“You cannot be everything to everyone. If you decide to go north, you cannot go south at the same time.”

With the extent of the growth of Sinn Fein in the Republic, it’s getting hard to give a convincing account of southern politics without also looking at what’s happening in Northern Ireland.

Until or unless there’s a split in the way that the party organises itself in each jurisdiction, it’s hard to account for all the twists and turns (of which there’s been many just this autumn alone) by only watching the party’s activities in the north or the south.

There are signals that something is in the offing in Northern Ireland, particularly in that report on the shift in Gerry Adams’ tone early last week.

Newton Emerson, almost always the recommended reading of a commentator who does take the trouble with his measured analysis of conditions on both sides of the border probably gave the most accurate description of the party’s strategy (£)…

Chaos has worked well for Sinn Fein in the past. But that was before they assumed responsibility for the political leadership of that very broad church indeed of people whose aspiration is for a politically unified island.

And there is the not inconsequentially small matter of having been in charge of “government” in Northern Ireland for the last ten years, with, by its own accounts, very little to show for the time invested there.

The first wave (collapse to the Assembly elections) produced much entertainment for angry Nationalists. Many enjoyed the slow dry roasting of the First Minister and the near overtaking of the DUP in the Assembly. But giving your opponents (and, more importantly, their voters) a near-death experience doesn’t always work out for the long-term good.

As the results in June’s UK General election began to sink in, it occurred to some commentators that the great strategist to end all great Irish strategists had painted himself into a corner. DUP insiders have been confident of a return to Stormont since mid summers but won’t (or can’t) say when.

As Newton correctly points out, Brexit has been something of a damp squib for Nationalism: largely because we still haven’t a clue what we should worry about, and just as importantly what we shouldn’t worry about.

Unionist Remainers have ditched their anti-Brexit pikes and are happily back on the mainstream Unionist farm. Any chance of building a broader, more policy-focused alliance for an open trading border dissipated long before the sectarian virtue signalling of the March election.

Yet journalists still persist in ascribing strategy to Sinn Fein. The only Northern Irish player to follow anything loosely described as a strategy has been the DUP (who’ve avoided past mistakes by investing in their Westminster presence long before supporting Brown’s 42-day detention rule).

Sinn Fein is blessed in their northern opponents. The estimable Seamus Mallon insisted to Enda McClafferty on The View last week that the SDLP were “no soft touch” but, in fact, his party has been far too consumed by fear and/or loathing of SF to offer voters a coherent alternative.

In the Republic, almost nothing new from Northern Ireland gets through (even when we actually do have something of substance to share).  This has blindsided southern pol corrs on how Micheal Martin’s pressure has worked on his would be rival to power Gerry Adams.

Yesterday Eoghan Harris, whose passion for Northern Irish affairs and civic Republicanism has made him exceptionally border blind, remarked:

…last Sunday week, speaking at Ballymurphy, Gerry Adams finally cracked under Martin’s repeated charge that Sinn Fein’s strategy was to refuse to return to devolved government.

Clearly provoked by charges of bad faith by what he called “the Fianna Fail leadership” (code for Martin), Adams was finally forced to make a move.

Adams said his party leadership was “up for doing a deal with the DUP and other parties and of moving back to the Executive on that basis”.

Amanda Ferguson in The Irish Times correctly described Adams’s response as a “challenge to the developing narrative that Sinn Fein is not committed to power-sharing in the North”.

But who created that “developing narrative” which Adams was spooked into challenging? Not Leo Varadkar nor Simon Coveney. It was all Micheal Martin’s work.

Martin began to pile pressure on Adams from last April in a series of corrosive speeches which really “called out” Sinn Fein, both on IRA legacy issues and on its Northern strategy.

Pat Leahy on Saturday picked up on the Varadkar/McDonald row in the Oireachtas last week, suggesting that the Taoiseach was retrying Enda’s strategy of trying to push Fianna Fail out of the picture, but as he says in the body of that piece:

[Martin] has been publicly picking rows with Sinn Féin for years. Even on Wednesday, when everyone was focused on the Varadkar-McDonald rumble, Martin was ridiculing the Sinn Féin deputy leader’s claims to have negotiated agreements in the North.

I was the minister for foreign affairs, he said acidly. You turned up for the photos. She was even less impressed with that, I’d imagine.

Varadkar’s strategy is clever and sharp. But it is also one that Fine Gael tried before the last election, and it didn’t work. Martin elbowed his way into the electoral debate, and Kenny and Adams were unable to talk around him.

Key is to distinguish between strategy and tactics. Strategies unwind themselves slowly over the long term, whilst tactics are visible in short-term engagements. It’s too early to judge what the Taoiseach’s strategy is yet (although on NI, he has looked suspiciously tactical).

As for Sinn Fein’s, it is persistence (which is a thing) through which they hope to seize power when everyone else is fully zombified. It worked with the SDLP and Labour (though not the DUP or FF). It got them 14% last year, but being pushed about by Fianna Fail is not a great sign.

From the start, Martin’s line has been first, to isolate Sinn Fein from southern voters (most of whom have never experienced the exegesis of war), then try to win them over to what he presents as a credible, pragmatic and centrist alternative.

The Taoiseach and his party reputedly have money, backers, some public goodwill and an appetite for an early election, but he will need to learn from his predecessor mistakes by responding with a few clear retail offers of his own.

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.

– Sun Tzu

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  • mac tire

    It’s “your opinion” in Irish, James.

  • Skibo

    I an a Catholic in his early fifties. I don’t believe in abortion but at the same time I don’t think I have the right force my beliefs on anyone else. Abortion is a very sensitive area and something that crosses both communities.
    Should people of a christian community be convincing young people that abortion an all situations is right?

  • Brinley McPolin

    I wish to remain British but I can still support Ireland in rugby/hockey/cricket but I guess you’d call them garrison games. Proud to be an Ulsterman, Irishman and British. But never for a UI, your reply shows sustain for my tradition. So us them does not apply to you? Like many nationalists you think you have a halo around your point of view and Unionists are irrational. I feel the title of cultural supremacist fits the green side of the house well

  • Granni Trixie

    No it suggests something is wrong. Even the best of leaders need replacing from time to time.

  • Skibo

    Who do you think could have replaced GA in all those years?

  • james

    Va bene – pero non vedo il motivo perche ‘sta tipo ha deciso d’usare una lingua il quale io, ovviamente, non parlo.

    Non siamo qui a communicare?

  • Granni Trixie

    That is beside the point. The more important thing is to create an organisation where fresh blood comes through and legacy planning is built into thinking.

  • New Yorker

    You did not answer most of the questions. “You don’t think people vote for certain parties because they facilitate people getting them in exchange for their vote?”. “What other countries do you know of with so-called “community workers”?
    And, BTW, what are the qualifications to become a “community worker”?
    Do you need a degree or the right phone number?”.

  • Skibo

    Are you suggesting that the SF party is not a youthful party? When you mention legacy, do you mean dealing with the past or replacing the leader to put legacy in the past?

  • mac tire

    I don’t know why you answered me like that as I was only trying to be of assistance. I answered you in a language you understood, to help you understand because you indicated you did not understand.
    You’re obviously trying to make a point here but it’s wasted on me. Try it on someone who gives a damn.

  • Jeff

    MM?

  • mac tire

    This is tedious. Great – give the community workers loot. Right, how do you guarantee they vote for you?
    Get someone to call to a door? Great – now how do you get them out of the house, with their screaming kids?
    Ah, you’ve “convinced” them? Great – now how do you know they will vote for you?

    So, after all your pleading, threatening, badgering and you get the horse to the water – how do you make it drink?

    Now, mind rays – why are you not up to date on these?

  • Skibo

    I don’t ever remember him putting himself forward for leadership.

  • Granni Trixie

    Whilst it is reasonable to assume in context of Ni I refered to Legacy of the troubles, I was infact using political jargon (sorry) which refers to Identifying and preparing candidates who can go forward for selection to replace and replenish others who step down. Sometimes a political party finds they have instantly to replace someone but in many cases it is predictable hence a party can prepare.

  • Skibo

    What part of Italy do you come from James?

  • Jeff

    That’s precisely the point, it’s a closed door.

  • Skibo

    The only reason someone puts their name forward for a job is it there is an opening or they think they can do the job better. Seems neither is the case.

  • james

    I come from Fermanagh, though I lived in Southern Italy for a time.

  • james

    I apologise if I offended – was not my intention – and the point was not directed at you.

    We can all speak English, so let’s use that.

  • Skibo

    So what has the Italian language got to offer the political problems of NI or are you just being pedantic?

  • james

    It has about as much to offer as the Irish language, since very, very few people here speak either.

    My point.

  • Skibo

    The issue is you use Irish every day and never realise it or just turn a blind eye to it.

  • james

    Which words?

  • New Yorker

    It is tedious to have to explain that if some dumbass associates with certain political parties, they get him a job as a “community worker” when he has no skills or brains, they sign him up to their party then he is likely to vote for them. I call that buying his vote. What do you call it?

    I have never known of a thirsty horse that will not drink water. I know something of horses, if they are thirsty they will drink the water without having to be forced, it is natural to them as it is to other mammals. You are playing the cod if you think it is not known how most individual people vote in NI. You find it impossible that there might be a bit of ‘monitoring’ going on? I don’t because many Irish are unduly curious about their neighbors, downright nosy and lack proper decorum when it comes to what others do and say.

  • babyface finlayson

    I don’t really wish to get into a futile argument about abortion, but my point is that the liberal policies you ascribe to SF do not include the issue of abortion at least in comparison to other European countries.
    I do not think it is a matter of convincing young people as they are more likely (according to polls) to be in favour of access to abortion already.
    It is a tricky issue for SF and one which they try to keep away from in my view.
    On my other pint do you think young people (north or south) are attracted by the sight of SF leaders continually turning up at IRA memorial events?

  • Skibo

    Do I think young people are attracted to Sinn Fein leaders because of their policies, Yes.
    Do I think it will come as a surprise that Sinn Fein leaders attend memorials of historical events, No.
    Are you surprised that Sinn Fein representatives attend such events?
    Do you think Sinn Fein representatives should turn their back on the history of the Republican movement?

  • babyface finlayson

    Ok you did not really answer my question but I will try and answer yours.
    Am I surprised they are attending such events?
    Not really given the links the leadership still have to the events and people being commemorated.
    Do I think they should turn their backs on their history?
    That depends on how they view it I suppose. At some point republicans might look back and say
    ‘you know that whole campaign from the 70s to the 90s wasn’t such a great idea really’.
    But it is more likely that once Gerry is gone the next generation will look to play down that sort of thing although they are not going to come out and disown it.
    I really don’t think the younger voters coming along now especially the middle ground ones who are so important as you say, are going to be impressed by all that commemorating of violent lives.

  • Skibo

    How do you look on the loss of life in two world wars or the loss of life in Iraq or Afghanistan? Do you think it is right to commemorate the loss of soldier’s lives on the 11th November in full knowledge that many many more civilians have lost their lives and they never went to war with anyone.
    Have a look at how the 1916 rebellion was commemorated this year in the South and to an extent in the North. The loss of life and that campaign and the war of independence was every bit as brutal as that of the Troubles here or even the Border campaign.
    Unionism spends over half the year marching and commemorating battles of times gone by.
    When you feel you can call on all commemorations to be stopped for battles and wars carried out in foreign lands mainly, then I will join you with calling for the same.

  • babyface finlayson

    Well that is deflecting a bit I think.
    The point is about SF and how voters might view their commemoration of IRA personnel (in living memory) in view of your hope that they (voters of Northern Ireland) can look past the time of the troubles to a better future.
    So do you think young voters will find that an attractive aspect of a modern liberal party?
    You said the middle ground will decide the future. Will people in the middle ground admire the leadership of SF for commemorating IRA volunteers?

  • Skibo

    Deflections are sometimes required to show people they analyse actions in a specific way depending on the accused rather than the action. Matthew 7:3

  • Get The Grade Get The Grade

    Yes, the bombs of angry/”betrayed” Loyalists.

  • Paddy Reilly

    You do realise that it is 40 years since you were in school with the friends you mention?

  • 1729torus

    The UK would end up as a pure rule taker from Brussels after any Brexit, even a rock hard one, resulting in an increase in Dublin’s political power in NI and informal political integration.

    Engagement in London is only useful to the extent it can influence events in NI and/or encourage infusions of money. Brexit makes both more difficult.

  • babyface finlayson

    I like a bit of scripture. Good advice.
    I take it this means you are not going to actually address my point then?

  • Georgie Best

    Perché ovviamente? Questa è una discusione sul Nord dell’Irlanda, non sul Sud dell’Italia. Italiano é la lingua nativo in Italia, Irlandese in Irlanda.

  • Georgie Best

    Using English in this thread is fine. The question is though why you wish to make it difficult for people to use Irish if they wish to.

  • 1729torus

    Between the hit to GDP and regions like Cornwall wanting money, the subvention to NI will be reduced in the long run, at the unfortunate cost of hurting the standard of living in NI.

    In 2016 UK currently gave around £10 billion to NI, which would have been around €13 billion. In the long run, it might only be able to give £7 billion at most, or €8 billion due to Sterling’s post-Brexit decline. I don’t see how this makes a UI in 2040 less likely.

  • Sub

    Meanwhile 81% of English Leave voters are happy to wreck peace in NI in order to get out of the EU http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/ne

    I find this attitude most encouraging , more of this please

  • james

    Nobody is making it difficult for anybody to speak Irish. Anybody who wishes to can speak it whenever and as often as they wish.

    Perhaps you’re disappointed that there simply is zero oppression taking place…

    In the real world, mind you, most people don’t understand Irish – you surely aren’t suggesting that everybody should be forced to learn it on the off chance you might decide to speak it.

  • james

    Discussione, con la doppia s.

    Poi, sarebbe nativa – non nativo.

    A parte di questi cosi, si, va bene – possiamo parlare anche in italiano visto che sai usare google….pero secondo me sarebbe molto meglio usare inglese… la lingua che tutti qui siamo in grado di capire? Anzi, e proprio assurdo fare finto che inglese non e la lingua del regno unito, come tu stai cercando di fare….

  • Georgie Best

    You seem to object to signs in Irish and suchlike, although you won’t read these yourself you do not wish others to do so.

    I believe that people should be allowed deal with public services in the language of their own country. Hardly a revolutionary concept, but rather the mark of a civilised society.

  • Georgie Best

    L’italiano è la lingua dell’Italia, ma tedesco è anche usato in Alto Adige. É normale

  • Georgie Best

    I don’t find it encouraging at all, I like the peace.

  • james

    Indeed. And due to the history of the region it is unsurprising that German may be spoken there as much as Italian.

    I fail to see the relevance particularly, though – since Irish is simply not widely spoken in Northern Ireland (or even Ireland proper) and, since the Nazis lost the war, the region you mentioned did not become part of a Germanic superstate, and German did not become the lingua franca of Europe.

    Unhappily for Irish Republicans, the fact that their Nazi allies were defeated also meant that Ireland would not ultimately be allowed (per their agreement with uncle Adolf) to annex Northern Ireland.

    Thus paving the way for another 70 years of bitter dog-in-manger sniping from the chronically thwarted Republicans. A period which continues right up to the present day under the Anjem Choudry of Irish politics, Gerry Adams.

  • james

    “I believe that people should be allowed deal with public services in the language of their own country.”

    Agreed.

    And, as the official (and de facto) language of the UK is English then, yes, all public services are presently provided English.

    Not much more to be said.

  • Granni Trixie

    From what I can see younger political activists tend to portray support for change to the law on abortion in Ni as ,
    ‘progressive’, a questionable concept in my view.

  • Granni Trixie

    Have to say that I was shocked at the depiction in Derry of volunteers recently, mainly because I thought it a bad example to young people but also because it shows bad faith on the part of SF who support this as some kind of visitor attraction. It is not respectful to victims and survivors of the troubles. It also demonstrates why the HS site ought not be revived as a “Peace Centre” if that is the way it would be used by Republicans.

  • Georgie Best

    Here were go again, Nazis, uncle Adolf, Gerry Adams and even a guest appearance by Anjem Choudary.

    These things have nothing whatsoever to do with the issue.

  • babyface finlayson

    I agree it is not good.
    Historical reenactment is one thing, and can help bring the past to life I suppose but events which are in living memory for the people of Derry ought to be dealt with in a much more sensitive way.
    SF are Janus like in looking both forward and backward and as long as the old guard are still there it is hard to sell the idea of a forward looking liberal party.
    I am sure Mary Lou and Pearse must be counting the days, like Prince Charles waiting for his chance.

  • Sub

    Apologies George I did word that badly. I of course was thinking more of the break up of the UK and not of the peace process unraveling. I dont think we will return to violence but I do believe hat Brexit will be a complete car crash and that he deal on offer will be unacceptable to english brexiteers leading to resentment that the Bloody Paddies are messing it up for them.

  • Skibo

    The reason for the scripture was to point out that when you find the answer to the problem for you, you will find that it will not be a problem for me either.

  • Skibo

    Granni I am of the belief that law in general should be set by learner-ed people with knowledge and experience of the subject. To leave it to politicians and the general public will mean that law will only be set to suit the majority.
    Law is also there to protect the rights of the minority.

  • babyface finlayson

    Come on now! I was not pointing out a problem for me. I was asking a question.
    Namely do you feel young people and those in the middle ground who you said are so important for the future would be concerned about seeing SF leaders commemorating IRA personnel?
    You did say:
    ‘Can the voters of Northern Ireland look past the time of the troubles to a better future? I think they can.’
    So I think it is a fair follow up question.
    Why so reluctant to answer?

  • Eamon Hanna

    Paddy Devlin, a man I knew well, and who had many admirable qualities, was indeed expelled from the SDLP after an incident he described in his autobiography as “a most unworthy squabble in which I was not the innocent party”. In other words, he largely engineered his own expulsion, and he knew what he was doing and may well have regretted it.

  • Skibo

    Are you aware of the many battles that the Unionist community commemorate. They go back 400 years and they are still commemorating them. Here we are nearly 20 years past the GFA and you think Republicans should not commemorate their dead.
    Do I think commemorating dead IRA personnel will deter new young voters, depends on how it is done.
    If it is a recognition of a life lost for a cause and at the same time recognise the loss of all life during the troubles then no, I don’t think it will be a problem.
    If it is a glorification of the taking of lives or a coat trailing exercise then yes it would be a problem and I for one would object.

  • Skibo

    Eamon I don’t think he was the only one expelled from the party. Was there not ructions in the party during two different elections in Tyrone, to name one constituency.

  • babyface finlayson

    Skibo
    I have not said they should not commemorate their dead, that is up to them..
    I am simply speculating that voters from the middle ground and young voters may not find that to be so open and plural as you suggest.
    You want them to look past the troubles but vote for a party which is still looking back at the troubles through rose tinted glasses.
    On commemoration in general I think that commemorating those who took part in recent actions with affected families still living is a great deal more sensitive than commemorating battles from 400 years ago, although I would happily see the end of those too.

  • Skibo

    How do you feel about the commemoration of the dead of the British Army?

  • babyface finlayson

    Personally I am not a fan.
    But I don’t see that as being an issue for potential voters in the way that IRA commemorations are for SF.
    Obviously there is no difference in the eyes of some but my guess is that attending a poppy day ceremony, would not be as contentious in the eyes of the middle ground voters as attending a memorial to the IRA members killed at Loughgall.

  • Skibo

    Attending a poppy day ceremony is probably not that contentious to the middle ground. It would not be looked at as favourably by the families of any of the 301 people killed by the Army in Northern Ireland.
    There are plenty of people who vote SF who would not attend Republican commemorations just are there are loads of people who vote for Unionist politicians who support equal marriage.
    Voting for a party does not mean you take on all what that party stands for otherwise all the Unionist voters pre 1973 supported gerrymandering.

  • Georgie Best

    The UK is not only England. There are public services in other parts of the UK other than in English, in recognition of the traditions of those countries, our country should have similar recognition.

    But I am using logic here and clearly logic does not overcome prejudice

  • babyface finlayson

    I take your point that voting for a party is not an endorsement of everything they stand for.
    I think you are agreeing with my point that attending republican commemorations (and possibly poppy day ones too , though not so much, I think) is not a vote winner in regard to the middle ground.
    So we can leave it there.
    Thanks.

  • Eamon Hanna

    Of course there were but nothing matches the bile, the viciousness and sheer totalitarian nastiness of some of the Sinn Fein tactics on view in recent times in places like Cork and Wicklow.

  • james

    You are not using logic – unless perhaps it is the logic of someone who has never visited the planet Earth.

    English is, yes, the first language of the English. It is also the first language of the UK in general.

  • Skibo

    Eamon, I couldn’t comment on Cork or Wicklow but I know the reaction to the SDLP decision to decide the rep for Tyrone caused major problems for SDLP.

  • mickfealty

    BUt who is going to punish them for it? SF? They’re at least complicit in a much lower turnout for Remain by keeping their hands in their very wealthy pockets, and then walking off the pitch.

    Just letting bad stuff happen means they get the right to complain, but every punishment they’ve ever planned for the DUP has only made them tougher, sharper and more resilient opponents.

  • mickfealty

    I agree with the first bit (which is why Fox and Davis actually want something harder). They will have a larger influence, but the trouble with influence through the EU is that it is so indirect as to not to be felt even among Constituencies who benefited most from EU largesse.

    But in terms of realpolitik Ireland’s internal influence will decrease when the UK leaves. French and German models don’t align as easily with Ireland’s as the UK’s.

  • mickfealty

    I do still talk to some of them Paddy from time to time. 🤓 It’s their adult experience they speak from, not adolescence.