Former IRA bomber and prisoner SHANE PAUL O’DOHERTY exposes the tensions and hypocrisies at the heart of the republican party
Modern Sinn Fein is, to my mind, an extreme political and sectarian cult-like movement dedicated to the achievement of a British withdrawal from Northern Ireland (a state or province it will only ever refer to as ‘the North’ or ‘the north of Ireland’ or ‘a putrid little statelet’).
Its membership includes both current and former members of the paramilitary Irish Republican Army and others who have not involved themselves in ‘armed struggle’.
Sinn Fein’s primary leader, Gerry Adams, recently stepped backwards after 34 years of unparalleled party leader status.
His backward step may have had something to do with his unscripted comments in Enniskillen in November 2014 when he was recorded saying about Northern Ireland’s Protestant unionists: “But what’s the point? The point is to actually break these bastards – that’s the point. And what’s going to break them is equality ... That’s what we need to keep the focus on – that’s the Trojan horse of the entire republican strategy is to reach out to people on the basis of equality.”
It was impossible for Adams to build an honest relationship with unionism after this admission.
Sinn Fein regards the IRA’s 30-year ‘armed struggle’ as entirely legitimate and celebrates those IRA volunteers who committed murders and bombings and in particular those who were killed by police or soldiers while ‘in action’. Sinn Fein regards all those who were imprisoned for murders and bombings as ‘political prisoners’ and as POWs.
Sinn Fein appears to be utterly blind to the thousands of human rights atrocities of the IRA, its many murders, anti-civilian bombings and tortures of persons whose bodies were dumped along the border or ‘disappeared’.
The October 2015 assesssment of paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland found that Provisional IRA members believe that the ‘army council’ oversees both the IRA and Sinn Fein.
The party has little internal ‘democracy’. It has been wracked by complaints of internal bullying and mass resignations of activists in the Republic of Ireland (that other ‘putrid little statelet’).
Sinn Fein bears the burden of both recognising and denying the state of Northern Ireland. It participates in a form of aggressive, dominant politicking around the single political institution there, the Northern Ireland Assembly (“Stormont” which it recently collapsed) while also standing for election to the British parliament at Westminster and yet refusing to take its won seats there to represent its electors (a policy called ‘abstention’).
Sinn Fein spent 10 years at the heart of Stormont rule between June 1998 and January 2017 but did a U-turn on participation on January 9, 2017, when the deputy first minister, Martin McGuinness, resigned and collapsed the institution only six weeks after jointly issuing the following statement with first minister Arlene Foster of the DUP: “Day by day, slowly but surely, politics here is changing. And it’s for the better.
The focus is increasingly now on policies and delivery – on finding the best ways to make people’s lives better. The seeds of this change can be found in the Fresh Start Agreement a year ago and the Assembly election some six months later. Our two parties – along with Claire Sugden as justice minister – are now in an Executive facing in the same direction.
We made promises to voters that we will keep – taking on the heavy responsibilities that come with elected office, governing in their best interests, tackling head-on the tough decisions. Others decided to duck the challenges and retreat to the opposition benches. That is a matter for them. We are getting on with the work.”
Sinn Fein and the IRA had together spent three decades decrying any form of Northern Ireland political institutions and supported a bombing and murder campaign designed to destabilise and destroy Northern Ireland as a functioning political entity.
Many of Sinn Fein’s supporters throughout Ireland had been weaned on the doctrine of abstention and violent destruction of Northern Ireland and found it difficult to reconcile Martin McGuinness’s participation in Stormont as deputy first minister.
His collapsing of the Assembly and Sinn Fein’s subsequent aggressive attitude to its restoration sits more easily with Sinn Fein and IRA supporters, particularly across the Republic of Ireland, than did his chuckling participation.
As part of Sinn Fein’s January 2017 U-turn, it has suddenly demanded a stand-alone Irish language act (“ILA” or Acht na Gaeilge) with far-reaching implications for Northern Ireland while most of Sinn Fein’s leadership and membership is not fluent in Irish and while only 6,000 citizens of Northern Ireland returned census forms using the Irish language in 2011.
Neither of Sinn Fein’s women leaders, Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill, can speak Irish fluently and appear embarrassed and struck dumb on news videos when faced with questions posed in Irish by journalists. Martin McGuinness did not promote an ILA during his previous 10 years as deputy first minister in government in Stormont not least because he could not speak Irish fluently either. Gerry Adams appears hesitant and uncertain when attempting to use basic Irish phrases.
Sinn Fein’s sudden decision to make an ILA a ‘red line’ precondition for the return of Stormont is the cultural equivalent of the IRA’s Canary Wharf bombing – an explosive device designed to force capitulation by unionists.
Sinn Fein appears to be a leftward political movement when in the company of Cuban or Latin American or British Labour party friends.
Sinn Fein appears to be a rightward political movement when in the company of North American Republican party friends.
Sinn Fein appears to be a culturally separatist movement when in the company of Basque or Catalan friends.
Sinn Fein appears to be a centrist movement in the Republic of Ireland where it wants to partner with the socially conservative and nationalistic Fianna Fail party.
Sinn Fein appears to be a rightist movement in the Republic of Ireland where it would consider partnering with the even more socially conservative and right-wing Fine Gael party.
Sinn Fein appears to be a pro-Catholic movement in parts of Ireland where there is a socially conservative electorate.
Sinn Fein appears to be a liberal reformist movement when confronted by LGBT and pro-abortion activists.
Sinn Fein appears to want to both date and hate Protestant unionists in Northern Ireland.
Sinn Fein was historically headquartered in Dublin in the Republic of Ireland. In the early and mid-1970s, the Belfast Brigade of the IRA moved to centralise control of the IRA and of Sinn Fein in west Belfast.
Sinn Fein’s recent appointment of a Dublin-based leader, Mary Lou McDonald, once more raises the tensions between west Belfast and remote Dublin with consequences as yet unforeseen.
Despite the fact that McDonald is the titular leader of Sinn Fein and is deputised by Northern Ireland’s Michelle O’Neill, the influence of the IRA’s Army Council has not gone away.
Sinn Fein’s in-house comedian, abstentionist Westminster MP Barry McElduff, was forced to resign recently after he poked fun at the Kingsmills massacre of 10 Protestants by the IRA, one of many actions the IRA has never formally admitted.
Sinn Fein claims it has recently transferred its support to the IRE – integrity, respect and equality – as the basis of its campaigning in Northern Ireland.