Soon after the last general election, when I realised the Irish Republic had no stomach for standing up to Sinn Féin, I added Barry Desmond’s political memoir Finally And In Conclusion to the few comfort books at my bedside.
Barry Desmond, a brilliant Labour minister for health, saw through Sinn Féin from the start and supported every measure — from special courts to Section 31 — to slow its campaign of subversion in the Republic.
We no longer have tough politicians like Desmond, who rightly believed that unless his government stood up to Sinn Féin “they would have walked all over us”.
That is what Sinn Féin will do at the next general election. Walk all over the main parties who suffer from akrasia (weakness of the will) when it comes to defending Irish democracy, and cravenly treat an abnormal party as if it were a normal one.
Where else in Europe is there a party, directed by an armed wing, whose strategic aim is state power so as to pressurise a unionist minority into a united Ireland — at the risk of trouble spreading to the whole island?
Where else in Europe is there a party with a paramilitary wing which has access to huge funds, whose sources are murky, given SF’s links to the IRA whose fund-raising is well within the mafia tradition?
Yet the Irish Government seems coerced by a cowardly media determined to sanitise a party directed by an army council, the only party on this island without an open leadership election, which is still linked with the IRA, and whose ultimate aims threaten the safety of the Republic.
How can our politicians and media not see that Sinn Féin is not interested in comfortable middle-class radicalism or gradual change, but wants to dictate a revolution on this island?
That strategy explains a report last weekend by Philip Ryan, in the Sunday Independent, revealing Sinn Féin was running a secret political data collection system called Abú.
This was no simple electoral register review but a Stasi-like prying whereby Sinn Féin could almost tell what you had for breakfast.
In any other European country Ryan’s report would have raised the roof. But the initial response — from politicians, the Irish Times, and RTÉ — was both tardy and feeble.
Last Wednesday, almost five days after Ryan’s first report, Kathy Sheridan of the Irish Times finally got around to it in a muted manner.
Failing to credit Philip Ryan with his scoop, she forced us to wade through nine paragraphs about Trump and other distractions before dealing with Sinn Féin.
Later that day, on Drivetime, at the tail end of a tedious interview about Covid, Cormac Ó hEadhra briefly asked David Cullinane two listless questions, which showed he had not digested the Ryan story.
Because when David Cullinane twice misleadingly told him that Abú was no different to looking up the electoral register, Ó hEadhra failed to point out the difference.
First, unlike the secret Abú system, you knew you were on the electoral register.
Second, the electoral register doesn’t record who you voted for.
RTÉ’s Six One News was no better. The Sinn Féin story was pushed into the second part of a general story about Facebook.
Every few days brings fresh evidence of our feeble response to the threat to Irish democracy. Saddest of all has been the response of our public intellectuals, writers, and journalists.
Recently, I read with dismay John Banville’s concern, expressed in an interview with Niamh Horan, about the alleged rise of “right-wing fascists”.
Banville’s concern began when he was enjoying a glass of wine outside his favourite restaurant and heard the sound of distant chanting.
“The fascists were having a protest meeting over at the Dáil. The ranting made me think of a Nuremberg rally. They would rant on without pause for 20 minutes, punctuated by roars from the crowd. It was very worrying.”
Banville was talking about a few hundred anti-lockdown louts and not about Sinn Féin, the most sophisticated political machine seen in Europe since the early days of fascism.
“People are talking about having to reconcile with the right wing. You can’t reconcile with them. These people are out to destroy us. They hate us. They absolutely loathe us.”
If Banville meant Sinn Féin — and I know his public loathing of ultra nationalism includes them — I would agree. But the rabble who run around without masks are only a useful distraction for Sinn Féin.
Banville writes regularly in the New York Review of Books about European writers who stood up to fascism and communism.
How can such a brilliant novelist and critic be so acute about fascism in other countries yet not seize every chance to condemn SF, the biggest such threat in his own country?
Banville is not the only public intellectual who seems too sanguine about SF agents who go about their work stealthily.
In February 2020, a few days before the general election, Fintan O’Toole of the Irish Times wrote: “There can be no progressive government in Ireland without Sinn Féin.”
Likewise, the day before polling, David McWilliams, in the Financial Times, assured us “a vote for Sinn Féin in the Republic is not, as in Catalonia, an endorsement of narrow-gauge nationalism.”
On the contrary, I believe Irish nationalism is more narrow-gauge than that of most European countries — because it has less reason for its rage.
Furthermore, I believe unless we understand what in Irish nationalism makes us vulnerable to the vultures of Sinn Féin it will all end in tears.
Back in the 1987, in a polemic called Television and Terrorism, I pointed out that the real problem is that the consensus against violence in the Republic is a “leaky consensus”.
All it takes is some lout on television to sound off about the Brits and the DUP, and we are straight away back in a dark tribal place.
Above all, I believe there is something pathological about the way Irish nationalism cannot move on.
France and Germany can be friends after two terrible world wars, while we still get worked up about Bloody Sunday or the Burning of Cork.
How can it not be pathological to get periodically worked up into a tribal froth about a united Ireland that few of in the Republic want? Here are three speculative answers.
First, the flawed idea that even though the Republic is a century old, it’s not really a country minus NI.
Second, the defamation that most decent unionists can be compared with apartheid Afrikaners.
Finally, and most toxic of all, the deeply held, if rarely fully articulated feeling, that regardless of how the armed struggle actually played out, that fundamentally the Provos had a case, were provoked by the Brits and RUC, and were morally justified, if not always tactically careful enough, in their use of violence.
These delusions are still working their poison deep in the national psychology, despite 50 years of historical research showing that the Provos killed more Catholic civilians than all the security forces combined.
The pathology of Irish nationalism meant we spent Brexit pressurising London and Brussels about a land border in Ireland. But what of the self-imposed borders in Northern Ireland called “peace walls”? These sectarian walls cannot be wished away.
Behind these walls festers trouble. SF’s unity project will unleash that hate across the whole island — unless we confront and cure our sick nationalist pathology.