Is Sinn Féin Ireland’s equivalent of the old British “Referendum Party…”?

One of the most productive exam questions we could set for the new politics currently in the Republic might be: “Sinn Féin is Ireland’s equivalent of UKIP/Brexit/the Referendum party. Discuss?”

The parallels lie in the reduction of all practical politics to a single plebiscite, to the point policy plays no part in the overall objective. The main purpose is to focus media attention in each country on moving towards a trigger point.

Take UKIP, for example? In 2010 it was pretty much presenting itself as an open borders free trade libertarian outfit, but roll on to 2016 and you get the re-roll of Saachi and Saachi’s famous 1979 ad with a disingenuous ‘Turks are coming…” spin.

Policy as opportunism for such nationalistic (be they English or Irish) projects is the window dressing. Exhibit A being Brexit. Having accomplished his plan, Nigel Farage these days is selling lucrative advertising stories about insurance.

Except, as you may have noticed, there was no actual plan. So where does Sinn Féin fit in?

Well, Ciarán Quinn is one of those bright young Belfast men (they’re mostly men) whom Sinn Féin has shipped to Leinster House to help set up their new counter establishment effort (to become the new establishment there).

In a movement where, just like UKIP, money is no object, Ciarán is now Sinn Féin’s ‘representative’ to the US and Canada. And on Eamon’s site he has written an intriguing harangue which sits perfectly in the familiar KIPPER mould.

The new enemy is not “The Remoaner” of Brexiteer legend, but SF’s new one, ‘The Referendum Denier’. Of course, there’s the obligatory swipe at unionists who “will not engage in discussion on the future, unity, or a referendum”.

However, as Slugger readers will understand from the contributions of Terry, Jay, Choyaa and other regulars, some unionists are very willing to discuss all of these things, they just don’t agree with Ciarán.

Referendums hardwire such intolerances, and their binary operations incentivise rhetorical exaggeration (if not distortion) of the truth.  And indeed, next he moves onto a group which translates roughly as mealy mouthed excusers of unionism

But in his call to put all these so called enemies of a united Ireland under the revolutionary guillotine of a border poll, he neglects to address a number of important nationalist objections:

  • In assuming that the border poll and its outcome is already in the bag, he leaves NI public opinion radically divided upon current lines which leave nationalism well short of the majority it needs to win and therefore doomed to fail.
  • Despite stating that “Brexit is an example of how not to have a referendum”, Ciarán outlines a UKIP like position in that someone else (ie, the Irish Government) must build the case for political unity on the island. Not Sinn Féin.
  • In absence of these, the priority focus is 50+1% as opposed to building a sustainable consensus with all the compromises, and design improvements to political order that such an outcome would require.

In fact the piece is long on complaint and painfully short on practical actions. Sinn Féin, despite being (according to their own strategists) being on the verge of power in the south, appears to have no ideas of its own on what a UI looks like.

Again, as the Farage example shows, you do not need to have any actual ideas to win. Just keep asking and wearing the refusals as some class of sackcloth and ashes forced upon you by the elites (if you’re UKIP) or the Brits (if SF).

If you are still following the UKIP playbook, you then allow complacency (as it did in the 2016 EU referendum) to do the rest. However this hollow account of the case for a border poll may indicate just where the complacency lies.

Nigel Farage” by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA