Daniel McConnell: SF not an alternative, but becoming a credible one
Fianna Fail risks allowing Sinn Fein to slip past it and become the opposition party
DURING Leaders' Questions in the Dail on Thursday, Mary Lou McDonald skewered Labour Minister Pat Rabbitte over his party's connivance in inflicting savage cuts on some of the most vulnerable people in Ireland.
"It is the utmost in humbug, Scrooge, to come in here and make any pretence that yesterday's Budget was fair," she began.
"He cannot talk about protecting the vulnerable and then launch an attack on carers, who care, in many instances, for people with profound disabilities. Does Pat Rabbitte get that? I heard his colleague, Joan Burton, saying to parents who rely on the back-to-school allowance to shop around. How out of touch is she? Is Pat Rabbitte actually that cheap and that glib?"
Eloquent, forceful and articulate, McDonald was the clear victor in the Dail pantomime, but followers of politics know Sinn Fein has become very good at indignation.
Indignation over the bank bailout; over the bondholders; over the cuts that hit the poor; indignation over the wet weather; over the Ireland's poor performance at the Euros last summer – Sinn Feiners are the masters of strategic anger. In Sinn Fein land, it is always someone else's fault and the answer is always easy.
If for a moment you could forget her party's disgusting past, then McDonald's expressions of anger would be potentially plausible.
But, of course, SF's links to criminality. murder and terrorism cannot be forgotten and while their rhetorical flourishes make for great additions to news packages on the television, they are utterly discredited. Firstly, the party agreed with the €3.5bn adjustment as outlined by Michael Noonan. So Sinn Fein concurred that taxes should be increased and that spending cuts had to be made, but then opposed every mechanism to make that adjustment.
The party's cynical opportunism was typified in its tabling of a motion of no confidence in the Government on Friday night, when it knew that it has no chance of winning. It is happy to waste two days of Dail time when there are far more pressing issues to be concerned with.
Coupled with that is the fact that Sinn Fein failed to submit its alternative budget – which proposed an €800m wealth tax – for proper costing by the Department of Finance, as is the norm with opposition documents. The SF figures are discredited bunkum.
Thirdly, SF's opposition to many of the austerity measures in the South is the height of hypocrisy, given the party's implementation of such policies in Northern Ireland. Anti-austerity south of the Border, but pro-austerity north of it – Sinn Fein continues to want to have it both ways.
While certainly energetic and dogged in the pursuit of a headline, when it comes to the grown-up national political and economic agenda, Gerry Adams and his gang remain unconvincing.
As of now, Middle Ireland continues to share these concerns and still refuses to consider SF a credible party for Government, as is reflected in the plateauing of SF support in recent opinion polls. However, unless Fianna Fail purges itself of guilt for its considerable past crimes and rediscovers a set of distinct core principles, it risks allowing SF to slip past it and become the main party of opposition.
If FF is to have a role in the lifetime of the 31st Dail, it is to prevent Sinn Fein from becoming a genuine contender for high office.
Such is the malaise in FF that some rural Government TDs are now saying the next general election will become a straight choice not between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, but between Fine Gael and Sinn Fein. Labour's collapse seems inevitable and Fianna Fail is still more than a term away from being tolerable as a lead party in Government.
In politics, it is difficult sometimes to distinguish the truth from spin and, to echo Shakespeare, Sinn Fein are the lights that do mislead the morn, and not worthy of consideration for Governmental office in their current form.
And while Rabbitte sought to dismiss the "flaky stuntmen in the technical group", it is somewhat disconcerting how their continued call to arms, particularly on the bondholders and on austerity, are beginning to make sense.
The country is beyond fatigued with the relentless series of cuts, now totalling €28bn since 2008, and the absence of adequate growth year after year strengthens the stock of Stephen Donnelly, Shane Ross and, dare I say it, Richard Boyd Barrett.
The independents are as high as 21 per cent in the latest Red C poll for the Sunday Business Post, but it is hard to see half the current crop returned, as many were elected due to anti-FF feeling.
Donnelly and Ross could easily do business with Fine Gael if they needed to, and could be the kingmakers for Fine Gael next time out.
Ultimately, with three and a bit years to go before the next scheduled general election, it must be the goal of the main political parties not to allow Sinn Fein to cast a spell on a disenchanted public.
This requires real leadership from Fine Gael and Labour in Government, real opposition from Fianna Fail and from the independents.