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Reality is the missing gene in Sinn Fein's DNA

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Illustration by Niall O Loughlin

Illustration by Niall O Loughlin

Illustration by Niall O Loughlin

Sinn Fein's most vehement critics are united in the assumption that Sinn Fein has no moral compass.

Once you have accepted that principal, the standards of normal political predictions pretty much go out the window. Unlike Fianna Fail, however, it seems as though Sinn Fein's history is not something which requires atonement when it comes to public opinion.

There was much surprise and gnashing of teeth by political parties last week as Sinn Fein continued to make significant gains in spite of the appalling revelations about Mairia Cahill. So, historically, the voting public have learned to expect the worst from Sinn Fein when it comes to upholding justice - and in this regard even the newer members rarely disappoint. As a political party which has navigated its way from guerrilla warfare to government in the North, the question is - can they do it here?

Yesterday, the established political parties joined forces to verbally attack their political agenda. In terms of highlighting the issues, the debate did exactly what it set out to do by emphasising the criminality and secrecy at the heart of the IRA and their pathological loyalty to the cause. But whether the debate politically damages the incumbent members of Sinn Fein in the longer term remains to be seen. It did not address the potential implications of Sinn Fein's participation in a future government.

The popularity of Sinn Fein has escalated, in spite of the fact that even their present-day policies seem grounded in propaganda rather than practicality. The reason their popularity is advancing may be because, unlike other political parties in the Republic, they do not confine themselves to the conventional rules traditionally used when defining political positioning - reality.

Reality is the other missing gene from Sinn Fein's DNA. They occupy some parallel political universe where reality is as changeable as the weather. For the most part, their policies oscillate somewhere between anger and outrage and they continue to radically alter their message in order to appeal to the masses. Timing is everything in politics, and ever since the downturn in 2008, Sinn Fein has ruthlessly exploited that well-worn business maxim that there are opportunities in adversity.

Sinn Fein's constant complaint of bad choices resonates with a disgruntled and disenfranchised electorate. When tackled about their lack of accountability, Sinn Fein cry foul with accusations of dirty tactics and rough justice.

The Coalition Government, Fianna Fail and the Independent candidates are outflanked by Sinn Fein time and time again for one simple reason. Discipline. Aspiring Sinn Fein candidates who sign up know from day one that they are not just entering a political party, they are enlisting into a militaristic-type political unit. They are organised. They are united. They have a script and they stick to it.

Their policy is to object, projecting a message of protest to people seeking a political home. The Government and competing opposition parties have failed abysmally to expose the economic reality of the implications of Sinn Fein in office. They are too distracted to apply their waning energies to stop the onward progression of Sinn Fein.

It may yet transpire that for parties such as Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fáil, their greatest failure may not be their own demise, but that they allowed Sinn Fein to slip through the hedge, skip up the garden path and ensconce themselves in the front room.

The snide and boorish remarks from Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams of late have only served to highlight his lack of finesse when it comes to political dexterity. Comments about Michael Collins were borderline nonsensical.

If those comments were made as a crude attempt to entice some disgruntled Fine Gael voters or perhaps suggest some similarity with Collins in terms of legacy, then the tactic failed spectacularly.

Followed by his obdurate remarks from a fundraising event in New York about journalists being held at gunpoint, he has demonstrated again how he consistently fails to accept or respect the line between acceptable comment and implied threats.

Gerry Adams's popularity levels are high but declining, but he is not halting the progress of the Sinn Fein party for now.

In terms of public opinion at least, it seems that Sinn Fein had wiped their feet on the mat of history and have left their past outside the hall door. Until recently, the normal rules simply have not been applied to Sinn Fein, who have enjoyed the blanket of the peace process as political cover.

If opinion polls are correct, then we face the real possibility that Gerry Adams could be Tanaiste in the not-too-distant future, a reality which other parties need to come to terms with and voters need to consider.

Irish Independent