Micheal Martin has won: Fianna Fail not Sinn Fein is true republican party
Question must be asked whether Sinn Fein has ever fully abandoned its strategy of ballot box and Armalite
Published 25/10/2015 | 02:30
Micheal Martin has been described as the first Fianna Fail leader who will never be Taoiseach.
Whether that turns out be true or not, he will still have done the State a great service as the man who rescued "republicanism" from Sinn Fein. That is if the Sinn Fein party as we know it can be properly described as republican in the first place.
After the events of last week, it is difficult if not impossible to regard Sinn Fein a republican party.
The historian Peter Pyne, at the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Rising suggested there had been several "Sinn Fein" parties, only one "republican" and that for a brief period.
Sinn Fein went through four phases in its early years, he said; or even that there were four different parties of the name "Sinn Fein": monarchical (1907-17); nationalist (1917-22); republican (1922-26) and "extremist or fundamentalist" thereafter.
Two further splits since, 'thereafter' includes the current leadership of Sinn Fein, which believes the IRA's mandate came from 'the situation in the North' rather than legalistic arguments about what happened in 1921 or 1938.
At its 1981 Ard Fheis, this leadership rhetorically asked whether delegates would object if Sinn Fein took power with a ballot box in one hand and an Armalite rifle in the other.
From a report presented by the Northern Secretary, Theresa Villiers last week, the question now arises: has Sinn Fein ever fully abandoned its Armalite/ballot box strategy?
The report concluded that Provisional IRA members believe the PIRA army council oversees both the Provos and Sinn Fein with an overarching strategy.
In the Dail last week, Micheal Martin said the fundamental question for our republic, that we must answer and which the report does not ask, was the "threat to democracy" from an organisation that is linked with politics but which retains a military structure, with an active intelligence gathering department which has access to weaponry.
In recent months, the Fianna Fail leader, if not alone, then to an extent greater than any other political leader here has taken the battle to Sinn Fein on the republican question.
Republicanism is the well-source of Fianna Fail, which that other political party by the name Sinn Fein has, with some success, sought to run dry.
This exchange in the Dail last week illustrates how Sinn Fein has waged battle for the hearts and minds of republicans:
The Taoiseach: "Whatever way we are here - Deputy Martin as leader of his party, I as leader of mine, and the Tanaiste as leader of the Labour Party - we are not subject to direction from any army council.
Deputy Jonathan O'Brien (SF): "They are only subject to bankers and developers."
The battle came to a head in the Dail when Sinn Fein could elevate the debate no further than to refer to the Fianna Fail leader as a "gurrier". As Fianna Fail leader, Micheal Martin has waged an ideological battle with Sinn Fein for the hearts and minds of republicans, more recently at the Bodenstown commemoration last weekend for the grandfather of Irish republicanism, Wolfe Tone, a man made great, it has been said, because he had no ideology at all.
But first, republicanism is a term long misused in Ireland, associated as it is with militant and armed nationalism.
Nothing new there: the English-American political activist, Tom Paine, a player in both the American and French revolutions said "it has always been the political craft of courtiers and court government to abuse something which they call republicanism: but what that republicanism was or is they never attempt to explain".
The principles of modern republicanism have developed over time to be widely accepted as democracy, citizenship and internationalism; liberty, equality and fraternity.
"How dare they claim to own Irish republicanism," Micheal Martin said of Sinn Fein at Bodenstown last Sunday: "No organisation which fails to expose child abusers, racketeers and murderers can call itself republican."
This battle for the hearts and minds of republicans has also been fought by Sinn Fein. In a statement last month, Gerry Adams said Sinn Fein was "the only republican movement in this island".
Martin took issue at Bodenstown: "Theirs is not the ideology of 1798 and 1916 - it is a mafia-like organisation which is incapable of respecting anyone outside of its own ranks."
At Bodenstown, and before that in the Dail in July, he again called out Sinn Fein: in a debate on Northern Ireland, he said that Sinn Fein's call on people to vote by religion, and get one over on the other side, was "sectarianism pure and simple".
He said the failure of political leadership to assist properly in the fight against sectarianism and to promote a "genuine spirit of equality" was demonstrated in "disgraceful comments" by Gerry Adams last year when he talked about "breaking the bastard", a comment made in response to the DUP's "childish mockery of the Irish language". In that context Adams had also said equality was "the Trojan horse of the entire republican strategy".
But equality was not a strategy, the Fianna Fail leader said, and was not something to be exploited: "It is the fundamental and core foundation of the entire strategy of the people of Ireland."
Since the 16th century, republicanism, in the words of one commentator was "more a language than a programme"; the vocabulary one of protest, resistance to tyrants, rooting out corruption and instilling (and installing) civic virtue.
In that regard, Fianna Fail has both failed and succeeded, its failure, by reference to bankers and developers, which Sinn Fein has sought to exploit. In this General Election, republicans will have to make a choice within the ultimate choice, which will be, who best represents republicanism - Fianna Fail or Sinn Fein?
Whatever Fianna Fail's failureto uphold the true ideals of republicanism in the past, I would contend that Micheal Martin won the argument last week; and I would argue that Fine Gael and Labour, have a duty to make the case for Fianna Fail. The republic - literally, the public thing - depends on it.