Art of the Totally Weird

John Coulter with a piece from Tribune Magazine, 1 June 2014.

Former Sinn Fein leader Eamon de Valera must be spinning in his grave with laughter at the thought of his party laying the foundations for another 1918 election landslide. Yes, you read correct. I said 1918. World War One had just ended the previous month and the United Kingdom went from war footing to election mode.
Sinn Fein was only 13 years old and the Irish Volunteers had really messed up the Rising of two years previous. Founded in 1905, Sinn Fein had been one of the main organisations along with the Volunteers and the Irish Citizens Army which instigated the militarily doomed Easter Rising of 1916.

The republicans were really naive if they thought they could sneak a united Ireland in by the military back door while Britain was at war in Europe. Ireland was one nation under the British Empire and had 105 seats in Westminster.

De Valera had survived the executions and arrests of British general “Bloody” Maxwell, who crushed the Rising with alarming force.

It was those executions which propelled many of the Rising organisers into republican martyrdom status instead of being written off as “those silly Irish”.

Initially, as the Volunteers were marched into captivity to await sentencing, they were even spat upon by Dublin working-class Catholics. Those arrests also catapulted Sinn Fein from the butt of this Dublin Catholic venom in 1916 to the largest political movement in Ireland two years later. That 1918 election saw Sinn Fein capture a massive 47 per cent of the entire vote across the island, giving it 73 of those 105 seats.

Until then, Irish nationalism was represented for decades by the moderate Irish Parliamentary Party, but 1918 saw it all but wiped out by the Sinn Fein bandwagon, winning only six seats.

The British and Irish governments have created another de Valera with the arrest, questioning and release of Sinn Fein president and Louth TD Gerry Adams.

When Sinn Fein entered the Stormont power-sharing Executive with Ian Paisley’s DUP in 2007, it must have realised the Northern Assembly would be a very unstable institution.

A united Ireland will not be achieved through victory at Stormont; it will be brought about by being part of a Dail government.

Look at the Scottish lesson. Scottish nationalists did not gain their referendum on independence by winning seats in London. Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond’s SNP is one step away from quitting the Union by winning seats – and becoming the majority party – in the Scottish devolved government in Edinburgh.

Likewise, Martin McGuinness becoming First Minister at Stormont in 2016 with Sinn Fein as the largest Assembly party will not guarantee Irish unity.

Sinn Fein must win Dail seats. The Adams arrest debacle could well position the party to at least becoming a minority government partner in the next Dail. That could never happen, you sneer. Leinster House currently has a right-wing Fine Gael coalition with a left-wing Labour partner.

In Britain, the Tories share power with the Liberal Democrats, so why not a Fianna Fail-Sinn Fein coalition as the next Dail, with Adams as Tanaiste (Deputy Prime Minister)?

But the scars of the Irish Civil War in the 1920s run deep. There are many nationalists across Ireland who never want the Shinners to be in power again, especially in the south. For this brand of southern nationalism, it’s all very well Sinn Fein winning Stormont and Westminster seats. This makes Sinn Fein an English problem. But when the TDs start stacking up in Leinster House, the alarm bells begin ringings. If the Irish and British grey suits thought attacking Adams would derail the Shinners, they badly miscalculated.

If Salmond can lead the SNP from the political fringes to government at Holyrood, Adams can take Sinn Fein to becoming the majority partner in a Dail coalition.

In the meantime, McGuinness must become Stormont First Minister and the Shinners need to take their Westminster seats.What will block Irish unity is the Tories and UKIP merging with Nigel Farage as Prime Minister.

Don’t laugh – politics is now the art of the totally weird.

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