There’s insular and then there’s the wrong end of the telescope


I listened to Gerry Adams and I thought about going on holiday. Or rather coming back. Let me explain. 

I’ve been following these elections on television. The thought of going into the counting centre in Belfast flickered for a moment and then went out.As with football, you sometimes get more significant images watching politics on television than you do if you attend the political game. Besides, (i) I’m so bone lazy I make sloths look keen; and (ii) attending the actual event makes it difficult to read or send tweets about it,  and these are often better than the event they’re commenting on. Anyway, where was I…Oh yes, Gerry and going on holidays.  I find that when I come back from my holidays, I see this place in a different way. It’s as if I’m viewing it through the wrong end of a telescope – it seems to have shrunk, be more of a dot on the map than a world unto itself.

Something similar happened when Gerry Adams was being interviewed at the count centre by the BBC. Up until then it had all been about who would be elected in what ward here.  Then Gerry began to talk about how well Sinn Féin was doing throughout Ireland. Even with the best of intentions, you can slip into thinking about this pegged-in little corner as the whole story, the whole world. Adams’s natural tendency to talk about his party’s performance nation-wide encouraged me to take my eye from the wrong end of the telescope.

And boy, viewed through the right end, didn’t the Shinners do well! I was listening to Enda Kenny on Sunday, where he was asked about the possibility of being in coalition with Sinn Féin after the next election. He didn’t say yes and he didn’t say no: he said that of course his party would look at all the possible combinations. Mmm. Sounded a bit different from his definitive no-coalition-with-satan-spawn-shinners line which he adopted before the last election. And then on Monday I heard Eamon O Cuiv being interviewed, and he was asked which party did he think Fianna Fail would sit more naturally in coalition with, Fine Gael or Sinn Féin? Oh, Sinn Féin, Sinn Féin, Eamon said, sounding as always as though he had a blanket over his head. We’re both republican parties, we have similar views on the need for urban renewal, – a whole range of things. Fianna Fail and Sinn Féin would be a natural sort of coalition.

So it looks as if Gerry was right again: he always said, prior to the last general election in the south, that if the numbers required it,  other parties would soon get over their inhibitions about going into coalition with Sinn Féin. The question is, would Sinn Féin be willing to go into coalition with them?

Henry McDonald has been writing in The Guardian that Gerry’s ambition of being in power on both parts of the island by 2016 has moved a step closer with these elections. I’d suggest to him (Henry) there are at least three good reasons why that might not be Gerry’s ambition: (i) the Green Party; (ii) the Labour Party; and (iii) the Lib Dems.  Were Sinn Féin to go into coalition as the junior partner, they might well suffer the same fate as the minority-party Greens, Labour and Lib Dems. That is, they could promise a rose garden to the electorate and then expect them to believe you when you say the bigger partner locked the gate and swallowed the key.

No, Henry. Gerry Adams would be well-advised to wait until Sinn Féin is the senior partner in any southern coalition: that might work. But to grab at a place in government, even if that involves coalition with a major partner who’ll firmly sit on you and then point to you as the sole source of all bad things, would be very foolish indeed. Mercifully, while the media can and have hurled every epithet conceivable at Gerry’s head, the one insult that has no chance of sticking is that he’s stupid. You don’t  get to lead a party that’s got 260 councillors, 14 TDs, 3 Senators 4 MEPs, 5 MPs and 29 MLAs  – yes, Virginia, the biggest party in Ireland – if you’re stupid.

19 Responses to There’s insular and then there’s the wrong end of the telescope

  1. RJC May 27, 2014 at 11:39 am #

    Forgive me for repeating myself (my wife contstantly scolds me for this, I suspect its the drink that makes me do it…) but there was a similar conversation going on below the line on a post by the estimable BangorDub

    where we were discussing the very issue of junior/senior partners in coalition. Again, forgive me for repeating myself, but I wrote…

    The junior partner in any coalition seems always to be the one who gets screwed. This weekend we’ve seen it happen to the Lib Dems in Britain and also to Labour in the Republic. Sinn Féin would do well to learn from history, lest they be condemned to repeat it.

    A smart move would be to remain in opposition in the next Dáil, but push for All-Ireland voting in the 2018 Presidential elections. The bould Gerry could then be put out to pasture in Áras an Uachtaráin, leaving a clear road ahead for the 2021 general elections both here and in the Republic, and a referendum on Irish Unity not long after. Seven years is a long time in politics though, so who knows really?

    • Liam mackel May 27, 2014 at 11:48 am #

      Sounds very feasible to me.

  2. John Patton May 27, 2014 at 12:22 pm #

    To borrow from Clive James, Jude, you pack an abundance into a small space – surely the objective of the thinking blogger.

    You neglected to mention O’ Malley’s Social Democrats .

    Might we see a Tory/UKIP Coalition at Westminster ? The YES Campaign’s dreams come true.

  3. Moz May 27, 2014 at 12:26 pm #

    There also needs to be some focus/debate on the SF strategy (or lack thereof) with respect to collaborating with the SDLP in order to counteract the inevitable unionist pact(s) in the next few elections. The open hostility/lack of respect from Gerry Adams on this was not very edifying and was ultimately (unusally) short-sighted on his part.

    The outcome of these elections in the North was poor in terms of maximising seat numbers and a little dissapointing in terms of the overall pan-nationalist % of the vote. Some figures cite the (sectarian headcount) breakdown at 52% PUL, 38% CNR and 10% Other…which would seem to suggest that the much vaunted demographic timebomb has not even been primed yet!

    However, if the underlying demographics are correct and there is at least parity between the 2 main ethnic blocs by say 2020, then surely this needs to be translated into an effort to optimise the political representation of Irish Nats generally in terms of the no. of future MPs, MLAs, securing the FM post etc.

    Only this type of tangible, irrefutable evidence (via the ballot box) with be enought to force the hand of the SoS in order to sanction the holding of a border poll.

    • RJC May 27, 2014 at 12:42 pm #

      Absolutely. If we are to wind the clock forward ten years, I suspect that there may be less of those elderly people who all turn out to vote, and insist on voting for Unionist parties. There will be an increased number of notional nationalists, but if they aren’t turning up at the ballot box, then what difference does it make? Someone at SF needs to take a closer look at these shifting demographics, pull their finger out and start to engage with the under 35s.

      Demographic change doesn’t matter a toss if people aren’t turning out to vote.

    • Pointis May 27, 2014 at 6:02 pm #

      The SDLP have turned down every overture that was ever made to them in regards to electoral pacts, this was despite the fact that the DUP and the Ulster Unionist Party were having pacts to ensure a unionist was elected in wards / constituencies which had a nationalist majority.

      Electoral pacts probably lead to sectarian head counts in any case which is not good for politics.

      I am sure many Sinn Fein supporters would be loath to enter into a partnership with a party which caved in to media pressure to turn their back on agreements made in the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement and Allowed Jim Allister to bring in legislation to discriminate against Republican ex-prisoners.

    • chris May 27, 2014 at 6:02 pm #

      Moz we seen the SDLP response 4 years ago when SF approached them regarding a Unity Candidate in Fermanagh/South Tyrone with the Stoops getting a free run in South Belfast (the Shinners dropped out of their without a quid pro quo anyways) so methinks he was right to say he had no confidence in this party, they have NEVER had the overall Nationalist demands at heart!!

  4. Peadarmor May 27, 2014 at 1:41 pm #

    Spot on Jude. The message has to be junior partner be afraid, be very afraid. The only saving grace for Sinn Féin is that they are neither careerists, egotists or short termists. Therefore I am confident after nearly 50 years of struggle in Irish Republicanism that Sinn Féin will show better judgement than previous junior coalition parties.

  5. michael c May 27, 2014 at 4:12 pm #

    Moz, the fact is the stoops would NEVER agree to cooperate with SF.They did their dammdest to hand FST to the unionists but Michele put up the greatest fight in northern electoral history to confound them.

    • ANOTHER JUDE May 27, 2014 at 11:24 pm #

      Unlike the Unionists, who spend all their time kicking lumps out of each other on tv and radio and then call on `their people` to vote for other Unionists, the Nationalists do not gang up at election time. The policies of Sinn Féin and the SDLP although undoubtedly being more attractive to Catholics ( let`s face it, it`s not that long ago the Unionists were advocating doing a Cromwell in reverse and moving northern Catholics south) are not openly sectarian. Has anyone heard Gerry or Alasdair mention `the Catholic people` recently?

  6. Antonio May 27, 2014 at 4:39 pm #

    I wonder if Eamon O Cuiv got the go ahead from his party leader Michael Martin to say he would rather Fianna Fal in coalition with Sinn Fein than Fine Gael. I suppose it would not be the norm for a politician to do a ‘solo run’ like that and so likely Martin gave the go-ahead for O’Cuiv to say this.

    However listening to F.F leader Martin over the years tells me he would not be comfortable in coalition with Sinn Fein. Perhaps Fianna Fail are making public overtures to Sinn Fein in light of their good election results and due to Fine Gael’s relatively poor showing. But in the end I think Fianna Fail and Fine Gael are much closer on their economic policies and come 2016 we will see tweedledee & tweedledum put their Civil War politics to bed and climb into coalition with one another.

  7. Pat Mc Larnon May 27, 2014 at 5:09 pm #


    you could have added the now departed PD’s (happily) to the list of mudguards who were in coalition,used and cast aside.

  8. William Fay May 27, 2014 at 9:09 pm #

    Hail, Hail, President Gerry, now you can get off your knees Jude, how about being an SF party advisor, you really are keen on them and you could plan their strategy.

    • Jude Collins May 27, 2014 at 9:46 pm #

      Oh dear William. I can hear your poor teeth gnashing from here. I just like to acknowledge a rip-roaring success when I see one. Despite all roadblocks mounted to prevent it. On my knees? Yes, I frequently pray. For poor lost souls like yourself you find it so hard to get out of the negative straitjacket. But no – I’d be hopeless strategist. Haven’t even a sense of direction. But I’m sure any party would welcome your services. Or are you already engaged?

    • ANOTHER JUDE May 27, 2014 at 11:26 pm #

      Jim….Jim… that you???

  9. Jude Collins May 27, 2014 at 9:47 pm #

    That ‘you’ on the third line should of course be ‘who’ – I got overexcited thinking about you…

  10. Virginia May 28, 2014 at 1:51 am #

    Silver linings are your forte. Nicely worded.

  11. paddykool May 28, 2014 at 8:47 am #

    Jude et al :
    I’m not sure about electoral pacts at all.I find them suspect , and they mean that previously antagonistic bedfellows with usually wildly differing agendas, suddenly find common .ground. Sure , there may be individual politicians, in various parties, who may appeal across the board for reasons of personality , personal charm , their ease and facility with kissing babies, glad handing , or whatever, but usually you’ll find that people vote because of the perceived strength or otherwise of the various parties. Especially in Northern Ireland.

    The Republic is of course a whole new ballgame for Nationalists in Northern Ireland …brand new territory , really.We’ve just been allowed in, even though the political establishment there doesn’t want a bit of us. These rabid Northerners are going to upend their cosy little apple cart..That might make anything that Sinn Fein does in that respect, very much okay for Nationalists. It’s all progress for them , for now and they appear to be gaining ground which is making the SDLP look increasingly more ineffective.It’s obvious that Sinn Fein are spreading themselves wider and are doing a lot of work on the ground..I’d imagine Unionists of every stripe are not a bit interested and want nothing to do with any of it. I’d imagine they are not giving it any thought at all.

    Recently , I found local candidates from the SDLP, Sinn Fein ,Alliance,NI21 and the Greens appealing for differing reasons but I think that Sinn Fein has the clearest cut agenda.. You know exactly what they are about, make no bones about it and if that appeals to many nationalists. They are after young voters now and those in the South who were not living when the worst of the past violence was an everyday way of life. These new voters have no past to leave behind. To them it is anew vigourous party. That is why they are scooping up soft SDLP voters.. There’s not wooliness, no fat there.

    By the same token , the same thing applies with the DUP , for differing reasons The only way the Official Unionists are making any headway is to go even more to the right of the DUP. Like Sinn Fein and SDLP, they too have swapped roles.. The actual voting base hasn’t changed at all . The parties have simply swapped clothes and the voters have gone along with that.Why would they want to dilute any of it ? A pact would do that.

    As far as pacts are concerned , how would someone like Jim Allister be able to have a pact with either the DUP or the OUP when he spends all his time insulting everyone in those parties…as well as Sinn Fein, veering to the right of Hitler and manages to be cheerily charmless even in his victory speech .. How could a man like this share a vision with anyone?

    Unionism’s biggest problem is that it appears unable to remake itself in a 21st century context. It still carries the “Troubles” on its back and constantly harps back to them. Sinn Fein had finished with them twenty years ago and its voters know that. Many of its new candidates would have been small children back then and have scant knowledge of republican or unionist violence.

    TV Mike got where he is because a lot of that old televisual charm appealed to the ladies. He spent many years apolitically charming everyone with his then urbane good looks before the job change . That wasn’t enough so he had to also file his teeth into points to compete with the more abrasive Robinson and the dour Dobbs.Left to their own devices , they’d all be carping and carving and eating each other’s flesh.

    To have an electoral pact , not because of shared policy but because of the rise of Irish nationalism is hardly going to work …\It actually shows a certain weakness and fear of the future.If that was the case , why did they not simply combine and present themselves as the old Official Unionist Party of old? They always said that the Official Unionist Party was a broad church which could accommodate all the various strands of unionist thinking.

    What happened there?

  12. Maggie May May 28, 2014 at 11:01 am #

    Speaking of pacts I found it puzzling that at the election in Derry the ‘Dissidents’ were advocating their supporters to vote SDLP and even some SDLP stalwarts were clearly working for ‘dissident’ candidates. But then I remembered they were all anti Sinn Fein