Any advance beyond 2016 without a reckoning of Sinn Fein’s past, will yield rotten fruit

Gerard Howlin, a former special advisor to the last Fianna Fail led government, has an interesting column in the Irish Examiner today on the democratic problem Sinn Fein’s troubles legacy poses for the Irish state..

As he notes that though the tide of independents may ebb, Sinn Fein’s presence is very real and considering the much higder level of resources they are able to pump into the Republic’s system from elsewhere (no one else can afford to stand professional candidates for instance), they aren’t going away you know…

Given his background, he adds some useful context to his government’s decision to reintroduce the commemoration of 1916. He claims it was…

…both progress and politic. It said that the Rising was not the ideological property of the Provos. The Easter commemoration was put in a carefully balanced context where for the first time, the Battle of the Somme was commemorated as well.

Not only could the Easter lily be worn with pride, so too could the poppy. Ireland has different and identities and thenceforth they would be honourably celebrated in harmony.

If statecraft was one influence, so was practical politics. 2006 was both the 90th of the Easter Rising and the year before a general election. Fianna Fáil intended to enforce its constitutional republican credentials in the face of Sinn Féin’s challenge.

He continues…

Since then a lot has changed and much of that change is irreversible. It is Fianna Fáil who were subsequently on the receiving end of an even greater reverse in 2011. Whatever the scale of its future revival, it will not in a foreseeable future be the political power or the pillar of constitutional republicanism it was in 2006. Sinn Féin has moved on, not only electorally, but politically.

The ambiguity that marked its absence from the 90th centenary will be history when it attends the centenary in 2016. I accept the genuineness of their commitment to the peace process, and I fully understand the importance of their role in sustaining it. But if some ambiguities have been clarified, others remain. If largely ignored, they are also inexorably coming centre stage.


There is an omertà, of unspoken but open secrets, about what went on, went unreported, and remains unacknowledged within nationalist communities. The irony of apparently ever increasing electoral support for Sinn Féin is a jettisoning by default, of the inherently partitionist posture of southern politics.

The ultimate consequence will inevitably at some point be a reverse takeover of both a responsibility and a demand for accountability for the recent nationalist past in Northern Ireland. While Sinn Féin remains in opposition, its past is the currency of political charge, but no more. In government, holding the seal of office, an unresolved, and unmediated past will become a central issue for the integrity of the State.

Then the crux of the piece (and, perhaps, the whole matter)…

This cannot happen without a reckoning, and a truth telling. Any attempt to advance beyond 2016 without such a reckoning, will yield rotten fruit. A commemoration that is not an exorcism, as much as a remembering, will fail in ultimately its only useful purpose; the modernisation of the Republic and the stabilisation of the peace process.

He concludes…

The lesson of our recent history is that eventually every omertà collapses. Unaddressed and unresolved, its past role in its own communities will inevitably collide with the future it expects in government.

Industrial schools, Magdalen laundries, and Mother and Baby homes all stood for decades in plain sight. What they were for, was unspoken, but never a secret.

  • Mc Slaggart

    Will the Soldiers of Destiny call a ‘political ceasefire’?

    Apparently not. Good luck to them but they also need to address “what did you do in the war daddy”

  • Mick Fealty


    I mentioned the FF connection so you didn’t have to. How long is it since your last Red Card?

    In the meantime, read the whole thing?


    Adds: Retribution will have to wait as we are moving away from this platform later today.

    Suffice to say that Slugger has a reputation for grown up conversation.

    That’s in part because we don’t treat news as though it were yesterday’s chip paper. We also value diversity in those who blog fo us and those who comment.

    It’s also because the moderating policy (play the ball, not the man, in case you had forgotten) is intended to privilege signal over noise.

    You have offended for the last time. So, you may take this as a Black Spot. I don’t intend to implement it technically here or on the new Disqus driven comments, as I’ll trust you (initially) to abide by the ref’s ruling.

    So long McS, and thanks for all the fish

  • “In government, holding the seal of office, an unresolved, and unmediated past will become a central issue for the integrity of the State.”

    From an Irish government perspective, why are parapoliticians in government not a problem in Belfast but would be a problem in Dublin?

  • Mick Fealty

    Well it isn’t, unless someone chooses to make it so.

    Howlin seems to be laying down a marker/standard for the sovereign executive of his own country in a way that clearly concerned him less regarding Northern Ireland when setting up the Belfast Agreement/St Andrews Agreement.

    That doesn’t mean he’s wrong. Some of this is about flagging serious lessons from history (even if it is inconveniently recent). So there’s a very loud echo of this ‘rotten fruit’ analogy in Peter Preston’s sonorous warning from 2007 that ‘nothing good can be built on such poisonous foundations’ (…

    It certainly beats a cheap haymaker from An Taoiseach in the Dail…

  • Mick Fealty

    Yes Joe. We are lucky to have Brian O’Neill from working on a new, less resource hungry site right now. It will also make it easier for people not registered with Slugger to comment. In the meantime, McS has a history of hijacking/misdirecting threads just like this one.

    I do not issue black cards lightly (less than ten in five years) He’s not coming back under any circumstances.

  • Fortlands

    I’m not sure what Mc Slaggart’s sin is; but if he’s unambiguously critical of the OO, surely he has a right to be so? And grounds for it. The most cursory reading of the OO’s history show that it is a force for division in Irish history, that it is deeply conservative ( anti-Catholic Emancipation 1829, anti-Great Reform Act 1832) and that it is anti-Catholic. There are of course thousands of decent Orangemen who look to the Twelfth for a bit of crack in a dull summer; but the organisation to which they belong has rules and history that are shameful.

  • mickfealty

    Yay, we are back…

  • Jag

    Amazing that FF feels SF needs the catharsis of a day of reckoning, when we’re all still scratching our heads at the antics of Bertie, and still don’t know how, as a nation, we came to guarantee €440bn of bank debt in 2008. In what other country where there was a civil war, has one of the sides had to undergo public mea culpas before sitting in government?

    Don’t know what Mick means by “no one else can afford to stand professional candidates for instance”. What’s a “professional candidate” when it’s at home.

    “The irony of apparently ever increasing electoral support for Sinn Féin is a jettisoning by default, of the inherently partitionist posture of southern politics.”
    Now, that’s just plain wrong because SF went into reverse in the South between 2002 and 2007, amid an economy that was booming. SF can’t bank on an “ever increasing electoral support”, it hasn’t won over the unions (and SF looked ill-at-ease at the Greyhound protest in Dublin this week where other Left wing parties and Labourites were obviously embraced closer to the SIPTU bosom than SF), and the economy is slowly improving (there might even be an expansionary budget this year). SF is well ahead of its 14 TDs at the 2011 GE, but I think it will find it difficult to exceed 30 at GE 2015/6, and if the economy grows, unemployment falls and there is no more austerity, the SFers may find it difficult to exceed (or maybe even reach) the 30.


    “Constant comparisons [of the OO] to the KKK were made which were and are deeply offensive and conforming to stereotypical views which you have touched on also showed a lack of knowledge on the subject.As Mick has said there were other reasons too”
    What Mick actually said ” rest assured none of it has anything to do with OO”

    Anyway, as soon as Mcs learns how to create another profile and email address (and possibly gets IP masking) he/she’ll no doubt be back.

  • Michael Henry

    ” the rising was not the ideological property of the Provos “never heard them saying that it was-A Sinn Fein Dublin Lord Mayor for the 100 anniversary event will say to the world who is the Republican daddy-

  • Tacapall

    ” holding the seal of office, an unresolved, and unmediated past will become a central issue for the integrity of the State”

    The only honest line in the article worth mentioning. I guess thats why Gerry Adams denies the things he denies. I’d bet Prince Charles wished he’d never met Jimmy Saville just like David Cameron’s wishing he’d never heard of operation fairbank.

    Its not Sinn Fein as a political party that needs to worry about any future embarrassing or shocking revelations. Its more than likely those individual politicians that maybe pose a threat to the integrity of the Irish state wont be in a position to pose a threat.

  • john gray

    If I recall rightly it was never an impediment to the rise to power of the erstwhile Republicans of ‘slightly constitutional’ Fianna Fail that they never came clean on the uglier aspects of the War of Independence or the Civil War. Accordingly it ill behoves a former FF advisor to construct a bogus historical trap for Sinn Fein. What will matter is what they propose and do now.

  • AMS2013

    Fiaana Failure.
    Whatever you say..Say Nothing.
    Who’d have thunk they’d have taken up a Belfast colloquism as their own.
    Thanks for the link…They haven’t gone away you know

  • Here are Gerard’s concluding remarks:

    The murder of Jean McConville and Robert McCartney are ultimately nonnegotiable obstacles to the future, not because they were exceptional, but because they are totemic signs of abuse over decades in brutalised communities.

    That brutality has complex origins, and many sources, including the security forces. But it is not confined to them, and ultimately it will not be confined to history.

    I think it will be ignored by SF and by those who chose to vote for them – in both jurisdictions; I suspect other parties will find a form of words to circumvent such issues should they choose to form an administration with SF elected representatives, voluntarily or to get a grip on the levers of power.

    Perhaps Gerard should take a closer look at how paramilitaries of various hues have been officially incorporated into the policing and justice system in Northern Ireland. It’s a process that’s strongly discouraged when it attempts to spread its tentacles into Ireland. This dual approach by Irish governments has a strong whiff of hypocrisy.

  • AMS2013

    so, Mick.
    Any articles in the Pipeline about the “marching season” or are you just happy to trawl the internet ( or you could just rely on that old Stalwart the Oirish Independent) looking for anti-SF stories.
    I think the next time Loyalists walk out.Issue Joint statements with Unionist Terror groups and “mainstream” Unionist parties ( Duality of Unionism to violence 1-Oh-1 );
    You should just write the headline: “Oh look Squirrel”
    Pity you don’t have an American audience you could write about Benghazi ( in reference to the Neo-Cons in the gud ole US of A who like to try and besmirch Obama over the embassy attack there)
    You are like one of those whistles that only the Dogs can hear, at this stage.

  • Brian Walker

    I wonder .. If we all live in the present maybe the past will take care of itself. Views like Howlin’s today and John A Murphy’s a couple of days ago may influence opinion. I certainly enjoyed reading them. Howlin’s may also be about Fianna Fail steeling itself to contemplate coalition with Sinn Fein and asking them “c’mon guys fess up, get that stuff out of the way and then we can do business”. But beyond that do they matter politically?

    Many Irish politicians and commentators want a nice clean history elevated in state ritual as an expression of essential unity, much as victory over Napoleon is remembered in Britain without offence to the modern French. The South’s reconciliation with Britain has reached a point whereby disagreement seems limited over whether to invite royalty to the 1916 commemorations or not. SF doesn’t bang on about the integrity of the past ( that was left to Diarmaid Ferriter). Gerry Adams being all too aware of history for a political purpose was
    cool with that if not actually enthusiastic: “Sure they’re all Redmondites anyway.”

    Sinn Fein surely do have credibility as the modern representatives of the physical force tradition which happened to make peace more recently than others. Just as FG and FF were reconciled in an agreed political system so now Sinn Fein. What’s wrong with that?

    There is no moral mechanism that delivers them to nemesis. The people are sovereign, God damn them. We fastidious folk have to live with that.

  • sean treacy

    Jag ,the leftists of the ULA and similar groups have no time for SIPTU at all.They regard them as puppets of what they regard as the “neoliberal” Labour party.

  • martivickers

    I apologise, Mick, but you explain, in plain, non flowery, non-euphamistic English, exactly what McS did wrong here?

  • mickfealty


    Briefly, it was for long term trolling. He’s had three or four Red cards along the way (which in itself is exceptional).

  • mickfealty


    You want to write a piece for us? Be my guest.

  • Robin Keogh

    I think by the time the shinners get to be a serious force in government their will be practically nobody left in the party with a substantial connection to the troubles. Regardles, the people are indeed sovereign so if the Irish people put SF into governemnt everybody else will just have to suck it up. The public are slowly forgiving and forgetting any so-called wrongs attributed to Adams and SF mainly because they are tired of the obsessive media saturation and because they are sick and tired of the traditional parties using so-called misdeeds to try deflect from their own shortcomings. People are more concerned with what is happenning in their lives now and have little patience anymore in listening to the tired old one-sided rhetoric. Both McGuinness and Adams are accepted internationally as statemen and politicians of substance so brand Ireland is unlikely to suffer much of a dint should the Shinners finally cross the floor into government. Its simply wishful thinking on the part of some if they hope they can push the shinners into some sort appropriate confessional. It simply will never ever happen outside an independent international commission; the likelyhood of even that happening slips further away each day as parties to talks walk away, preferring to jerk off over King Billy rather than face their responsibilities. Whatever happens, the Shinners are playing a blinder at the moment on all social levels, from young councillors tasting power to Marty dancing with Lizzie. Its all good sailing into the green horizon.

  • gendjinn

    Why must someone else be the figleaf for your blogging of every single anti-SF op-ed published?

    Why can’t you find balance yourself, like you did up until a couple of years ago?

    Why was Merlyn Rees signed document admitting torture of internees in 71/72 not worthy of blogging? 50 OTR blogs? Not one about the British government torturing human beings?

  • AMS2013

    No, I am not a writer, but thanx for the offer.Just pointing out that your objections to SF seem to be moral ones, like the Unionist community tries to tell us. But then this same community has no problem standing shoulder to shoulder with Unionist “terrorists” when it suits them/Where are the morals gone.
    Furthermore, I think you have gone on record as been in agreement that collusion between the State and the paramilitaries went on, So that makes you different from most other Unionists..But once you step across that rubicon..How can you try and drive a moral argument..There are no morals left. Never was.

  • McSlaggart

    You try to contrive a perfect alibi, and it’s your perfect alibi that’s gonna hang ya.


  • Roy Walsh

    It strikes me that Fianna Fáil are treating Sinn Féin like a big dog and they’re the frightened rabbit. Much as I’m no fan of we ourselves, I do appreciate Sinn Fein being committed to having a national role in politics, rather than using the six counties as a political football, in a match which has lasted much more than 70 mins.
    Frankly, this just seems like a further attempt by Fianna Fáil to play the Republican card while not having it, in either their hand, nor up their sleeves.

  • mickfealty


    If people are going use these threads to tell me I should be writing about something other than the thing I’m write might save their breathe. I write about what I thinks important, and let others get on and do the same.

    It’s not an Argument Clinic you know, and I certainly haven’t been paid to provide such a service… 😉

  • gendjinn


    You have a bias that is slowly killing this once awesome blog. Your journalistic impartiality has been thrown overboard when it comes to SF & Adams in particular. The fact you blog every single anti-SF op-ed (not even a factual report but op-eds!) demonstrates your problem clearly.

    That combined with your continual neglect to cover stories about murder, collusion & torture by the British state only accelerates the decay.

    Your responses to criticism are becoming more disappointing as it slowly erodes the crediability you created when you set up the first (and really only) place where nationalists & unionists engage in reasoned debate. I really don’t want to see that lost.

  • mickfealty


    In the broader pattern of things, my view on Slugger is just one of many others. I don’t tell any of our bloggers what they should or should not write about, beyond the general advice of ‘be good and be legal’. Nor do I recruit people to replicate my views on things. In fact the opposite is the case.

    I try (emphasis on the word ‘try‘) to be fair and balanced in my criticism of SF. Even though I am not a fully paid up member of the media Quire, you will never find me skating or shallow in my praise of their electoral progress, for instance. I also make efforts neither to exaggerate (for its negative effect) or to play down those achievements.

    In short, I believe in smart crowds, not stupid herds. Slugger’s value over the years is its very diversity and it’s multiplicity of view both in the blogging team and in the commenters.

    Of course quality matters too, but some of the highest quality (or at least the most impactful) contributions have been from first time or one off commenters. In the broad lines of the Northern Irish politics slugger is, for all its roughness, one of the saner watering holes in these here parts.

    So, in fact, I interpret your criticism of me as the only one criticising SF as a solid confirmation that this is a diverse community (though still not diverse enough for my liking) and not one where you can read the same opinion from different people on different days (which is sadly the case even amongst some of our better newspapers).

  • gendjinn


    No argument with your first four.

    Your last is both factually incorrect and a gross misinterpretation of my point. I reference 50 OTRs – review them, you weren’t the only person writing them. You know for a fact that you are not the only one on your blog whose hobby horse is SF. In fact it’s risible. You absolutely are not fair & balanced on SF (unless you mean in the Fox sense, in which case I resoundingly concur).

    It’s not that you have an obsession with SF & Adams, it’s that the quality of shite you reference to service that obsession is demeaning to quality journalism. Again I refer you to 50 blogs on OTRs and zero on the British state torturing humans.

    You founded the blog. You are the sole proprietor. You are telling your readers that Adams stubbing his toe is far more worthy of Your comment than the torture of innocent people who were swept up off the street without charges. Your obsession is the tragic flaw that is eating away at the creditability and viability of this site.

  • mickfealty


    Here’s all the stories tagged OTRs:

    It may not be all of them of course, but I would imagine it accounts for the larger part. They come to a great deal less than 50. And they are all pretty reasonable.

    SF has a past, that we all know. We knew it at the signing of the Belfast Agreement and St Andrews Agreement.

    The key issue on OTRs is, and it remains, was Operation Rapid used by the NIO to issue blanket letters which gave IRA volunteers the impression they had a de facto amnesty?

    SF publicly denies it. Hain implies they did. But we don’t know the answer to that yet.

    All of which brings us back to Howlin’s point..

    …holding the seal of office, an unresolved, and unmediated past will become a central issue for the integrity of the State.

    It remains to be seen whether there’s any length in that assertion. SF has repelled most serious attempts make it accountable for what it’s leaders did ‘during the war’.

    Not fair or balanced? I’d like to see a few less watery examples before I attempt to answer any such charge?

  • mickfealty

    That’s just a little too convenient AM. My difficulties with the party generally sit around its flakey attitude to accountability and telling the truth, not simply about the past.