Anthony McIntyre Mike Burke is in pensive mood after returning from Canada as a guest speaker at Sinn Fein organised conference on Irish unity (which is a considerable step forward in the party’s treatment of its contemporary critics). Still, Burke suspects that Irish unity is not foremost of the party’s motivations for this, one of a series, event in Toronto:
The first is to respond to the emerging critical opinion in Ireland that the peace process and the GFA represent serious losses for Provisional republicanism and the objective of reunification. Sinn Féin hopes to answer its critics by pointing to its mobilization campaign as evidence that it does remain a republican party working toward unity. But given the partys lack of any coherent strategy actually to achieve Irish unity, the (never-ending) process of moving toward unity has become more important than the outcome of a united Ireland. The function of the conference appears to be to buttress Sinn Féins republican credentials at the very moment those credentials are being questioned because of the absence of any real movement toward the primary republican goal.
The second purpose of the conference concerns the relationship between republicanism and electoralism. Sinn Féin recognizes that republicanism can be an efficient tool for collecting votes in Ireland and funds in North America and elsewhere. Here, republicanism is reduced to a rhetorical element in a party political campaign. Sinn Féin has, in effect, internalized the project of Irish unity, transforming it from a social and political objective to a partisan institutional goal: having Sinn Féin share governmental power in the north and the south is the essence of the endgame now. And even this limited outcome seems increasingly out of reach given the partys unexpectedly poor electoral showing in the south and recent signs of a stagnating vote in the north. While these conferences might rejuvenate Sinn Féin as an electoral machine, they do little to advance the realization of a united Ireland.
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