Sunday 15 September 2019

Sinn Féin wants a united Ireland, yet the party is backing a disunited Spain

Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin Pic: Collins
Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin Pic: Collins
John Downing

John Downing

Irish people just might recognise some familiar aspects in the storyline. A group of people in the north east of a country decide they want to do their own thing, and separate from the rest of the nation to better assert their identity.

They should be able to do just that, many of us will readily reply. It certainly was Sinn Féin's response to Catalonia's long-standing efforts to strike out on its own and organise a referendum on independence from Spain.

But what about the Northern Ireland Unionists' experience here? Weren't they, by Sinn Féin's lights, simply the ones who drew a boundary around themselves, and in cahoots with others, upended the rightful unity of the island of Ireland?

Turn this fraught and complex issue round by another twist or two and ask another question: does Sinn Féin, self-avowed long-standing supporter of Catalan self-determination, really believe that the disuniting of Spain could help re-unite Ireland?

For decades the solidarity between such groups, including the Basques, was always billed as mutually beneficial. Is it on any kind of practical level? Spain is a huge country with 17 distinct regions. Do we really want it to fragment?

What about a similar group in the north of Italy which says it is weary of subsidising the feckless and lazy in the south of its country, created barely 157 years ago?

Sinn Féin has been less keen to associate with Italy's Northern League maybe because its rhetoric is more stridently right-wing and anti-immigrant. What guarantee that an independent Catalonia would be different over time?

Such thoughts came to mind listening to Sinn Féin's cerebral Dublin Mid-West TD Eoin Ó Broin yesterday on phone from Barcelona to Newstalk's Pat Kenny. It harked back to many old questions and reminded us that consistency on these issues, with the best will in the world, is scarce on a good day.

Granted Mr Ó Broin, in Catalonia as part of a large delegation of parliamentarians invited by the regional government, was completely right to castigate the response of the federal Spanish government in unleashing violence upon people trying to vote.

Even though that vote was illegal in Spanish law and anathema to many people in Catalonia and across the other regions of Spain.

The image going round the world of Spanish police grabbing ballot boxes, attacking peaceful voters, and generally obstructing a democratic process was a blot on the reputation of a great and wonderful country.

What is required here is dialogue, something like the process Sinn Féin engaged in, 30 years after the continuous murdering and maiming of people.

The Catalan referendum stand-off further complicates a post-Brexit EU political landscape and Ireland's place in it all. We are talking about the potential fragmentation of the EU's fifth-largest member state.

Knee-jerk support for ethnic groups in other countries is not always as valid as we might initially think.

Nationalistic comparisons are often limited and can require a stretching of realities.

This one is very complex - nationalism often majors in over-simplifications.

Sinn Féin has had success fashioning the world in its image. Irish people's instinctive sympathy with the underdogs is a boon for it at times like this.

Irish Independent

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