Here’s the conclusion on Cleenish’s piece concerning Sinn Fein. Part one can be found here. As always, comments more than welcome folks.
Has the Sinn Féin leadership recognised that such a long process will have an impact on republican thinking and preconceptions? Are certain phrases being used to prepare republicans as well as unionists; the challenge to Unionists on recognising and acknowledging the Irish identity of northern nationalists is couched in terms of the recognition of the British identity of Unionists by nationalists. The obvious question being how can such that identity is accommodated in a UI? A tactical or strategic position being adopted?
It appears to my somewhat jaundiced and cynical eye that there appears to be complimentary streams, a multi-faceted approach if you like, that includes;
- attempting to shape GB/English thinking by the lobbying activities of SF MPs at Westminster,
- initiatives such as the laudable United Ireland polls being organised as a local level,
- the proposal in the Dáil for a green paper on Irish Unity and
- the high-profile campaign for a border poll to be held in the next term of the assembly.
How much of these initiatives are real and how much are for the optics is a question that springs into my cynical mind.
Only the most positive of us would consider these steams as collectively being any way successful. I will leave it to you to decide whether they are designed to keep activists on board, demonstrating to dissidents that politics can be a practicable alternative to violence or that these streams form part of a considered overall strategy. Tactical; party-management or Strategic; being elements or a wider strategy with defined goals?
Where you, like me, profoundly disappointed by SF’s border poll campaign. The lack of preparation and detailed planning as to the shape of a UI, and the practical details involved (i.e. fiscal/budget, health, identity etc), was all too palpable and quickly exposed by the few debates and by basic questions from journalists.
Surely a poll fought on that basis would be in serious trouble from the outset, so why call for a border poll and enter a debate if you hadn’t answers / lines to take for the most basic of questions, answers that were both rational and believable? Strange is it not…
To be fair though this is not peculiar to Sinn Féin, no nationalist party has answered some of the most basic and simple questions;
What does United Ireland really mean, how would we be governed?
A single state or federal solution, and what powers would be devolved etc?
How would it affect people’s pockets, health services, social security etc?
Would the country be a viable fiscal proposition?
For ordinary people the last two questions are the most important; money and services. Any proposition for a New Ireland must have these answered as part of the foundation for any proposed border poll.
There are however many positive aspects to Sinn Féin and their strategy.
It is a national party, with a national Irish outlook and a basic tenet of faith and objective in creating a single, self-confident and at ease Ireland. This is the party’s broad objective and to its credit has given thought and developed a strategy aimed at achieving that objective. In comparison can any other nationalist party in Ireland offer a creditable claim on delivering the fundamental issue of Irish politics-partition?
Despite this there may be a number of flaws and difficulties with the apparent SF approach and the thinking behind the apparent strategy;
- the conundrum that SF strategists face is that be concentrating on a rapprochement with the unionist community, with the need to encourage the creation of a united community to break down psychological barriers of fear and separateness they are also creating the conditions for a new, United Northern Ireland – a new country, passive and settled in the UK. It is perfect foundation building for letsgetalsongerists and the NIO/British policy elite, by their own actions they be creating a position where a new Ireland is never achievable – locking us all, of whatever ‘isim’, into perpetual identity politics and treated as foreigners in the land of our birth;
- there is the blithe assumption that all nationalists will vote for a United Ireland, however ill defined that is, however financially it may affect them or that the opposing ‘NI country building’ by letsgetaslongerists won’t have an impact. Surely that is naïve, if not a touch arrogant, to make such an assumption. Reasoned arguments allied to marketing campaigns aimed at supporting & imbuing a sense of nationhood is long overdue. Though it again exposes the difficulty hat SF strategists face – too much emphasises on Irishness, of a self-assertive Irish expression in this part of the country will instinctively raise hackles in the unionist community;
- the proposition that a sizeable (or even any section) section of Unionists are open to new politics and to be part of an inclusive Irish nation is questionable, but even if so, do we really know what the best vision, messages and arguments that would sway such people – and in particular are SF with their history the party best able to persuade such Unionists?
The recent SF conference in the Europa was a useful and important initiative; it helps to build trust & relationships and perhaps gives the SF leaders a greater insight into the thinking / feelings of the unionist community. I do wonder though at the long term impact and whether if and how it can be built upon.
To me at least SF appears focused at the wrong sections of the unionist community (certain churches and politically active unionists) and hasn’t identified ordinary unionists that could be and need to be receptive to a different way. From there the development of key messages / arguments that can resonant with the target audience would be much easier.
Ultimately SF need to realise that Ireland is not South Africa and that the unionist community are not Afrikaans, even if we as nationalists tend to draw out similarities.
- the inability (or perhaps unwillingness) of SF to build common platforms, relationships and alliances with other parties, professional experts etc; is a major weakness. The detail of proposals for a new Ireland require experts on a range of fields and debate / agreement on the options for the shape of government & services, principles & values and a new Covenant for and between the Irish & Ulster British people
Surely its self-evident the party cannot achieve a UI/New Ireland on its own – the party shouldn’t come first 😉
- there is a lack of a focus and drive on the here and now; as little effort appears to be given in developing detailed tactical plans and proposals for reintegrating communities and services across the country;
progress towards a new Ireland should not have to await a formal referendum – we should aim to build small, incremental steps that gives expression to a national Irish perspective and by doing so helps underpin and enforce the sense of Irish nationhood in our people,
- the seemingly lack of awareness that Irish nationalism thrives best when built on a foundation of a re-awakened sense of Irish nationhood, of a pride in Ireland and all things Irish.
Would it be better for the party to reach out to others in the broader nationalist community to build alliances, and where required to act in concert and to help in the detailed planning required in the building of a new Irish nation?
Would it not be better to plan and pursue detailed action in the short term to advance the recognition and promotion of the Irish identity across all communities north of the border, on building services across the country and reintegrating communities damaged by partition?
The above has been largely negative in tone, the purpose is to look from a critical perspective, and it’s the only way to identify flaws and to learn/improve on that basis. If the above points are not addressed how likely is it that SF’s glass ceilings, north and south, will stymie any advance for nationalism.
Despite the anchor of the past, as the lead party north of the border there is a heavy responsibility on Sinn Féin to not only represent our interests and to give expression to our identity but to also engage all sections of Irish society through challenging and/or persuading towards developing a real debate on the shape and strategy for a new Ireland.
Are they up for the task, for developing a multi-faceted approach or have they become too transfixed with supporting the peace process and following the South African experience of developing a united community that is financially secure within a Northern Ireland context? A future that may only underpin division in Ireland.
This is a fundamental question for republicans (and nationalists) that needs aired and discussed. My own opinion is that the apparent strategy is high-risk and may have inadvertent flaws that ultimately will push a new Ireland further into the distance.
For now though it is the only party that matches a stated for Irish Unity with any attempt at a strategy. It is the only show in town.