Saturday 10 December 2016

Books: Tiocfaidh ár leabhar

Politics: Power Play: The Rise of the Modern Sinn Féin, Deaglán de Bréadún, Merrion Press, tpbk, 248 pages, €17.99

Published 25/10/2015 | 02:30

In good company: Gerry Adams at at the launch of the Sinn Féin O'Donovan Rossa event as part of the 1916 Centenary.
In good company: Gerry Adams at at the launch of the Sinn Féin O'Donovan Rossa event as part of the 1916 Centenary.
Power Play by Deaglán de Bréadún.

Our reviewer on a new account of the recent rise of Sinn Féin

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The best bit of this otherwise mundane and lacking account of Sinn Féin's recent history is the chapter where the author, being a journalist, gives the balancing views of political opponents.

The chapter, titled 'Members, Critics, Observers', begins with some twee pen pictures of 'key' party figures like Pearse Doherty (somebody in the party called him "finance superstar", oooh). Martin Ferris's career as a promising county footballer was cut short by his involvement in smuggling guns supplied by the Irish-American mass murderer Whitey Bolger, who unfortunately doesn't merit a mention.

But it's the subsequent views of a couple of ex-party members and other politicians that rang out for me.

Dr Martin Mansergh is unusually pithy on Gerry Adams: "He may be a Moses figure who won't personally step into the Promised Land". Mansergh puts in as polite as terms as possible his view that Sinn Féin members can't think or act for themselves because they're conditioned to only do what the leadership tells them to do and think.

Killian Forde, who held a seat on Dublin City Council for Sinn Féin before resigning and moving for a while to Labour, is very good. On Adams and the adulation with which he is surrounded in the party, he says: "He's a very strange man to be in a meeting with. He says very little and then, what he does say, everybody agrees."

Forde senses that without Adams, he doesn't see how Sinn Féin will survive.

"Their strongest suit is the culture of the organisation. They can get people to work really hard for very little money - for no money, mostly. They keep people on message, but it's done on the basis of the hunger strikes. It's done on the basis of the (past) riots, it's all that. So how do you maintain that if somebody like Adams goes? Do you think people in Finglas are going to get out on a Tuesday morning in November for Mary Lou?"

Paul Murphy, the Socialist TD who beat Sinn Féin in the Dublin South-West by-election on a fraction of their budget says: "... their primary goal is what they would see as a resolution of the national question and a strategic step towards that is being in government, north and south". In his view, Sinn Féin is "fundamentally a nationalist organisation" that is left-wing only because it suits in the South. He definitely has a point here; Adams is unduly fond of sharing a trough with capitalist pigs, particularly in Manhattan and The Hamptons.

There are some other worthy enough bits in the book but its romantic view of Adams, Martin McGuinness and company is a bit, well, gushing at times. The comparison with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid for Adams and McGuinness (presumably in that order) is a bit weird but maybe I missed a joke. And I genuinely don't see a Katharine Ross falling for either. There is a keen bit of observation here and there, as at last year's SF Bodenstown commemoration. The republican marching band is a bit like the 'Lambeg' variety - I know what he means - that really doesn't go down with the attempt to broaden the middle-class appeal. As an actor in period IRA uniform reads the declaration followed by Mary Lou McDonald's address, de Bréadún observes Adams texting "as eagerly as any teenager" - he checked later and there were 19 messages and 26 pictures on Twitter from the President for Life.

It's the omissions though that rankle. The author is a bit undecided on Sinn Féin's superstar abilities on the economy. He should have looked at the example of the West Belfast Constituency which Adams and his appointed successors have held for nearly 30 years. It has the worst social and economic performance in the entire United Kingdom, the highest levels of welfare dependency, the worst health issues, the highest teenage pregnancy rate, the earliest school leavers, you name it.

Bobby Storey, the man who issued the diktat to all party members on how exactly to respond to the Mairia Cahill rape cover-up and who was in the news recently when he was spoken to by the cops about the murder of Kevin McGuigan, doesn't merit a mention at all that I could see. Who is he and how come he tells everyone in Sinn Féin - from town councillors to MEPs - what to think? A book on Sinn Féin should tell us.

The murder of Robert McCartney gets a look in, but just about. Mary Lou's exhortation that anyone with information about the murder should "come forward" is not matched by any account of whether or not any of the 70 or so Sinn Féin members present actually did make a witness statement to the PSNI. An awful lot of them were either in the toilet or on their mobile phones when the slaying took place, apparently. Maybe urinary tract infection and severe autism are commonplace in Sinn Féin.

The author, former Political Correspondent and Northern Editor of the Irish Times, once told colleagues at a meeting to discuss the coverage of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that it was his view there would be a united Ireland in 15 years. He's still hopeful though and it probably won't damage the overall impact for the reader to quote his current upbeat appraisal in the epilogue: "The time-honoured republican slogan in the Irish language, 'Tiochfaidh ár lá' (our day will come) is gradually coming true…" We should know easily enough when it's come about. Leinster House will be on fire.

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