Ruairi Quinn's fit of pique
The leader of the Labour Party in the 26 Counties, Ruairi Quinn, had a swipe at Sinn Féin this week. What was interesting about his outburst was that it was not along the predictable and well worn lines of attacking Sinn Féin for ``links with violence''. Instead, the Dublin TD accused Sinn Féin of having ``right-wing politics''.
Quinn was asked about going into government with Sinn Féin and dismissed the idea. He said Sinn Féin has ``right-wing politics'' and ``anyway Sinn Féin would not be talking to the Labour Party - they would be talking to their own first cousins, Fianna Fáil.'' The neck of Ruairi Quinn in making such a statement is almost unbelievable. This is a man who was a minister in three governments in coalition with right-wing parties - two with Fine Gael and one with Fianna Fáil. The 1983 to 1987 Fine Gael/Labour Coalition in which he was Minister for Labour imposed some of the harshest cutbacks ever in health, education and other public services. In that government, it was the Labour Party which introduced the policy of ostracisation of Sinn Féin elected representatives by ministers.
On the other hand, any objective assessment of the policies of Sinn Féin and of the promotion of those policies by the party's TD in Leinster House, by councillors on local authorities and by activists throughout the country, shows the absurdity of Quinn's ``right-wing'' accusation. It shows Sinn Féin is a radical, vibrant party, the most active of all the parties in local communities.
The real reason for Quinn's fit of pique is obvious. He fears the threat which Sinn Féin represents to the three-party system which has operated in the 26 Counties for decades. The Labour Party has propped up successive governments dominated by right-wing parties. Its long relationship with Fine Gael has ensured that the most right-wing of the parties in the 26
Counties could enter government. At the same time, Labour poses as the left-wing opposition in 26-County politics.
Quinn hoped to boost the fortunes of his party with the absorption of Democratic Left. Instead, the `new' Labour Party actually came out of the 1999 local elections with less seats than the combined pre-election total of the two parties. For Quinn, the success of Sinn Féin in Dublin is particularly worrying.
What is needed in Ireland today is a renewal of politics and a new form of politics. Labour has never been able to see that reality. Quinn's perspective does not go beyond seats at the next Cabinet table. Sinn Féin's vision is much wider. It is yet a small party in the 26 Counties but it offers the only real, radical alternative to the failed partitionist and right-wing politics that have failed the Irish people for so long.