Saturday 19 January 2019

Martin buries arrow in Sinn Fein's Achilles heel

Cartoonist: Jim Cogan
Cartoonist: Jim Cogan
Eoghan Harris

Eoghan Harris

Last Tuesday, Simon Coveney said he was worried about North Korea. He would do better to worry about the North of Ireland - and its increasing impact on the politics of the Irish Republic.

Now most of my readers in the Irish Republic don't really care a lot about Northern Ireland.

But they do care about what Edmund Burke called our "little platoon", this precious Republic of ours.

Let me join the dots between what's going on in Northern Ireland right now and its impact on the next Irish General Election.

Last Thursday on Morning Ireland, Gerry Adams gave us a preview of the Sinn Fein strategy.

As he has been doing for some time, he praised Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar - always a bad sign for an Irish Government.

Being Adams, he tacked on the sinister threat that failure to implement an Irish Language Act would "radicalise" young nationalists.

It was sinister because the current usage of "radicalise" is confined largely to Isil recruits.

In short, Adams was setting the scene to reject Arlene Foster's speech that night, no matter what.

Foster was conciliatory. She asked Sinn Fein to put the Irish language on the back burner for an agreed time so the Executive could start working.

Adams broke her olive branch. And again praised the Irish Government.

But, as always, he showed the sinister side of the coin within a few hours.

He brazenly said the IRA gang who tortured and murdered Tom Oliver should not be brought to justice.

Adding all that up prompts some questions. Why is Adams praising the Irish Government?

Why does he feel able to reject Arlene Foster and disrespect Tom Oliver?

The answer, as I have argued for months, is that Adams is taking advantage of Simon Coveney's version of the old Peter Barry pan-nationalist position.

If you doubt that, just compare the reactions of Simon Coveney and Micheal Martin to Adams's rejection of Foster's speech.

Coveney came out with a statement commending Foster but carefully not criticising Adams.

Martin went straight for Sinn Fein's Achilles heel: its pretence to be a party looking out for working people.

His subheading hit Sinn Fein where it hurt: "This decision is letting down the working people of Northern Ireland." (My italics.)

That hurt because in the Republic Sinn Fein likes to present itself as a socialist party as much as a nationalist party.

Indeed many southern TDs privately want to get Northern Ireland off their backs, and are increasingly restive coming up to a general election.

Sinn Fein's claim to be a socialist party rests on giving priority to what socialists call 'class politics'.

Class politics gives prior place to jobs, housing and health, it's not just about gender issues and minority languages.

The latter issues are laudable parts of a liberal agenda. But they are not life and death matters for most working-class people.

Given a choice between a cultural issue like the Irish language and a class issue like setting up the Executive so as to roll back health cuts, Adams chose culture over class.

This adds to the suspicion that Sinn Fein uses Irish as a tribal cudgel against unionists.

In sum, it seems that Adams would let a Tory minister govern Northern Ireland rather than give up a grievance that affects less than 1pc of the population.

Martin rubbed that in hard. "While Fianna Fail supports the Irish Language Act, we do not believe that it should be used as a political pawn, when basic services for citizens are deteriorating."

Finally, he hung a lantern on Sinn Fein's hypocrisy in pretending the Irish language has always been a red letter line.

"Sinn Fein initially collapsed the Executive because of the renewable heating controversy. Eight months later, the issue has now changed to the enactment of the Irish Language Act."

Why isn't Simon Coveney saying that? Why allow Adams to patronise him with faint praise?

The answer, as I have argued for months, is that Coveney subscribes to the old Peter Barry Catholic nationalist line on Northern Ireland - and that's also a pan-nationalist line as near as makes no difference.

Let me pause here to say I was not always a critic of Simon Coveney, whom I once admired almost as much as I did his father.

But his determination to get the Northern Ireland portfolio set off alarm bells. So did Leo Varadkar's weakness in giving it to him.

Like all Foreign Affairs ministers, Coveney had to choose between the two broad policies available to an Irish Government on Northern Ireland: the Jack Lynch line and the Peter Barry line.

The Jack Lynch line is to put peace first, leave the question of unity on the longest of long fingers, calm unionist fears and starve Sinn Fein/IRA of political power in the Irish Republic.

The Peter Barry line is to look out for Northern Catholics, use the British government to give the unionists a hard time, and treat Sinn Fein as a partner in that pan-nationalist tribal enterprise.

The main advantage of the Jack Lynch line is that it stops Sinn Fein making political mischief in the Republic: the only disadvantage is being badmouthed by Sinn Fein's propaganda machine.

The main advantage of the Peter Barry line is that it allows Fine Gael to wave a green flag. The disadvantage is that Sinn Fein has a bigger one.

But the big difference between the Lynch and Barry lines is that the latter is based on a lie.

The lie that the Republic really wants a united Ireland when in fact we are happy enough with this State.

But in recent years the Republic began to come to terms with that lie, particularly since Northern Catholics no longer suffered discrimination.

Under Haughey, Fianna Fail gave up the Lynch line for the Barry line and paid a heavy price for its stupidity.

But under Bertie Ahern and now Micheal Martin, Fianna Fail has returned to the pluralist Jack Lynch line of not letting Sinn Fein set the pace on Northern Ireland.

Fine Gael is now the party with that problem. It stems from Leo Varadkar's weak decision to move Charlie Flanagan from Foreign Affairs.

Flanagan always had a firm grasp on the fact that pan-nationalism is the Trojan Horse by which Sinn Fein hopes to win political hegemony in the Republic.

Flanagan had another gift: he genuinely believed Northern protestants were entitled to live in peace without the IRA perpetually knocking on their door.


Let me fire up Waterford to roll back the implications of a story about one of our greatest soldiers, now retired, Brigadier-General Gerald Aherne ­- himself a famous Cork hurler - while in charge of the Cadet course at Curragh.

Aherne is moving down the ranks of the new cadets, asking each one what county they come from, then giving a concise summary of that county's contribution, both in hurling and in active service, during the War of Independence.

Finally he stops at the last hapless cadet in the line:

"What county, Cadet?"

"Waterford, sir."

"One ambush. Two All-Irelands."

Sunday Independent

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