SF adopting the Bertie Ahern ‘whatever you’re having yourself’ approach to policy?

There’s a lot of interesting response to the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis, but one of the most intriguing was this from Liam Clarke

The snap survey of 50 members, conducted by the ‘Belfast Telegraph’, shows surprisingly sharp divisions on several key issues. On dissidents, a picture emerged that showed grassroots attitudes are not as strongly opposed to such republican terrorism as the party leadership.

Party members were asked if an armed campaign was justified while British rule remained. Some 26pc agreed it was, while only 66pc disagreed. Only 12pc agreed with the North’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness’s statement that the dissidents were “traitors to Ireland”, while 72pc disagreed.

This disjuncture between leadership and grassroots in one of the most disciplined and authoritarian party structures is intriguing. It may be reflective of a party leadership which has raised creative ambiguity to an artform…

Martin McGuinness’s words after Massereene were bold, unambiguous, brave, even. But there’s been little in the way of confirmation that that viewpoint has played any active role of the party’s own wider narrative… which may be even whilst Mr Adams is calling for a border poll, some 23% of the party’s wider support suggest they would not vote for unification now

Fintan O’Toole once wrote of Bertie Ahern that “not worn out by pursuing high ambitions, he preserved his political stamina”. Rather he was seen as a…

…a character in a long-running soap opera. Such characters are meant to be people like us, except that an absurd number of dramatic things happen to them. Their marriages break down, they have complicated, drawn-out love affairs, their children marry pop stars and have twins, or become famous novelists overnight.

Their careers follow strange paths, with incredibly dramatic twists in which the job they want is suddenly snatched from them before, following further trials, they finally get it. But they themselves remain solid, reliable, familiar. The things that happen to them are functions not of their character, but of the plot.

Asked at the weekend by RTE’s Sinead Morris for This Week about Sinn Fein’s record of government in Northern Ireland I could only think of two things, both of them negative: the suspension of water charges (in lieu of preventing the privatisation of NI Water) and the abolition (or de facto privatisation) of the 11+.

Everything else has been provisional (excuse the pun) or more often reactive… The education policy which Conor Murphy cites, are cast offs from British Labour and consistent entirely of administrative changes effected by senior civil servants rather than political analysis.

Like Ahern and Haughey before him, the only serious objective appears to be the acquisition and retention of power… Otherwise it is a bit of ‘whatever you’re having yourself’…

In this schema divergence between the leadership and the base does not matter, so long as proposed actions are loose and pushed to the longer term and longer distance of an unknowable future

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