I recently found myself agreeing with much of what Fra Hughes had to say in his blog – (30-11-21), ‘Sinn Fein: From Revolutionary Party to Constitutional Nationalist.’
Like Fra, I once found myself asking, whether I had left Sinn Fein or if Sinn Fein had left me. And like him, I’ve often asked where it was all going and wondered if there was another game plan in play. Where did it all go wrong? Or has it?
As much as I agree with most of what Fra has written, there or other aspects of his analysis where I would differ. Fra said that he voted for the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, as did most people on this island. We must therefore assume that all who voted for the GFA in the twin referendums on the island, even those who may have earlier participated in the war, must have done so in the belief that the war was finally over and the struggle to bring about a united Ireland could and would in future continue through peaceful democratic means.
It should therefore come as no surprise to most observers, that the Irish Republican Army, more than Sinn Fein, which was up to that point the revolutionary cutting edge of the republican struggle, were going to leave the national political stage soon after, and in doing so, take a large element of that revolutionary edge/appeal with it. Sinn Fein, no matter how much it wanted to or desired it, was never going to possess or carry the same revolutionary appeal that the IRA had brought to the republican struggle.
I’m therefore left wondering what it is that Fra had been expecting to transpire after everyone had opted for and signed up to peace. Yes, Sinn Fein is a very different party today from what it was when I first joined it, even from when I and it parted company in the last decade, and while I share Fra’s lament over the speed with which that party has jettisoned much of its revolutionary appeal through policy changes, I am also very mindful that its core policy of pursuing national reunification seems as unshakable and as rock solid as ever.
Fra expresses concern for how things might develop here post-unity because Sinn Fein might not be relied upon to carry us through to the socialist republic as envisaged by the 1916 leaders and every generation of republican volunteers since, as outlined in the Irish Proclamation. Personally, I’m wondering if Fra is perhaps over-playing his concerns a bit there. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve often wondered and asked myself the same question about where Sinn Fein will fit into the national picture post-unity, and for me the Jury is still out on that.
I’d prefer to see someone first sell-out before I’d accuse them of the act. Even in my earliest days as a republican army volunteer during the height of the conflict, I never believed or expected either the IRA or Sinn Fein would be the arbiters on what kind of future united Ireland we were later going to have. What I did believe, expect, and hope for back then, was that post-unity, Sinn Fein would be sufficiently strong in terms of support on the whole island to be able to strongly influence the shape of the new Ireland and Yes, that that shape would mirror as much as it possibly could, the socialist republic as envisaged by Connolly and the other men and women who crafted the proclamation of 1916.
For me, as I’m pretty sure it was for most republican volunteers at the time, our primary function was to end British rule in our country, and the nuts and bolts and modalities of the new Ireland thereafter would be decided by the Irish people as a whole. But yes, just like Fra and all republicans, the socialist republic was the one we were all hoping for and striving towards.
So, this brings us back to the question I asked at the outset of this piece, is Sinn Fein still a republican party, and is it likely to be strong enough in terms of support at the other end of a successful border poll referendum to be able to influence and direct the shape of the new Ireland in a progressive leftward trajectory as part of an agreed socialist republic?
Again, the jury is still out for me, but I think we have enough signs and clues happening around us now, to have an idea of how the party could and might perform post-unity, when that question will be finally answered.
Well, few commentators would argue that we are fast nearing the point where Sinn Fein will be power leaders on both parts of this island. But even if the Sinn Fein party was holding some political ace up its sleeve and surprised us all with a radical Democratic Programme for Government post-unity, along the lines of its predecessor in 1919, how would it gain the support of others including those hailing from the former unionist community?
Call me naïve if you will, but I was always of the view that once the border poll was passed successfully, there would no longer be anything left for former unionists to say No to, and working-class peoples from that community would be invited to come on board to support and be part of the new radical administration.
Here is a question. Let’s assume post-unity that Sinn Fein was the lead party in terms of electoral support in the new all Ireland power-sharing parliament and was therefore the biggest influencer in terms of ideology and policy direction of where the new Ireland was heading, and let’s assume the party managed to receive enough support from former working-class unionists and other left-wing parties, to have the new parliament/Dail adopt its radical leftist programme for government – a document every bit as radical and imaginative as its predecessor in 1919, and one that would have brought a smile to the face of James Connolly.
Now, let’s also assume that Sinn Fein had earlier ceded to the DUP and other hard-line unionists as part of a move to get them around the table talking after the border poll, that the new nation’s title would not contain the words socialist or republic. Sinn Fein in making such concession believed it to be only a temporary one, that could and would be reversed soon after in a subsequent referendum.
So, here’s my question – Given that Sinn Fein in such circumstances would have delivered the Irish people the socialist republic in all but name, would it have forfeited the right to call itself a republican party?
Watch this space………