over the biggest boom in Irish history and what did they do with the money? Where is the qulaity health service? Where are the new schools? etc.

    Labour – Are a party committed to coalition with FF or FG (presently FG). They refuse to unite with others on the left to try and craete a genuine left wing alternative to FF/FG right wing rule. They will simply talk left wing agendas and implement next to nothing when they get to power.
    In addition they refuse to organise on an all Ireland basis and do nothing ot promote the reunification of Ireland.

    So what about ISRP, Eirigi, RSF, etc. Well there size, lack of real wish for unity and lack of any real presence throughout the island goes against them.

    So what am I left with? For me the answer is SF. Yes, they can be criticised for a lack of real left policies in the North. But we all knew that enforced coalition would create that. We all know that the powers of the northern government are too limited to make real social change possible. However, things do not have to stay that way.

    In the south SF has been unclear on how to move forward with mixed messages being sent out. We are of the left and wish to build a left wing alternative, but we will go into coalition with anybody. We wish to provide better services for the working people, but we don’t wnat to scare the middle classes with talk of big tax increases. etc.

    For me and others in the party SF is at a massive crossroads. Is it a real left wing party? If so then let’s see that in action north and south. For me the only people that can ensure that happens are the memebrs of SF being organised and demanding that those at the top of the party listen to what we say have to say and the type of party we want.

  • Barnshee

    “Perhaps this United Ireland campaign is really a smokescreen to deflect attention away from the fact that Gerry Adams is up shit creek without a paddle in relation to the hunger strike issue.”

    I am as far from a SF supporter as it is possible to be but why pick on them?
    The entire farce that is the NI assembly is all UP shit creek. London has fixed the budget— there will be no more money –the need for painful decisions on cuts is being ignored and avoided.

    The sectarian divide is essential for the survival of the well salaried thugs, bigots and placemen. Emphasing and encouraging the divide will be essential in diverting attention when (and if) the uncomfortable truths begin to appear

  • starry plough

    Your point is sound and I wish you well, but I do wonder if the northern leadership of SF have a hard grasp on the situation in the South. At the last general election they seemed to believe they could ride in on a wave of grateful voters due to the part they played in the peace process.

    Then instead of nurturing a leadership from the bottom up and cherishing those who had held the fort down south during the bleak years, they thought they could parachute in to working class constituencies, nice middle class boys and girls. Which incidentally was the exact opposite of how they built the party so successfully in the North.

    Over the coming period the North will increasingly become a rather nasty sideshow, for the reason barnshee has given; and being closely associated with the sectarian Stormont stitch-up will not cut the mustard with the southern electorate.

    Thus perhaps it is time SF transferred its leadership base lock stock and barrel down to Dublin. After all if there is one lesson to be drawn from the failed long war strategy, it is if Ireland is to be reunited politically the engine for such change must be manufactured in the South.

  • Different Drummer

    Brain There never was a United Ireland Campaign just a series of public statements – if you were lucky.

    Now they have broken the back of their own nationalism and have succeeding in undermining what credibility they had left. (good bye Mary Lou)

    Belfast needs a Joe Higgins – perhaps we can persuade him to stand against Gerry – now that would be a contest worth watching and voting in.