For generations born before the Good Friday Agreement the name Sinn Féin engenders a certain level of well warranted disgust. As the former political wing of a paramilitary organisation Sinn Féin is unusual for a Western European democracy, and only over the past ten years has it been brought back into the mainstream of Irish politics.
Its image has been sanitised on the back of the Peace Process, recent Repeal campaign with healthy polling numbers, and transfer to a post-IRA leadership. These steps all making it probable that the party will partake in a coalition government come the next general election.
Despite this, certain segments of the Irish press maintain a perennial grudge against the party. This is famously evident in the Sunday Independent where on some weekends the majority of op-eds consist of the same tiresome talking points about Sinn Féin and its ties to past violence.
It is the contention of this writer that however well-meaning these weekly polemics might be, they are counterproductive and ignore the real threat of Sinn Féin to Irish society. Rather than highlighting the modern party’s surreal brand of progressivism, the press’ fixation on what occurred over 25 years ago rings hollow for my generation.
Older generations recoiled in horror at the actions of the Provisional IRA, but anyone under 35 is unlikely to have been shaped politically by that era, and are hence without an inbuilt disdain for Sinn Fein. If anything the press grants Sinn Féin an unmerited mystique, portraying it as something at odds with the Irish establishment rather than being an exaggerated version of the clichéd liberalism currently governing it.
The fact Leo Varadkar referred to Mary Lou McDonald as an Irish Marine Le Pen points to the imbalance in Irish politics, whereby Sinn Féin have somehow assumed the role of national populists. The party’s anti-establishment image has led to them occupying electoral territory that is otherwise held by the populist right across Europe.Yet the Sinn Féin of 2018 is sooner to implement the most liberal form of social policy imaginable than to secure a genuinely independent republic, hence the need to tailor our critiques properly.
The most pernicious of leftists are those who comprehend that they will never implement a Marxist Republic. The primary achievement of the left since the 60s has been to alter the culture of society, rather than its economics.
Twenty years from now the social values of the average People Before Profit activist may become commonplace across the entire political spectrum, yet those original advocates will still remain at the fringes of society bemoaning the capturing of Ireland by ‘neoliberalism’. Despite any claims to the contrary, Sinn Féin in power will only perpetuate the current regime, and if its experience in Stormont is a foreshadowing, then it will consist almost entirely of the same progressive posturing.
The impasse regarding the Irish Language Act is a case in point. It demonstrates how Sinn Féin have departed from their supposed core doctrines of national self-determination, to instead beg for funding from the British State for policies that have already blatantly failed in the Irish Republic.
Sinn Féin and their pivot to power in the 26 counties may result in a scenario where the economics are cast aside but their ultra-progressive social views are implemented. The recent Sinn Féin Ard Fheis was perhaps the most ludicrous display of progressive politics in Irish history. It has set the tone for the Mary Lou premiership both in and out of power, something which conservatives ought to be very apprehensive of.
For example, while one time ostracised by the Irish media under Section 31, Sinn Féin in power could very well herald the marginalisation of conservative opinion, with aid from EU-driven legislation to censor whatever they consider hate speech or fake news. With triumphalist statements on how “Ireland is no longer simply orange and green” it appears that Sinn Féin operates from the same post-nationalist hymn-sheet prevalent in Irish and European politics.
For all the bluster around a 32 county Republic, Sinn Féin has the same commitment to dissolving Irish sovereignty and nationality that is found right throughout the rest of Irish politics. Its anti-partitionist mode of operations is perhaps its only genuine point of divergence from the rest of the major parties. Despite any claims towards radicalism they exist to administer British rule in the 6 counties while aspiring to administer EU rule in the 26. It is essential that those who wish to do Ireland harm with these policies cannot be let to hide under the green flag of Irish republicanism.
As it has migrated into the political centre so too has the party’s position on the EU matured. Since Ireland’s ascension to the Union in 1972, Irish republicanism had presented itself as perhaps the only formalised opposition to the threat from Brussels of ‘ever closer union’, a tradition which continued with Sinn Féin’s campaign against the Lisbon Treaty. Sadly this tradition appears to have been blunted within the party, which still defends Irish neutrality but now tows the same line that Ireland’s future is bound with the EU 27, positioning itself as a counterbalance to Brexit Britain.
Perhaps one of the greatest roadblocks for a new right in Ireland is not only formulating a narrative for the post-Catholic era, but to avoid being seen as boring and counter-revolutionary in an Irish context, going back to the foundation of the Irish Free State. Attacking Sinn Féin for its links to paramilitarism adds to this and ignores the larger threat they present. Left-wing nationalism in the form of Sinn Féin perhaps goes a long way to explaining the lack of a populist right in Ireland, soaking up the electoral energy that otherwise would have been put to good use. For this reason alone it is essential for Sinn Féin be discredited as a vehicle of anti-establishment thinking, and to open up space for a much needed dissident right to operate.