Irish Republican News · December 22, 2004
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Distaste for Sinn Féin is outmoded

By Brian Feeney (for the Irish News)

In politics there’s one simple rule: winner takes all. The rule operates in its most brutal form in British and American elections as we’ve just seen. Within a week of John Kerry’s defeat people were asking who the Democrats’ candidate in 2008 would be.

It’s the same here. In November 2003 Sinn Féin and the DUP won the elections in the nationalist and unionist communities. Immediately the Irish and British governments began to concentrate on those two parties to the exclusion of the UUP and the SDLP. Yes, they listened to what the SDLP and UUP had to say but if you look at the murky, so-called comprehensive agreement published without irony on the Catholic feast of the Immaculate Conception, you’ll find nothing in it contributed by the SDLP or the UUP.

On the contrary, a lot of the detail negotiated in 1998 by the SDLP and UUP has been jettisoned. Publicly the UUP take it philosophically, remaining content to poke fun at the DUP for accepting the principles and institutions of the Good Friday Agreement they vowed to get rid of in the November 2003 election. The SDLP on the other hand take it badly. They’re apoplectic, ranting about how SF sold out in this paragraph and that paragraph. They didn’t of course. SF and the DUP just changed the nuts and bolts the SDLP and UUP specified in 1998 to suit themselves. Just as it didn’t matter what SF and the DUP said in 1998, so it doesn’t matter what the SDLP and UUP say now. Mark Durkan and David Trimble are relegated to spear-carriers in the wings.

And yet and yet, old habits die hard. After thirty years demonising republicans, many commentators and some politicians can’t change the behaviour of a lifetime. They still see SF as the bad boys, still try to isolate them. One interviewer told Martin McGuinness that everyone wanted photographs of decommissioning, ‘the two governments, the unionists and the SDLP’. As if Martin McGuinness alone on this earth didn’t. Like he only speaks for himself.

Here’s the central fact. Martin McGuinness or Gerry Adams speak as the representatives of the majority of northern nationalists, difficult as that may be for many many people to accept - as difficult as nationalists find it to believe that a majority of unionist voters choose Ian Paisley to represent them or that a majority of Americans prefer George W Bush. It may cause your jaw to drop but they call it democracy. Attacking, isolating and trying to marginalise Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams means trying to do the same to their voters. Result? They get more votes. Didn’t Michael McDowell prove that in the Republic last June?

Even so, the old attitudes remain in the corridors of power too. SF are the problem so the community they represent must suffer. Just as in the old days, the RUC would inflict collective punishment on west Belfast or the whole city side of Derry by mounting stupid check-points to keep everyone late for work, when everyone knew that if the IRA wanted to plant a bomb they had all day.

So a long list of police and army barracks and watch towers will continue to disfigure nationalist districts despite the publicly admitted truth that they are redundant and would be demolished if a deal were agreed. In other words, the security forces have no moral right to continue to blight nationalist communities across the north or incur public expense retaining the superfluous heaps. No one in those districts wants the monstrosities to remain. The PSNI Oversight Commissioner has complained about the offensive fortifications. Yet the NIO and PSNI continue undemocratically to defy all public representatives in those districts simply for fear of offending unionists who don’t live anywhere near.

On a different level, as Bertie Ahern and Mary Harney manoeuvre cynically for votes around the Limerick area, it’s clear that nationalist support in the north for SF is a problem for them. It’s true you couldn’t get a cigarette paper between Harney and the UUP but Ahern is increasingly opposing the aims of northern nationalists because they’re expressed by Sinn Féin in case it loses him votes in the south.

He also faces a moral dilemma. Since he has agreed to release Garda McCabe’s killers, what right does he have to keep them in prison solely for political advantage any more than the NIO has a right to prevent demolition of redundant barracks to placate the DUP?

There’s no principle involved.

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© 2004 Irish Republican News