A nation gripped by a lack of fear
Some people are thinking of leaving the country, as they view the prospect of Sinn Fein as a major force in government in a few short years' time with dread. But to Declan Lynch, most of the commentariat seem completely and inexplicably relaxed about it. Is Official Ireland once again blithely leading us to disaster?
Published 18/04/2016 | 02:30
I have heard it said by a few people, here and there, that if Sinn Fein came to power they would leave the country. Which sounds like a kind of throwaway thing we'd all say from time to time, without actually meaning it, a way of registering our dread of such an arrangement, but not an actual declaration that we will refuse to go on to live in an Ireland that is run by Sinn Fein, and move permanently to another country.
Yet the way I am hearing it, this is one of the very few cases in which the people who say such a thing are seriously engaged in the practicalities of it. They are actually thinking about what arrangements they will make, to move themselves away from here, if and when Sinn Fein assumes significant power over their lives, something that could happen within five years.
And the people I'm talking about here are not political addicts or 'players', who might say such a thing for effect; they are regular folk who, for reasons best known to themselves, have a deep dread of living under a regime in which the army council of the IRA is making a valued contribution.
Within five years, maybe 10 . . . it won't be long now.
So there are quite a few of these people openly Thinking of Leaving the Country, the TLCs, as we might call them.
Or perhaps, given the whole emigration thing, there are always so many in that frame of mind anyway, it can be hard to pin them down to a single motivation.
And yet you hear almost nothing about them. For the last few months, between the General Election and the 1916 extravaganza, we have been debating every possible permutation of this thing we call Ireland; we have been brought through all sorts of feelings about the old country except one - there's been no fear.
At no point have I heard a question roughly along these lines - given the well-known dangers of our nationalist yearning, do the great ceremonies around 1916, rightly or wrongly, make the project of Sinn Fein any easier ?
I'm not saying that any great ceremonies should have been called off or anything, for fear of where it might eventually lead, I'm just baffled that nobody bothered to ask such a question, strongly and repeatedly. Because, in many ways, it's the only one that counts here.
But then I think of the various strands of Official Ireland, who took ownership of the whole thing, how they would always be more concentrated on establishing their own position, on talking about themselves. We know from all our other encounters with them that these are not people of the most penetrating intelligence, but they have a tremendous instinct for seizing whatever space is available and filling it with their self-serving noises.
So there was always a sense of aren't-we-greatism, from the present ruling class. And when aren't-we-greatism is afoot, we lose all nuance.
At random I would select RTE's 1916, a kind of a corporate video which began with a grand statement about the teachers, poets, and progressive types in general who were responsible for the Rising.
This may be an inspiring vision to give to young people, but it mightn't be any harm, either, to let them know that in fact the "men of 1916", as such, who survived the Rising, did not drift off into some romantic quest for the lost ideals of the revolution - if only Eamon de Valera had had the good taste to be executed in 1916, for all we know he'd still be seen as a beloved adventurer and crazy dreamer, instead of one of our history's great ogres.
Indeed, several of them went on to became a new ruling elite, transforming Ireland into one of the most abysmal cultural slums of the 20th Century, prostrating themselves before the church and doing all they could to help maintain the gulag.
They sold us down the river, baby!
And yet such was the desire of Official Ireland to keep up a certain type of mood-music, they would always tend to go with the "positive" version. They like to be "positive". Secure in their own positions, ultimately they just want to make sure that they have been included, as usual. They want to give an "uplifting" message to young people, even if might have been doing the young people a favour to give them a different kind of message altogether.
Which meant that you could have been watching this national celebration for most of the year with very little awareness that, for certain parties at least, these matters are not resolved at all. And they probably never will be.
It is the advocates of the "physical force tradition" themselves who will tell you that no generation can claim that the "national question" is resolved, that you can't deprive the young of the right to make their own arrangements in this regard, notwithstanding what has gone before - essentially, it is nationalists themselves who define their belief system as a kind of an energy which may be dormant sometimes, but which is always there in some form.
And at the moment, the form which seems to suit the republican movement in general, is this hybrid of Sinn Fein with its electoral presence, allied to a kind of mafia arrangement in which the more destructive elements are kept busy in the underworld with organised crime.
But nobody's afraid of that, apparently - well, almost nobody. Some people are thinking of leaving the country, but overall there was hardly even a suggestion that all these simplistic stories being told to the young might considerably improve the chances of Sinn Fein getting to wherever they want to go, sooner rather than later.
What do you think ? When you see kids reciting back this Ladybird view of history in which Paddy "took on the might of the British Empire" and really annoyed them for a while, and er, that's it, do you think that Sinn Fein is being helped or hindered, or does it not make any difference at all?
I think it helps them, but then these days most things that are going on in the public domain in this regard are helping them, mainly because of the extraordinary lack of fear of that organisation, and its ambitions, and its appalling seriousness.
A society can be gripped by fear, which of course is a bad thing. But it can also be gripped by a lack of fear, and that's what appears to be going on here.
Enabled by the abysmal intellectual and moral laziness of Official Ireland, there is now a chance that 2016 will eventually be seen as another 1966, when those dark energies of nationalism were released again in what must have seemed at the time like no more than high-minded pageantry.
I suppose the standard explanation is that your reaction to those things entirely depends on what age you are - that anyone below the age of 30, for example, has so little awareness of The Troubles, they just see Sinn Fein as a kind of a left-wing party which occasionally mutters something about a United Ireland, but is mainly concerned with just complaining about the government.
According to this version, it is only the older generations, who were around in the 1970s and 1980s, who have this dread of whatever stirs within the republican beast.
And yet, that doesn't quite work either, because during that long, long election campaign, the vast majority of political journalists who are indeed old enough to remember Sinn Fein/IRA when they were just IRA, appeared to be entirely untroubled by any aspect of their present incarnation.
They insisted on talking to Sinn Fein representatives as if there was absolutely no difference at all between that party, which defers to the authority of its own "army", and any other party which is just trying to get elected.
I have no idea why they are doing that, it is clearly wrong, it is clearly at the very least bad journalism, but whatever it is, they insist on maintaining this pretence, thus doing Sinn Fein's work for them.
Weirdly, it was left to a few American security guards to display at least some level of broader awareness during this period. That strange little incident outside the White House when Gerry Adams was delayed on his way into a St Patrick's event due to "an issue with security", led to Adams declaring that "it is obvious that there remain some within the US administration who seek to treat Sinn Fein differently".
He had to go to Washington to find someone, anyone, who treats the leader of a party which has intimate links with a globally renowned terrorist organisation differently.
And you can understand his chagrin, when you consider that, in Ireland, he, and all belonging to him, tend to be treated no differently to representatives of the Irish Countrywomen's Association, or, perhaps, the St Vincent de Paul.
In fact, not only have they succeeded magnificently in this vital ambition of theirs to be treated no differently, their "normalisation" is apparent in other ways. Not only do journalists refrain from telling us what they are - that Sinn Fein are different, very different - they are also routinely and helpfully described as something that they are not.
Invariably, they are described as one of the 'left-wing' parties. Which at one level is vaguely accurate, "at this point in time", as they say, but which at a deeper level is plainly wrong.
Sinn Fein, I think it is fair to say, is a nationalist party. A nationalist party just like Ukip, except to be fair to Nigel Farage's crowd, they've never had a paramilitary wing. Nationalism, all that 32-county-republic stuff, is what Sinn Fein does. If you were to say to them that they can keep the left-wing stuff but they'd have to let go of the old nationalism, you would soon find out what kind of party they are.
Yet I think that Joe Higgins of the Socialist Party has been the only figure of note in the entire body of politics who has bothered his arse pointing this out. Joe has always insisted that Sinn Fein is not really a left-wing party at all, and, frankly, on the subject of left-wing parties, Joe can claim a certain authority.
So it's Joe Higgins and his few Socialist colleagues who have made this very good point, and No One Else.
Professional political commentators again and again and again refer to Sinn Fein as something that essentially they are not. It's as if they prefer the illusion, that they just don't want to draw attention to any of that unpleasantness with the balaclavas. Why they would want to do that, I do not know.
I guess we have a few precedents for Official Ireland being lazy-minded and negligent and just not much good all round, and during the recent discussions about the formation of a government they further enhanced their reputation in this area.
It was Eoghan Harris who mainly made the point that a Fine Gael/Fianna Fail coalition would have the deeply undesirable side-effect of leaving Sinn Fein as the main opposition, setting them up very nicely for a serious crack at it next time. The majority of the political class took very little interest in this argument, too busy apparently with their immediate obsessions, maybe just incapable of imagining anything that seems so far away.
You could hear the odd one expressing the view that there's not much to worry about, because Sinn Fein only got less than 15pc of the vote - and of course we know that if you get less than 15pc of the vote in one election, that's what you're going to get in all the other elections. Yes, that's how it works, so there is indeed nothing to be bothered about here.
It is jaw-dropping stuff, this deep lethargy on the part of the commentariat - when it is explained to them that a certain arrangement will make a Sinn Fein-dominated government much more likely, much sooner, it just doesn't seem to register with them in any meaningful way.
Whatever . . .
An odd thing I have noted is that some observers of all things Provo are recovering alcoholics. And it is not just the benefit of a clear head, it arises out of an understanding that it can be extraordinarily difficult for people who lived a certain way for a long time, to live a different way - assuming that they want to, which of course is not even an assumption we can make about IRA/Sinn Fein.
Certainly they have stopped killing people, which is different, but they have not renounced a word of their belief system, which makes the chance of a "relapse" very strong indeed.
So the recovering addict, in an odd way, feels this connection to the likes of Sinn Fein, their fanaticism reminds him of his own, but most of all he knows that unless they're prepared to give up an awful lot of the things that have defined their existence, bad things will start to happen again.
Anyone trying to get beyond an obsession such as drink, or nationalism, or of course that famously lethal combination of the two, knows that it's no harm at all to be reminded of where you're coming from, just in case you take a wrong turn and find yourself back there.
Thus the retired drinker may find himself walking past one of his old haunts, and if he makes the cardinal error of stepping inside just for old times' sake, he may never emerge quite the same.
But if he is aware of his own weakness, if he reminds himself enough of the darkness from whence he has come, he knows he will probably be all right.
Nobody is reminding Sinn Fein of anything.
And as for themselves, they give no indication that they ever regarded anything they've ever done as being questionable, or even in poor taste - on a tactical level, perhaps, they would have done certain things a tad differently, but that's about it.
Otherwise they feel pretty good about themselves.
And how would they not feel good? They have done the most fantastically terrible things in the name of 'Ireland', and the only people who still want to make an issue out of it, are a few overly pedantic bouncers at the White House - and no doubt they've been put right about that, and it won't happen again.
So I guess this is just a small reminder, a bit of advance notice for you, that Sinn Fein is getting away with it, and that as a result, at some point in the not-too-distant future you may indeed wish to leave the country.
Then again, sure, it might be grand.
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