It’s not easy being red and green – even for the Shinners
In the interest of wooing left-wing voters in the Republic, Adams’ party is causing havoc in the North
It’s tough being an Irish politician. You have an electoral system that induces constant paranoia vis-a-vis your own party colleagues; fickle voters with a culture of entitlement; and a brutal whipping system that regards your conscience as a dispensable accessory.
For Sinn Fein politicians, it’s both better and worse. Owing to past unorthodox methods of fund-raising and continued popularity among some of the American rich, the party has prospered over the years. While others have to pursue their political ambitions in their spare time, those smiled on by the Sinn Fein hierarchy are given a living wage to do so full time.
The advantage of being part of a cult is that your script is written for you and you don’t have the burden of having to think for yourself. So Sinn Fein recruits tend toward people who love to follow orders.
Partition adds to their problems. What wins applause in the North may be toxic in the South.
There was a graphic illustration of this in 2012. Michelle Gildernew, MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, came out passionately in support of the bankrupted billionaire and local hero and job-provider Sean Quinn, whom she said had been “treated disgracefully” by the Irish Government. Mary Lou McDonald, with an eye to a Dublin electorate in punitive mood, took a completely different line: the money owed to the Anglo-Irish Bank was now “money owed to the State. The Quinns have an obligation to abide by the law, the same as any other citizen.”
A few days later, I was beside Gerry Kelly — the Old Bailey bomber and senior Belfast assembly member, at a political panel in West Belfast — when we were asked if the Quinns were being treated fairly.
Caught between the Scylla of the North’s rural Michelle and the Charybdis of the South’s urban Mary Lou, Kelly was ambivalent: while Quinn should be held accountable for using people’s money, he shouldn’t be made a scapegoat.
The following morning, when Radio Ulster was seeking to interview him, he was said to have left town.
This month, there was a similar embarrassment when in response to an attack on his suitability for the post of Agricultural Commissioner from Roscommon’s Matt Carthy, MEP for Midlands-North-West, Phil Hogan read an extract from an enthusiastic letter of support from Stormont’s Agriculture Minister, Tyrone’s Michelle O’Neill, adding the feline comment: “There seems to be a little breakdown in discipline in Sinn Fein, and I hope you won’t get into trouble with it.”
The applause in the chamber didn’t just come from the Irish, for Sinn Fein are no more popular there than anywhere else outside their heartlands. Closed, careful and always on duty, their single-minded pursuit of power disconcerts even seasoned politicians, not least because here and abroad, people who laboured long and hard in the interests of stability in the North have come to realise that in their determination to get into government in the Republic, Sinn Fein are ambivalent about Stormont being destabilised, or even wrecked.
In its slightly responsible days in government, Sinn Fein voted for the spending cuts necessary to keep the show on the road, but since down south it grasped that its most dangerous competitors were on the left, fiscal prudence went out the window.
A deal between Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness over welfare reform was ditched by Gerry Adams and his colleagues in the Republic, even though the result is swingeing cuts in other parts of the public services. Although the North contributes disproportionately low tax income to the Exchequer and is a disproportionately high spender, Sinn Fein simply repeats the empty mantra that politicians should stand up to Westminster. But they think their vote in the North is rock-solid, and all that matters is that down south they maintain rigidly anti-austerity policies and lie to the electorate that there are plenty of rich around to be soaked.
And, hey, didn’t that shove them four points up in the Irish Times opinion poll on Thursday, to draw level with Fine Gael?
Yet despite their centralised control and brilliant lying, cross-border strains keep showing. Terrified by the ferocity of the attack by Paul Murphy, the Anti-Austerity Alliance candidate in Dublin South West, who accused Sinn Fein of being soft on a water-charges boycott, they fell into disarray and Gerry Adams once more showed his economic illiteracy by not even knowing what his liabilities were.
Now the results are in, Sinn Fein can give some attention to the political crisis in the North, upping their demands that the forthcoming talks involve representatives of the British and Irish governments, the EU and, of course, America. Despite being told so bluntly, they haven’t yet grasped that Dublin, Westminster, Brussels and Washington are bored and fed-up with Northern Ireland and think it’s about time local politicians did the job they were paid for.
As he rides his two horses, does Adams ever reflect on the irony that in the name of a united Ireland, he is exacerbating North-South tensions, copper-fastening partition and at a time when more devolution is available, is very possibly about to precipitate the return of direct rule?
No, I didn’t think so either. Irony never was a prized republican virtue.