In the wake of the British general election William Johnstone looks at the curious position now occupied by Sinn Fein. William Johnstone is a Ballymoney unionist with an interest in history and politics.
So the progressive voice and, indeed, embodiment of Republicanism, Sinn Fein saw their vote drop in the recent Westminster election. Not a major slump, though a massive 17% in West Belfast, the electorate checked the Sinn Fein bandwagon and brought it to a halt.
We have been consistently reminded how great an achievement it has been to bring Sinn Fein in from the cold to embrace constitutional politics but, in reality, what choice did they have? The PIRA was infiltrated at the highest echelons by various security agencies. Freddie Scappaticci who headed the 'nutting squad', charged by the Army Council with identifying and executing informers was himself an informer.
Think about that. The Security Forces were using the PIRAs own security department to target and execute Republicans. You couldn't make it up! How many Republicans executed by Scappaticci or on his word, were innocent of the charges laid against them. Surely the families of every person murdered by them now wonder if their loved one was merely targeted by Scappaticci's handlers.
Politically the man in charge of Sinn Fein administration, Denis Donaldson was unmasked as a highly paid informer. Throughout the entire talks process, the British government were a step ahead of Sinn Fein. Donaldson kept his paymasters fully informed.
Militarily and politically, Sinn Fein / PIRA were compromised so, in the end, what choice did they have but cave in and join the other constitutional parties. They aren't supermen and wonder women. They were totally outmanoeuvred and neutered and remain toothless tigers from a war they lost.