How do political parties work? Never having been a member of one, I don’t know. But I can get some idea by looking at how some parties appear to work.
There’s an assumption that the people who run political parties are the elected representatives. But elected representatives are normally busy representing the people who voted them in. They’re responding to the concerns of individuals or groups in their constituency, they’re on cross-party committees in the parliament, they’re voting for or against new laws, they trying to make sure they get re-elected in four or five years time.
As with any big organization, there is a whole cohort of people who work to keep the administration running. Sometimes people in the past would ask me if I knew so-and-so, who worked for ‘Ulster’ University as I did. Frequently I’d never heard of them, even though they might hold an important post in the administration.
The same applies to political parties: a lot of what makes a party work is done by people other than the politicians. An obvious example: Alastair Campbell wasn’t an elected representative, but he had some considerable clout in the Blair Labour Party. The trade unions in Britain exert a considerable influence, even though they’re not politically elected. Bobby Kennedy was not elected to the post of US Attorney-general: his brother John gave him the job.
When the IRA finally decided to call a cease-fire and put its weapons beyond use, it followed the political path: that is, it worked for a united Ireland through the political system. So this nonsense that the ‘IRA’ is running Sinn Féin doesn’t make sense, except you see anyone who was in the IRA as permanently a member of that armed group, even though the armed group has ceased to be an armed group.
I mention all this because today’s Irish Times has a long and detailed account of the structure of Sinn Féin, where it stresses that former IRA men are now working within Sinn Féin, The Irish Times being the Irish Times, it lists meticulously what charges the IRA man in question was convicted on and what loss of life or injury, if any, was involved.
I have little doubt that the intention is to single out Sinn Féin and paint it as a violent organization even though the violence stopped some thirty years ago. I’m also pretty certain that this full disclosure of the role of unelected officials in the Sinn Féin party will undermine its opponents’ talk of ‘shadowy figures.’ You can’t have shadowy figures if they ‘ve stepped cheerfully into the public spotlight.
Thanks, Irish Times. You have done the state some service.