Sinn Fein and the permanent process

Declan Kearney has been at it again, this time in Westminster. Alex Kane is out quickly in the News Letter today, rounding on Kearney:

“Here’s my other difficulty with Sinn Fein’s reconciliation project: described by Mr Kearney as “calling for an all-inclusive national discussion on reconciliation leading to the development of a national reconciliation strategy”.

By ‘national reconciliation’ Sinn Fein means a united Ireland. Fine and dandy – that remains their end goal. But it is not the end goal of unionism, so I don’t see how mainstream unionism and Sinn Fein can construct a reconciliation process based on mutually contradictory end goals.

Sinn Fein has actually acknowledged this, which is why both Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness have spoken of the need to persuade just ‘a section of unionism.”

Herein lies the rub. The only way Kearney’s speech could be regarded as breaking new ground would be if it involved some new acknowledgment on the part of republicans, the moving of a key chess piece. Instead, the opening section focused on colonialism and the ‘Orange state’ as the sole conditions for conflict in Northern Ireland.

This analysis simply re-states longheld Republican dogma; the last major shift on the part of the Republican movement, towards an acceptance of the principle of consent, required SDLP and Irish government cover . There were no Adams-esque hints within this speech, nor any sign of backers from within broader nationalism, but rather the fantasy politics of calling for a border poll and the abolition of the NIO.

In a sense, this is because Sinn Fein sees all politics as a form of protracted negotiation, a “process” of continuing speed and momentum, only partly interrupted by blips and short-term concession. Thus, we see an attempt to perpetuate the ‘peace process’ and a definition of reconciliation as the eventuality of a single Irish state, rather than a shared community within Northern Ireland first and foremost.

The difficulty is that, in calling for a border poll and conflating constitutional change with internal relationships within Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein only serve to highlight how far from their goal they actually remain. Recent spats with the DUP seem to be each party re-assuring their voting base they aren’t too fond of the other and intend to keep them in check- but this politics of mutually assured restriction is not the ‘process’ politics Sinn Fein requires if it is to avoid difficult questions about the viability of its project.

Without the political fuel of martyrs or fuming unionist politicians, Sinn Fein appears trapped in the mundane politics of the everyday. In a reverse of Ron Davies’ maxim, devolution is looking more like an event than a process, something unsettling to Sinn Fein hopes, a point Brian notes in that they seem to be moving to a ‘Devo Max’ first approach.

Interestingly, it is the Irish Republic where the battle for the soul of Irish Republicanism appears to have shifted, enmeshed in the politics of economic breakdown and electoral volatility. Reconciliation with Fianna Fáil looks unlikely!