Sunday 23 October 2016

The politically correct are not always correct

Published 12/06/2016 | 02:30

Jim Cogan cartoon
Jim Cogan cartoon

Sinn Fein's northern strategy is to finish off the SDLP - just as its southern strategy is to finish off Fianna Fail.

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Let's take a look at how the two projects are progressing, starting with Northern Ireland.

Now I know many southern readers react negatively to any mention of Northern Ireland - one of the many bitter fruits of the Provisional IRA's campaign.

Likewise, it is only fair to point out, most northerners have a similar limited interest in southern politics.

These views pre-date partition. Like the past, the North is another country.

Newton Emerson is one of the few commentators to keep a beady and balanced eye on Sinn Fein, on both sides of the Border.

He also practises the kind of tough love that political delinquents need if they are to ever experience the epiphanies of remorse and redemption.

Emerson gives SF the odd knobby carrot for good behaviour but more frequently applies the stick when it regresses into sectarian mode.

Last week, he gave a bit of both in a perceptive piece in the Irish Times titled 'Sinn Fein quietly outflanks the SDLP'.

Emerson was examining a speech in which Matt Carthy, the Sinn Fein MEP, had floated the notion of "continued devolution to Belfast within an all-Ireland structure".

On this peg, Emerson erected a convincing case that Sinn Fein was taking another step towards accepting the state of Northern Ireland.

So far, Sinn Fein has been as careful not to formally recognise Northern Ireland as Hamas has been not to recognise the state of Israel.

But if Sinn Fein continues on this course and learns to live with two polities on the island, then the SDLP's survival is at stake.

That's because, as Emerson points out, Colum Eastwood, the leader of the SDLP, campaigned on the mantra of "making Northern Ireland work".

That was a clever, strategic move to take up a centrist position for constitutional nationalism.

But should Sinn Fein step adroitly into the same space, with one stroke it would both steal the SDLP's clothes and steal ahead of the DUP to become the North's largest party.

Emerson rightly says this would have big implications for the Irish Republic. "Making Northern Ireland work is also a good signal to send if you want to be in office in Dublin."

Producing a carrot at the end, Emerson ends by conceding there is "nothing insincere about pursuing these objectives simultaneously - they are all compatible".

Indeed they are. Not just compatible but clever. And, in my view, almost certain to succeed, at least in Northern Ireland.

That's because the pursuit of two apparently incompatible aims is what I mean by dialectical politics - one of the many lessons Sinn Fein learned from the Workers' Party.

But while that move to the constitutional centre might work in Northern Ireland, it is no longer likely to work in the Irish Republic.

When I say "no longer likely", I mentally wipe the sweat from my brow as one does after a narrow shave.

Six months ago, I was almost alone in the Irish media in arguing that Micheal Martin would not bow to a faction in the party which wanted a squalid deal with Sinn Fein after the 2016 General Election.

Last Sunday, on the Week in Politics, I said Martin's brilliant strategy in going into Opposition had achieved two aims.

First, it put Fianna Fail's future on a firm foundation. Second, it positioned the party to shaft Sinn Fein.

But the most positive feedback was produced by my bon mot that Martin was as much a mystery to his party as to the public.

Alas, it was not mine, but borrowed from Aine Lawlor, who generously gave that gem away before the show.

Because Martin's strategy is Napoleonic in its sweep, some of his party are struggling with the dialectics of keeping Sinn Fein pinned down and the current Government propped up.

For example, it was a mistake to cede the chair of the Oireachtas committees on Justice and the Belfast Agreement to Sinn Fein.

These two committees are the Siamese twins of security and Fianna Fail members will have to act as watchers on the north wall.

Fianna Fail's new deputies should also be sceptical of PC posturing, whether Trot demos against Trump or faux feminist campaigns.

In particular, deputies raised on the sudden-death responses of social media may be stampeded into taking up PC positions.

In 2014, the then mostly male deputies of the Dail were suckered by Gerry Adams into suddenly standing up for a minute's silence in solidarity with Gaza.

Today, new women deputies risk being seduced into faux-feminist slipstreams by the pressures of social media.

They should remember that in the relatively recent past reactionary Irish puritans policed the media on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church.

Today, a new breed of puritans, led by self-promoting, self-proclaimed feminists, police social media, prowling for heretics to burn at the digital stake.

Last week, Niamh Horan was subjected to diatribes on social media for her common-sense warning on Brendan O'Connor's Cutting Edge that teenage girls who drink themselves stupid increase the risk of rape.

But while social media went mad, my hunch is that Horan has her finger firmly on the pulse of the majority in Middle Ireland, particularly the parents of teenage girls, appalled by our alcohol culture.

Fianna Fail's females would do well to reflect on what drives a committed pro-choice supporter like American lesbian feminist author Camille Paglia to warn pro-choice feminists that they must listen to reservations about abortion with respect.

Furthermore, Fianna Fail women deputies could be more cynical about allegedly "feminist" complaints, like those of Kate O'Connell, Fine Gael deputy for Dublin Bay South.

Deputy O'Connell, articulate, politically correct and photo-friendly, gets more publicity than most when she parades her pro-choice and fashionably feminist credentials.

Last week, on an Irish Times podcast, she complained about Enda Kenny appointing so many junior ministers.

"I don't know if there was jobs for the girls, but there seems to be plenty of jobs for the boys."

Fiona O'Loughlin, the formidable new Fianna Fail deputy from Kildare South, was a tad too quick in agreeing with O'Connell that there was no need for an increase in minister of state positions.

That depends on what Enda Kenny had to do in order to create a stable government - and Deputy O'Loughlin's party has a stake in that stability.

She might also have asked Deputy O'Connell whether she would have been as mouthy if Kenny had made her a junior minister.

That might have put a dampener on the sisterly solidarity in studio. But it would have demonstrated Deputy O'Loughlin's independence - and her ability to play junior hurling.

Sunday Independent

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