Suddenly there doesn’t seem to be that much time left for SF to fulfill its big promises of the past…

Two important things have happened in the last fortnight that have barely registered in a media preoccupied with a scandal that was already well on its way to being fixed before it hit our screens. 

One really big one was the revelation that serial abuser of children in his care William McGrath made up a spurious connection with military intelligence. For most of my adult life Kincora’s been a byword for sleaze and cover up. Yet it was barely covered. A fixed point in the narrative became a unexpected variable.

The second was the revelation that Martin McGuinness’ health condition is seriously life curtailing. His departure carried that extra tinge of emotion of a man who knows his time is shorter than he had until recently planned for. 

Time has suddenly turned enemy where it had so often been his friend. His lifelong friend and some time comrade in arms, Gerry Adams in interview with Pat Leahy at the Irish Times looked as if this unexpected turn had taken a toll on him too.

It’s possible this rolling up of time has not just affected McGuinness and Adams, but that aging band of rebels formerly known as the Army Council seems to have led to a radical ditching some of the party’s key touchstones:

Earlier this week, Mary Lou McDonald told The Irish Times Inside Politics Podcast that Sinn Féin should have “a conversation” about joining a Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil-led government, something the party ruled out before the last election.

Previously the party had insisted it would only join a left-led government. Is this a recasting of the party’s political strategy in the South?
“I have to say, I never really subscribed to that notion of a left-wing government, certainly not in the short-term. I mean, who are the left?”

This looks a lot like a shift in political strategy.

SF’s decision to sit out the horse trading after last February’s southern election cost it an opportunity to explain to the wider nation, not just it’s red lines, but what a government containing SF in the Republic might look like. Ditching leftism   (like armed struggle before it) is just another weight thrown from the balloon in order to regain height.

As the Irish Times editorial notes today:

Having triggered a northern election to a negotiation process in which it has no concrete red lines, over an issue which Adams now concedes is being handled adequately: the clock is now running down, rapidly. 

The party’s next “ten year plan” will undoubtedly be Adams’ last. Suddenly it seems, there’s not that much time left to fulfill the big promises of the past.

In time, almost all fixed points become variable. Interesting times ahead.

  • mickfealty

    What did Martin object to then? Do we know yet?

  • file

    It is quite clear in his resignation letter that Foster’s refusal to step aside to allow an independent inquiry was the reason he resigned. So I presume she was meant to say that in the planned joint statement on RHI – when she refused to do that, McGuinness no longer agreed with the statement or to it being a joint statement. At that stage it was a personal statement, and the incompetent Speaker should not have allowed her to make it. The resignation letter is parsed here by a Bel tel journalist.:

  • mickfealty

    That’s all? There’s indication of that being agreed on the 14th.

  • file

    Indication of what being agreed? McGuinness has made it clear in the letter and in interviews since that he was offering Foster ‘a way out’, a step aside for a few months until the matter was investigated a la Robinson, and that he was particularly annoyed at her response to his offer of co-operation. That tipped him over the edge: the other issues mentioned were then brought up as justification for the decision? I am only speculating here based on what he has said and written.

  • mickfealty

    Martin can say what he likes after the fact. But there’s no record or hint from SF that the support they promised then was conditional on Arlene stepping aside on the 14th.

  • file

    Oh right, I forgot. McGuinness must be lying because he is from Sinn Féin. My bad.

  • NMS

    Participation rate massively increased. Provos picked up 19.5% in Euros to just 13.8% in 2016 GE.

  • mickfealty

    Perhaps that is true, but it’s not at all what I’m actually saying. The actual evidence from before the breakdown indicates a joint approach to the matter up to and including the Executive meeting on the 14th December. It only unravels two days later after Gerry visits Martin in Derry.

    The demand for Arlene to step aside looks, smell and feels like a post hoc rationalisation in the disarray. So hasty and arbitrary was it that it seems the party’s own troops in the Assembly all appeared to have followed the pre U turn plan and abstained on the opposition’s vote of no confidence in Arlene.

    The substantive pre break down evidence points towards a SF plan to brazen it out with their DUP partners. As the Dissenter points out here (, the SF Finance minister as early as October was very clear about who was to blame, and it wasn’t the FM:

    He concludes:

    …we now have a Public Inquiry announced by that same Sinn Fein Minister, despite the reason given for the election was that the time for an investigation had passed and it was for the people to decide (though on what could be decided without the facts of a full investigation was never clear).

    What changed between the 14th December and the 19th December? Why are we now having an inquiry, and an election, when Sinn Fein said it had to be the latter without the former – yet we now have both?

    All we know, though not the reason why, is that something in Sinn Fein’s thinking decided that instead of shouldering the burden of Government as it had agreed on the 14th December…

    McGuinness’s assertions in his resignation letter don’t even begin to explain this massive flip flop on the part of SF.

  • Cináed mac Artri

    I read the last paragraph in your post as a reference to IRA violence as a response to “unionist intransigence”, having first of course dismissed “letters to the BT” as an option. If that was a misinterpretation on my part I apologise.

    It was then from that interpretation of your comments that I went on to make the remarks I did about IRA terrorism.

    You are correct when you state that it is for me to “chose to ignore” whatever I wish. I’ll undertake to refrain from directing the preferred contents of your comments. Perhaps you’d afford me the same curtesy?

    Of course if you prefer you can simply “ignore” my posts. I think of these comment threads as not merely a series of two-way conversations. Rather they are open forums for a larger audience to either participate in by posting, or if they prefer just read. In that circumstance all comments are thrown into the mix.

  • Cináed mac Artri

    I’ll allow the “British people” to make whatever moral judgments they will on the “legacy of violence which a belicose and irresponsible Unionism set in motion”. Unlike the IRA I don’t believe that Unionism claimed to be acting on behalf of the Irish people.

    But really? 1912? Again? Doing a little bit of “simply colouring” yourself I would suggest. I am not “targeting the IRA as the sole author of all our woes”. That is a transparent straw man argument ventured for the sole purpose to allow you to easily brush it aside.

    So I’m not buying your product. I would only be in that market should I feel that my python was in need of an application to soften and shine its skin.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Interestingly, Cináed, pre-Great War Unionism was actually claiming that in being prepared to smash Home Rule with violence it was genuinely “acting on behalf of the Irish people.” Their desertion of their fellow Unionists in the south (interestingly, in countenencing partition they technically broke the terms of the 1912 Covenant they had signed) was certainly out of what Mussolini (and Salandra) called “sacro egoismo”, but before partition Unionism did present their anti-constitutionalism as somehow acting for all Ireland.

    After checking out two months of your comments, out of 58 comments, only 16 actually mention the IRA, I’ll admit, but I’d still think it safe to say these comments in general are “targeting the IRA as the sole author of all our woes”, as anyone sufficently concerned would clearly see in checking them out. Look, it would be absurd to suggest that the IRA were not culpable for their particular violence, but it must always be seen in the context of a tango between Unionism and Republicanism, where Unionism set the lead steps…… you really beleive we would have experienced a century of violence had Unionism entered a Home Rule parliament in Dublin in 1912, as a full quarter of teh members? Most sane people, even a few people in the UUC itself, fully expected the tensions to settle and a working mode to be resolved once the Unionist bluff was called. Sadly it wasn’t.

    And don’t worry I’m not selling a product of any sort, simply pointing to the one significant if most inconvenient truth of Unionism’s inceptive role in the century of tragedy we have all inherited from their bellicose folly in 1912. But please don’t be discouraged, I’m having the delightful frisson at times of, for example, having Eamon Phoenix quoted against me in your responses, and, wearing my neo-Jacobite hat, I did enjoy your demanding of another poster “Are you sure that Cromwell arrived with “his crown forces”? Can you post sources?” Keep up the entertainment……..

  • Cináed mac Artri

    Its heartening to see that you now recognise that it is “absurd to suggest that the IRA were not culpable for their particular violence”. A small step I grant you, but at least you may be beginning to understand that moral rectitude did not end in 1912 and all those indulging in violence since fully possessed agency in their actions.

    So both “entertainment” and education.

    That you felt the need to take time and review my comments suggests to me that you may be too tightly wound to participate in online forums. I hope your ad hominem mining was an enjoyable experience. Although your conclusions suggest that, yet again, you only think you see what you want to see.

    Of course it might just be that you are that kind of individual who prickles whenever your dubious analysis is called into question. Let me be clear. I have no issues whatsoever with your partisanship, we all have our prejudices after all. But surrounding it, as you do, in protestations of no bias can jar at times. I’d be surprised if I was the first to remark on this.

    Not to worry. I’m sure that a polymath such as your good self must have worked as a psychoanalyst at some point in your eclectic career? If not you must have a close friend/family member suitably qualified with whom you could reflect.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Cináed, if I am somehow simply seeing what I want to see, please put me right! If you actually can, that is. Your responses seemingly have a character of “Ulster says NO” response, rather than an engagement in any detailed discussion. “Dubious analysis”, and the rest pretty much, is, as usual, an assertion, not an actual argument. But perhaps you are unaware of this.

    I’d checked your comment record in order to see if I were being in any way unfair to you, as my concern is genuine and objective debate rather than this silly school yard scoring of points you appear to assume is the only reason for anyone to comment here. I’m very happy to “defrost and eat crow” where its really required, but after checking your comments out, this is clearly not one of those situations. From what I read, and anyone else can read, you still appear to blame only the IRA and fail to even begin to see the all important “gestalt” of our communal dance of death locally. And perhaps if you were more familiar with my own comment record over eight years you’d not fall into the odd mistake of assuming I’m somehow “partisan”. My loathing for Unionism is well balanced with an equal distaste for the violent Republicanism it has recklessly spawned, something I learnt long ago face to face with both in the late 1960s, early 1970s, and certainly not something I’m in any way obliged to your imagined educational skills for. But “entertainment”, yes…….

  • Cináed mac Artri

    In large part, for me personally that is, “Ulster” (or more pointedly six of the province’s counties) can “say” whatever takes its fancy.

    I see however that you are back on your familiar beat: “Unionism…….the violent Republicanism it has recklessly spawned”. I’ll call it the ‘1912 Paradigm’. You could have looked back another few years and found yourself presented with the example of Fenian terrorism. Of course that would have perhaps involved you in some convoluted logic to pin that one on unionism.

    In 1875, writing in New York’s ‘Irish World’ newspaper, Fenians called for violence against Britain to “keep the faith (Irish nationalism) alive”. Subsequently what was called the ‘skirmishing fund’ was set up to finance terrorist violence in Britain. From that flowed the ‘Fenian Dynamite’ bombing campaign.

    Of course even before that Irish nationalist terrorism was not unknown. Indeed the UK government had shown itself susceptible to reacting to such violence, or the threat of violence. Having been “woken up” by the bombing Gladstone had disestablished the Anglican Church in Ireland and moved on land reform.

    Perhaps then it was unionists looking back on the later years of the 19th Century from 1912 who learned the lesson, provided by nationalists, that a UK government could be swayed by the adoption of a violent posture by those who objected to its policies in Ireland?

    Unlike some I could mention I do not of course subscribe to the argument that earlier historical incidents robs a contemporary group of responsibility for its actions. The unionists of 1912, in common with the nationalists of 1916 and 1919, decided the improper course of action which they embarked on. History is simply not that compelling. If it were so we would all be marking time at some point in the Dark Ages.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I would highly recommend reading the actual history of the period in some detail, rather than relying on broad generalised and quite retrospective impressions as you are doing. As Gustave Flaubert said “Le bon Dieu est dans le détail.”

    Yes, 1875, the IRB was striving to keep violence as a decisive characteristic of nationalism, but by 1900 the IPP and John Redmond had teh entire support of most of Ireland entirely committed to constitutional change. Both the British Report on the 1916 Easter Rising and as “un-Nationalist” a commentator as the Belfast Medievalist Helen Waddell could place the blame for the return of violence squarely onto Unionism, Carson and the UVF. Helen speaks of an Ireland of her day entirely committed to law and order being recklessly disrupted by Unionism. And there are endless contemporary sources for this if you are researching teh period and not simply coming from your recieved impressions.

    The actual motivations of the UUC after 1905 are complex and would need a lot of unpacking, but essensially the resort to violence was a “fishing excursion” to wreck Home Rule. No one realised where it would lead at the time, but it set in motion the popularisation of a violence which Parnell and Redmond had carefully removed from the Irish political vocabulary. And while you seem to believe that history does not work through patterns of influence, simply try and imagine an Ireland with a peaceful Home Rule transision in 1912-14 to begin to see just how very influential the Unionist choices really were, for without the UVF, no Irish Volunteers would have come into being, and the IRB would have been a tiny fringe political group without either the influence or military organisation to even begin to envisage 1916. Your conflation of 1912 and 1916 above is a bizarrely ahistorical take on something which was actually a case of very direct “cause and effect.” Actual success (not reifications such as “history”) is always “compelling” and the unquestionable success for Unionism, with their invocation of violence, encouraged others to follow an example which semed to promice a similar success for their other aims, just as the success of Parnell had encouraged an earlier turning away from an IRB violence which then clearly promiced no success whatsoever. We are accordingly all suffers here for over a century from the unthinking Unionist rejection of constitutionalism, even if you personally choose to blind eye such entirely evident patterns of influence for some odd ideological reason of your own.