Monday, December 18, 2017

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Varadker's Green Lambeg

Leo Varadkar will certainly throw the nationalist cat among the republican pigeons if he goes on the Brexit offensive by committing his party, Fine Gael, to organising and contesting Northern Ireland elections. So says controversial commentator, Dr John Coulter, in his Fearless Flying Column today, as he outlines a Fine Gael blueprint for success in the North.

John Coulter's The Green Sash

Organise north of the border instead of shouting from the South! That’s my advice to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar if he wants his Fine Gael party to represent the interests of Northern nationalists in the Brexit talks.

Emperor Leo has been banging his green lambeg for weeks, claiming to be the champion of Northern nationalism now that his bitter rivals in Sinn Fein have electorally battered the moderate SDLP into oblivion.

But Leo needs to pay very close attention to the old proverb, fine words butter no parsnips. He can make all the loud noises he wants, but until his Fine Gael party copies Fianna Fail and organises in Northern Ireland and unveils plans to contest future polls, then another proverb will be his fate – empty vessels make the most sound.

There has been much debate as to how moderate Northern nationalists can counter the Sinn Fein election juggernaut. Will the SDLP eventually go the same way as former movements, such as the Irish Nationalist Party from Stormont days, or the Irish Independence Party?

Should the SDLP merge with Fianna Fail or Fine Gael? Is it time for a new nationalist movement based around the principles and report of the New Ireland Forum? Should a new pan-nationalist/liberal Unionist front be established in the Centre taking in what’s left of the SDLP, Alliance, liberal rebels in the UUP, and the Greens?

All these sound like workable solutions on paper as moderate nationalists will never throw their weight behind the litany of dissident republican political fronts as an electoral alternative to Sinn Fein. But time is not on Leo’s side. Brexit will come in 2019 – and a Dail election even sooner.

Leo may find himself having to bite his lip very hard if the only way he can keep Fine Gael in power is to climb into bed politically with the Shinners! His problems mount as this is exactly what Sinn Fein wants – to be a minority government partner in Leinster House with someone, anyone!

Leo will have to box clever in the coming months, otherwise his speeches will come across like the frantic ranting which poured out of Dublin when the DUP initially put the boot in British Prime Minister Theresa May’s initial Brexit blueprint on progress.

Mind you, given May’s recent Commons defeat at the hands of her own Tory rebels must have left the Prime Minister – and the Taoiseach – wondering if the Tory/DUP pact is as rock solid as it appeared on so-called Black Monday for the ‘remain’ campaigners.

What would be so bad about Fine Gael organising in Northern Ireland – it might even attract some Unionist support given Fine Gael’s past history with the hardline Right-wing Blueshirt movement in Ireland of the 1930s.

While Fianna Fail will inevitably attract tactical Unionist voters who want to give the Shinners a political bloody nose, the hard reality is that Fianna Fail is seen as a light green Sinn Fein. All Sinn Fein has to do is keep former IRA prisoners in the political closet, stop yelling ‘Up the Rebels!’ at party conferences and honouring dead republican terrorists, and there would be very little clear green grass politically between Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein.

In terms of tactical voting, Fine Gael is more likely to attract Centrist and Unionist voters than Fianna Fail. The most recent Westminster poll spelt the end in Commons terms of the SDLP; the next Stormont poll will mark the clear demise of the party built so strongly by John Hume and Gerry Fitt.

The time has unfortunately come for Northern nationalists to face the unpalatable truth – the party’s over as far as the SDLP is concerned. Tragically, like many elderly people before they pass from this scene of time on their death bed, they make a last rally before death claims them, so too, will the SDLP make a last rally in the next super council elections, where a handful of councillors with huge personal popularity will retain their seats.

But then again, those SDLP councillors would probably win their seats because of their sterling records on constituency work no matter what party label or independent ticket they ran under.

Leo should also learn the lessons of the success of the Maryfield Secretariat, established in the 1980s under the terms of the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement. It gave Dublin its first really effective voice in the running of Northern Ireland’s affairs since partition in the 1920s. The lesson for Leo – he needs to establish a Fine Gael public base in Northern Ireland for a start.

Second, he needs to provide a New Year gift for Northern nationalists by formally declaring that Fine Gael will organise in Northern Ireland, and contest elections, thus giving those nationalists a credibility which they currently lack with the SDLP – an all-Ireland identity.

Of course, this will require a massive recruitment drive to set up branches in heartlands where the SDLP once reigned supreme. There’s not a snowball’s chance in the flames of Hell itself of the SDLP winning back the three Commons constituencies lost to Sinn Fein – but Fine Gael could, especially with a pledge of taking its seats at Westminster.

Sinn Fein can politically slabber that it has scored a superb victory by forcing Theresa May to concede – for the time being – that there will be no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

But if Fine Gael moves north, could a deal also be struck that could eventually see a Unionist/Fine Gael coalition at Stormont working for the benefit of the people of Northern Ireland in the same way as the Trimble/Mallon partnership in the early years of the peace process?

The Blueshirt matched with the Orange sash – now’s that’s a politically fashionable combo! Imagine, too, the impact of Fine Gael MPs delivering hard-hitting speeches for Irish unity in the House of Commons; at least Fine Gael MPs would have the political maturity to take their seats and have a voice. If the Scottish and Welsh nationalists can take their Commons seats, so could Fine Gael. But remember, Leo, that timer to the Brexit Blast-off is still ticking!

John Coulter is a unionist political commentator and former Blanket columnist. 

Follow John Coulter on Twitter  @JohnAHCoulter

Dr Coulter is also author of ‘An Sais Glas: (The Green Sash): The Road to National Republicanism’, which is available on Amazon Kindle.


Finn said...

a very interesting read. I wonder if fg do go up north will we see a sf/fg coalition down south while at the same time see the two party at logger heads up north. now that would be interesting to see.

Finn said...