Beyond the Scaremongering: Challenging the Portrayal of Sinn Féin by the Irish establishment…

Patrick Evans is from Tipperary and holds a BA in Public Administration and a MA in Politics. Currently he is based in Vancouver and is a Sinn Féin supporter. 

Fintan O’Toole recently published an article in the Irish Times titled ‘Sinn Féin has what might benignly be characterised as deep ambivalence towards the State’. The main trust of his article is that Sinn Féin has an ambivalent attitude to the southern state and that action must be taken to protect the state and its institutions before Sinn Féin get into government in the south. I think there are some issues with Fintan’s article, and a different perspective is needed. To be begin Fintan states that Sinn Féin:

“has long since ceased to be a revolutionary party. Its arrival in government would not be the seismic event it would once have been. That does not mean, though, that it would be a perfectly normal transfer of power either

Fintan is of course correct that there is a party in the Dail which may be in government after the next election which displays a deep ambivalence towards the state. He, however, comes to this conclusion as often happens with southern commentators and establishment politicians by basing his analysis on a version of Irish history that exists only in their minds. That version of history seems to start at the beginning of the Troubles as this conveniently allows them to forget some distasteful facts about Irish history and two of the current parties in government.

The party with the most ambivalent and damaging attitude to the state is Fianna Fáil and not Sinn Féin. It was de Valera not Mary Lou who said the IRA:

“would have to wade through Irish blood, through the blood of the soldiers of the Irish Government, and through, perhaps, the blood of some of the members of the Government in order to get Irish freedom”.

Fianna Fail has in no way has ever disavowed its roots as a party stepped in violence who fought against the creation of the state. Fianna Fail is descended from a movement that killed civilians, Free State soldiers and members of the police. The IRA didn’t just appear in 1969 as Fintan and his buddies like to pretend. As recently as April of this year serving and retired Fianna Fáil TDs and a MEP attended a commemoration for Liam Lynch. Lynch in case Fintan doesn’t know was the Chief of Staff of the IRA and the IRA of Lynch’s era was engaged in direct war with the new state. This was not a phony or rhetorical war; it was a real war and a lot of people died on the orders of men like Liam Lynch. There was a deafening silence and no hysterical reaction from the southern media when Billy Kelleher MEP, James O’Connor TD, Niall Collins TD and former Cork East TDs Ned O’Keeffe and Kevin O’Keeffe all attended a commemoration for a man who literally died fighting against the state.

Compare the reaction in the media when John Finucane attended a Republican commemoration in Armagh to the reaction when Fianna Fáil TDs attended a Liam Lynch commemoration, and you see the real motivation for Fintan’s article. The real motivation is to rewrite history to absolve anyone who challenged the state before 1969 of their sins while attempting to portray Sinn Féin as a danger to the people in the South. After all Southern republicans are allowed to be violent and challenge the state but Northern nationalists and republicans are supposed to keep quite when the jack boot is pressed on their necks. Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour party are allowed to renounce violence and enter politics but not Sinn Féin. They can have commemorations for sworn enemies of the Southern state but those scary men from Belfast must never commemorate.

Fintan goes on to say:

“it is not normal for any developed democracy to find itself being governed by a movement that was, until relatively recently, dedicated to overthrowing it by violence”.

He seems to forget that Fianna Fáil had such ambivalence to the state that in 1932 when they took power some of its TDs carried guns into the Dail. A cursory glance of the make up of the first Fianna Fáil cabinet reveals that 8 of the 10 cabinet ministers in the first Fianna Fail government had been part of a movement dedicated to overthrowing the Free State. But of course, as Fintan thinks the IRA appeared out of the ether on a street in Belfast in 1969, he won’t mention that. I’m certain should Sinn Féin take power in the South after the next election that their TDs won’t have revolvers tucked in their coat pockets when they enter Leinster House.

Fianna Fáil’s deep ambivalence towards the state did not end in 1932 when they took power. It was the home of a whole litany of corrupt TDs and Councillors who undermined the institutions of the state. It is the party that produced Ray Burke, Liam Lawlor, and Charlie Haughey after all, all men who had a very ambivalent attitude the law and state institutions. Not only did the bold Charlie line his own pockets, he seemed to have no issues illegally importing arms for the IRA. Let’s not forget his penchant for illegally bugging journalists while we enumerate his many sins. Maybe I’m wrong but it seems to me you would need a fairly ambivalent attitude to the state to engage in that list of behaviors.

It was Fianna Fáil not Sinn Féin that ran the state into the ground on multiple occasions since its foundation. The first 90 years of the state were dominated by Fianna Fáil and, on their watch, over a million people left and never came back. Can anything undermine a state so much as putting your people up for export and using mass emigration as a safety valve to ensure you power is maintained. Not only content with running the country into the ground for the first 70 years of the state the Soldiers of Destiny bankrupted it in 2008 for good measure. However, to Fianna Fáil almost destroying the state was a small price to pay for another spin in the ministerial Merc.

Fintan finishes his argument by stating that:

“it’s not silly to recognise that Sinn Féin has, in its DNA, what might most benignly be characterised as a deep ambivalence towards the State. That ambiguity means that the State should also recognise a degree of risk in the potential accession to power of such a party.

So, what should the Government be doing to anticipate this eventuality? It should be strengthening Irish democracy by making it more tamper-proof. Without resorting to scaremongering it should ask itself a basic question: how would you go about limiting the capacity of any government (not just one led by Sinn Féin) to undermine the democratic nature of the State? Three very obvious things come to mind”

“The first is to strengthen accountability and transparency at every level of government and public administration. Stop governments railroading legislation through the Dáil, democratise local government, make the Seanad a properly representative and effective second chamber, strengthen Oireachtas committees, increase the powers and funding of the Ombudsman”

Maybe Fintan can explain why Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael keep ramming legislation through the Dail, often by abusing the rules around money bills. Not an issue deserving of column inches before Sinn Féin surged but dear god fix the problem now. Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael have been in government constantly since the 70s. Have they ever implemented the results of the referendum on the reform of the Seanad that happened almost 50 years ago. No, they haven’t but better do it in a rush before 2025. Apparently, it wasn’t urgent for the last 50 years but get it done before Mary Lou gets the top job says Fintan.

It was Fine Gael that lost the referendum on giving the Oireachtas the power to make adverse findings when it publishes reports. No Lisbon style second referendum needed to strengthen the state and the parliament then but now it must be done because Sinn Féin might be in government.

Maybe Fintan can tell me who left the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement without any staffing or the expertise to conduct investigations which caused trials relating to the actions of the banks to collapse? It was Sinn Féin wasn’t it, oh wait, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael again.

Who created the local government system we have, never empowered it, and then bankrupted it to win an election? I think I know the answer. It’s been a problem for years but again the Shinner bogeyman lurks around the corner so act now.

Who tried to change the voting system twice to bolster their dominant position in elections and to increase their control of the state. Fianna Fáil that’s who and thankfully the people saw right through that stoke.

Who tried to gerrymander the constituencies to benefit them? For a change of pace, the answer to that one is Fine Gael and Labour. Of course, they were so incompetent they ended up helping Fianna Fáil.

Fintan’s second recommendation is:

“to make sure that public service broadcasting is fully protected from governmental and political pressure. The existence of a vigorous, well-funded public broadcaster is a potent force for the preservation of democracy. The Government should establish a system of public funding for RTÉ and TG4 that is ring-fenced and indexed to inflation so that no administration can use the threat of withholding money to bring the broadcasters to heel.”

How is the urgency of this anything got to do with the prospect of a Sinn Féin government? Properly funded public broadcasting is vital and a cornerstone of any healthy democracy. It doesn’t become increasingly urgent just because Pearse Doherty might have an office in Merrion Street soon.

Also, refresh my memory who appointed the RTE board that was so useless it appointed the clowns who have destroyed the reputation of RTE. It was the Army Council right, oh wait our old pals Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. That board wrecked the license fee model and now RTE might need a 50 million bailout. Something tells me there will be strings attached to that money and that those strings will conveniently be beneficial to the government parties. He’s worried about future interference when he should be worried about what’s happening right now.

By the way while we are on the topic of interference who has a brother who was a senior executive in RTE? The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment that’s who. Who is the brother of one of the best paid journalists in RTE? A certain Fianna Fáil TD I believe. Who has a Special Adviser who is the son of a famous RTE journalist? A certain junior minister I believe. The son got the Special Adviser job after his mother retired by the way. Nothing to see here, no need to worry that lots of influential people in RTE have connections to the parties in government. Dear god though we better worry that a decent honourable man like Martin Kenny might turn RTE into a publicly funded version of An Phoblacht. Martin’s house was attacked multiple time because he stood up for refugees and now him and his party are threat to the state and RTE’s independence. Fintan is in dire need of a reality check it seems.

The third recommendation is to:

“expand the powers and resources of the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO). The need to do this has long been obvious anyway, but the prospect of Sinn Féin in government makes it all the more urgent.”

Who was the Taoiseach when SIPO was created. IT WAS BERTIE AHERN. Yes, the Bertie of no bank account fame. The Bertie of the “I won it on the horses’ fame”. I mean really, Fintan thinks the issue with SIPO are more urgent now because of Sinn Féin’s rise. Fintan is right reform of SIPO has been urgent for 20 years. It is needed because SIPO was intentionally designed not to work by a man who as Frankie Boyle might say was “so crooked he could sleep on a spiral staircase” or as Fintan might say a man with an ambivalent attitude towards the state. It’s not more urgent because of Sinn Fein it’s just urgent, always has been.

And right now, who is being investigated by the under resourced and enfeebled SIPO? Leo, it’s Leo the Leak, and it’s not the first time holier than thou Leo has had issues with SIPO is it.

And finally, article 4.3 of Bunreacht na hEireann states

“the confidentiality of discussions at meetings of the Government shall be respected in all circumstances save only where the High Court determines that disclosure should be made in respect of a particular matter”.

Last time I checked a certain minister’s Twitter account doesn’t have the same authority of the High Court. It seems that the minister who should not be named has somewhat of an ambivalent attitude to certain aspects of the constitution if they conflict with his career and his campaign to be new leader of his party.

To summarize, it seems to me that ambivalence to the state and its institutions runs very deep in the DNA of the political system in the south. I think the real fear that people like Fintan have is not that Sinn Féin will be dangerous or incompetent in government or that they will hijack the state for their own ends but that they will be successful. The real nightmare for them is that Sinn Féin might be so successful in government that one day they might wake up in a 32-county republic. That change would discommode them and the other elites that have run the south for 100 years and that can’t be tolerated. So, the plan is to ramp up Project Fear from now till the election. They must after all do their part to preserve the status quo which has served them so well.

Fintan, would disagree I am sure, about that there is no ambivalence.

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