What next for Sinn Féin?

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By Jude Collins (judecollins.com)

So. Would you like to see Sinn Féin in government in the south? Or would they do better to form the opposition in the Dáil?

There are arguments both ways. Those who contend that they should go into government, say that the electorate voted for change, and Mary Lou and Sinn Féin represent that change. Ergo, they should be in government. They want to be and they should be.

But with whom? Sinn Féin can’t form a government on its own – it doesn’t have the numbers, as they say- so it needs to form an alliance with some others. Their first choice and the obvious choice is with similar left-leaning TDs and small parties. That could work, but it’d be like minding mice at the cross-roads. If you’ve a single partner in government, you’re going to have to trim your policies so they don’t walk out. If you have a whole series of TDs in government with you, it’s going to impose frequent and unwelcome strain on Sinn Féin to deliver its policies. The government could fall apart and the electorate could fall out of love with Sinn Féin as rapidly as they fell in.

The other alternative is to combine with Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael and maybe the Greens to form a government. This shouldn’t be impossible, if we’re talking about Sinn Féin and the Greens. Granted, they disagree on a carbon tax, but any progressive party is going to be very open to measures that will help save the planet. (Yes, you could stretch that to ‘any sane party’, but let’s not go there now.)

And Fianna Fáil? Well, it boasts ‘The Republican Party’ as part of its title, but the republicanism kinda ends there. There are TDs within Fianna Fáil who favour coalition with Sinn Féin and even a change of FF leader, but they’re in a minority. The question that remains is, would Fianna Fáil in coalition rediscover its republicanism, or would its old brown-envelope ways infect Sinn Féin or at best inhibit it, so that the electorate saw Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin as apples from the same tree, both equally rotten. As Willie McCrea said on a completely different occasion, if you lie down with dogs you could get up with fleas. Besides, this particular dog has sworn it won’t even talk to Sinn Féin, never mind become a partner in government.

What then of Opposition? If you listen one of the BBC’s favourite pundits, unionist Newton Emerson, four or five years in opposition would be the making of Sinn Féin and the party could then come back and sweep the state.

So should they take that road? Well, Newton Emerson has never been exactly a cheer-leader for Sinn Féin, so it might be well to regard his advice carefully. The danger with waiting four or five years is events. Things will happen. Circumstances may change. A border poll is quite possible within the next five years. If you’re on the crest of a wave of popularity and good will, it’s better to use that state.

It’s a scary thing to say but I think Sinn Féin would do best to work towards a governing coalition with Fianna Fáil and the Greens, despite the protestations of the FFers. Who knows – instead of Fianna Fáil infecting Sinn Féin, the Shinners could reawaken Fianna Fáil to its original state of real republicanism. If Fianna Fáil continue to refuse, a second election might soften their cough.

As usual, Shakespeare had it figured:

“There is a tide in men’s affairs
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures”

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