Sinn Fein preys on rising tide of fear
These elections show the extent to which people's anger at austerity has given way to a kind of terror
Published 25/05/2014 | 02:30
A feature of these elections has been the Sinn Fein mantra: 'Make the change'. After the vote – it is now official: Sinn Fein has arrived as a significant political force in the Republic and on the island of Ireland. People in their hundreds of thousands have made the change.
A question remains whether that change will stick, or, to put it another way, is the rise of Sinn Fein unstoppable?
At another level, however, the remorseless rise of Sinn Fein – there is no remorse – also asks a fundamental question to do with the evolution of our relationship with terror in the years since the peace process.
In the first instance, what these elections have shown is the extent to which the people's anger at austerity has given way to a certain kind of fear, or terror if you like.
Without fear, there would be no terror – fear of losing your house, the roof over your head, your job, your rent allowance, your pension, your health, your medical card, your dignity; fear for your children's future, for their society wherever they will live, but more than that . . .
Real fear, also, at the pace of change in our lives, enough to make our heads spin: fear of new technologies, for example, of social media, fears for our privacy; or for the environment we share, the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe.
More than that, after the crash, fear that we are living through a period of human history in which an event of a truly seismic significance can occur.
All of those fears have fed into these elections.
Fear at what the former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd has said is an event that marks a turning point between one epoch and the next, when one orthodoxy is overthrown and another takes its place.
At such a point, we have learned from these elections that the country is turning to Sinn Fein and to Independent candidates.
But what was evident about these elections was the extent to which people would give silent consideration to the evolving nature of their relationship with terror. The trend was apparent in the polls: Sinn Fein had consolidated skilled and semi-skilled manual workers; but could it extend its reach into the minds of the lower-middle and middle class and of those aged mid-30s to mid-50s; that is, a new phenomenon – the working poor.
Sinn Fein will claim today that it can and has, but a doubt persists: the coping class turned to the Independents in greater numbers.
For every announcement that was made – from job losses, pay cuts, pension grabs and pay-offs to property tax, bin charges, water charges and the Universal Social Charge – fear grew. The coping class cannot make ends meet, they cannot afford to live.
At such a moment in time, Gerry Adams has taken issue with both his arrest and media coverage of his arrest, to be questioned about the abduction, murder and disappearance of Jean McConville.
The widowed mother's murder has come to be seen as the essence of terror: as such, Gerry Adams should not complain, for these elections tell us much about the extent to which our relationship with terror has evolved.
Sinn Fein still seeks to justify terrorism: that the end is good enough to justify the means; that the end (so far) has, indeed, been achieved by means of terrorism that was not, by any other way, possible.
Jean McConville's murder was ordered and occurred to produce fear in her community, in the hope that this fear would, in turn, erode the quality or stability of an existing social order. For 30 years, the Provisional IRA waged such terror.
Sinn Fein's candidates in these elections had another mantra: her murder was "wrong", they said, that it "should not have happened" – a formula of words as expressed by each.
But for those who know terrorism to be evil – her continual fear in a car ride from the Divis Flats, the danger of a violent death, her
disappearance to instil fear – the murder of Jean McConville remains morally distinctive: the use of such terror must be unjustified.
For many, however, there would seem to be no longer a distinction between the terror of the Provisional IRA and the fear that successive governments – Fianna Fail and Labour, in particular, are blamed – have instilled in people.
A conclusion is this: Sinn Fein continues to prey on the fears of the country, the political class has allowed them to do so and only elements of the media resist, as they should in the absence of remorse; but others, no doubt, will have their own reasons and a different conclusion. For them, Fianna Fail remains at fault for the fear which stalks those who cannot afford to live and, in turn, Labour must pay the price for a version of social, if not economic, treason.
As to whether the change we have witnessed is permanent, or whether the rise of Sinn Fein is unstoppable, in the short term that will depend on the nature of our relationship with Fianna Fail and, in turn, the nature of the relationship between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.
After that, all bets are off.