Monday, June 5, 2017

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Jettison Dinosaur Dynasty

Sinn Fein needs to finally dump abstentionism at Westminster after 8th June, argues former Blanket columnist Dr John Coulter with his Ireland's Eye Column from Tribune Magazine last week.

If the republican movement is to have a meaningful voice in the UK’s Brexit negotiations, it must exorcise the demon of abstentionism from Sinn Fein.

Since its formation in 1905, Sinn Fein has maintained its public stance against British rule in Ireland by refusing to allow its MPs to take their Commons seats. Yet Sinn Fein elected representatives take their seats in every other parliament.

Even the late Ian Paisley senior and late Martin McGuinness successfully ran the DUP/SF power-sharing partitionist Executive at Stormont during the so-called ‘Chuckle Brothers’ era in the peace process.

June 8th could see a major shift in the Orange/Green balance of power in Northern Ireland. Unionists have already lost their majority in Stormont. There is the real possibility that republicanism could become the majority voice at the ballot box with nationalist or republican candidates clinching the balance of Northern Ireland’s 18 seats. 

In mainland Britain, Scottish and Welsh nationalist MPs as well as anti-monarchy or republican MPs within Labour all take their seats, leaving Sinn Fein as the political odd-ball.

Republicans who cling to the ‘dinosaur dynasty’ of abstentionism would do well to remember the Commons success of former Mid Ulster MP Bernadette Devlin, who became one of the youngest MPs to take her seat in 1969 as a Unity candidate. 

She is a devout republican socialist, but clearly recognised the sterling merits of the political phrase – if you’re not in, you can’t win!

Eloquent republican elected representatives have made significant impacts in Stormont, Dublin’s Dail, and the European Parliament so if they truly want to prove that Sinn Fein has totally embraced the principles of democracy – as well as campaigning effectively for the best Brexit deal for the UK – all Sinn Fein MPs elected on 8th June must dump abstentionism into the dustbin of history.

The Brexit deal will not get final approval in Brussels or Strasbourg, Dublin or Belfast – Westminster will be the key battle ground and the Commons chamber in particular. 

In the nationalist community, the SDLP will be fighting for its very survival with all three of its MPs facing stiff competition from Sinn Fein with the moderate nationalist party needing tactical voting by unionists to stop a Sinn Fein onslaught.

The secret of Sinn Fein’s success has been the cultivating of the so-called ‘draft dodger’ candidate – people who have no known links to the Provisional IRA.

Since IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands won the 1981 Fermanagh South Tyrone Commons by-election, the trend in Sinn Fein for almost a generation was that most candidates should be either ex-jailbirds or have links to the IRA. The ballot box went hand in hand with the bomb and bullet.

But since the 1994 IRA ceasefire, that trend has been radically diminished. A new generation of republican from the Catholic middle class and well-educated has emerged, none of whom served their political ‘apprenticeships’ in the Provos. This is now the era of the ballot box and bachelor honours degree!

Electorally, it has meant that Sinn Fein can emerge from its hardline republican working class heartlands and roam into the bastions of middle class moderate nationalism. Sinn Fein is sweeping up votes that normally went to the SDLP. 

Ironically, Sinn Fein is dishing out to the SDLP at the ballot box what the SDLP did to the original Irish Nationalist Party in the 1970s. The INP was the main Stormont Opposition party during the era of unionist majority rule. 

Indeed, SF2017 is almost a mirror image of a former republican party, the Irish Independence Party, founded by hardline republicans within the SDLP in the 1970s who felt the SDLP had too much of an emphasis on socialism and not enough on republicanism. 

In another twist, the IIP was led by Protestant John Turnley, a former British Army officer who was later murdered by loyalist terrorists in 1980. 

In hard political terms, if the ‘draft dodgers’ rule the Sinn Fein roost after 8th June, then SF2017 equals IIP1977. 

While the IIP did not win any seats in the 1979 General Election which saw Maggie Thatcher sweep to power, had Turnley lived and the 1980 and 1981 republican hunger strikes avoided, the IIP would now be sitting pretty at Stormont and Sinn Fein would merely be a social supporters club for the rebels of the 1916 Easter Rising.

But cue the reality pill. The ‘draft dodger’ strategy is not only putting SDLP seats under severe pressure; at least two unionist-held seats could fall to Sinn Fein. This is forcing unionists to put up ‘unity’ candidates to defend its seats in both North Belfast and Fermanagh/South Tyrone.

While the SDLP may well be fighting for its very survival within nationalism, so too is the once dominant Ulster Unionist Party battling for its future in unionism. Lose its two MPs and the UUP will split with the centre right heading off to the DUP, and the liberals sucking up to the centrist Alliance Party. 

5 comments :

larry hughes said...

Totally correct, they should just once have the courage of their convictions and take the 'tactic' to its logical conclusion. With a potential hung parliament at Westminster SF need to discard any pretence of principles and just get real.

Niall said...

If Corbyn wins, either outright or through a hung parliament, Adams will do a deal to take their seats......they're practically in through the doors anyway...they've done everything else that they said they wouldn't so why not swear an oath to the British Queen.

larry hughes said...

Niall

Taking the oath would be one of their better tactics. They have taken enough of her money during and since the conflict. GET ON WITH IT.

Steve R said...

What's the big deal with swearing an Oath to Mrs Windsor?

Sure you don't have to mean it, just ask Gerry 'I've never been in the IRA' Adams, he's no problem having a nose like Pinocchio!

larry hughes said...

Steve R

500% CORRECT. After the political journey they have made, refusing to take their seats now is a bigger blunder than refusing to meet the Queen first time round on their part. We all know who what and where they are since a very long way back. The only people they are deluding now by not going to Westminster is themselves, and they are dying to get over there, so get on with it.