Sinn Fein caught between bluster and apology
10 December 2020
Not for the first time, Sinn Fein finds itself in a tailspin, with friend and foe alike struggling to work out which side of their mouth they are speaking from.
Laois-Offaly TD Brian Stanley tweeted in reference to the Kilmichael Ambush in 1920 and the Narrow Water Massacre in Warrenpoint, Co Down in 1979, claiming they were: “the 2 IRA operations that taught the elite of d British army and the establishment the cost of occupying Ireland. Pity for everyone they were such slow learners”.
Later, in a statement released through the Sinn Féin press office, Mr Stanley, the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee said: “I apologise for the content of an inappropriate and insensitive tweet I sent yesterday.”
Later a homophobic tweet about former Taoiseach Leo Varadkar caused embarrassment. Then a Sinn Fein member resigned, alleging an enforcement squad sent to bring her to heel for supporting one of the tweets. Later again housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin threw the heavy squad under the bus, claiming critics could speak freely.
In the background Sinn Féin Chris Andrews liked a tweet about a New Zealand transgender weightlifter, which said:
"Definitely should have a transgender category. You could obliterate women from sport if this becomes more frequent."He later reversed direction, citing "tenuous claims of unfair advantage which are not backed up in the most recent academic research". (No-one ever says what this research is).
So what gives? The primary element in the dispute is the sensitivity of the Irish bourgeoisie around the war of independence. Violence then was good. Violence in the North was bad. The fact that the two ambushes were the same military tactic means it's better if the issue is not discussed.
The role of Sinn Fein is even simpler to understand. The TDs say things they think will please their supporters. Their problem is that they have working class supporters who see them as radical and middle class supporters who see them as guaranteeing peace and quiet. In between are all sorts of local interest groups. Bouncing between the different audiences is tricky.
It would be wrong to conclude that Sinn Fein believes in nothing. Recently the British yet again tossed aside calls for an enquiry into the state murder of Solicitor Pat Finucane that they had already agreed to. The Democratic Unionist Party took the opportunity to slander Finucane and support the idea of state killings. Leader Arlene Foster followed up with a demand that Dublin investigate imaginary free state collusion with the IRA.
How did Sinn Fein respond? They asserted that there is no hierarchy of victims. The peace process put everyone on an equal footing and there should be no triumphalism. In the real world the victory belongs to the British and their allies in Dublin and Belfast and they set the agenda.
Sinn Fein are caught between their promise of a new society and a harsh reality. They pose between theatrical tweets and immediate apology. Their enemies on the right are immune, with a Trumpian disregard for criticism. For example, the enquiry into the Finucane murder was a joint promise by London and Dublin. If Sinn Fein really wanted justice they would be demanding that Dublin condemn the British. What they really want to do is to hang on to their share of patronage in the North and wait their turn for coalition government in Dublin.
How long can they oscillate between one side of their mouth to the other before their head falls off? That depends on the emergence of a genuine working class opposition.