Draft Dodging Wing

John Coulter with his Ireland Eye Column for Tribune Magazine. John Coulter is a journalist for the Daily Star.

It is time for the British and Irish Labour parties to merge and form a single all-island party now that the crown of socialist champion is slowly slipping from Sinn Fein.

The power-sharing partner in the Stormont Executive has found itself embroiled in a political scandal which has become the staple diet of tabloids and would make an excellent script for a blockbuster thriller. It centres on the Republic’s so-called ‘bad bank’ – the National Asset Management Agency, known as Nama.

Nama was established in 2009, shortly after the Republic’s once-booming Celtic Tiger economy imploded. Even then, the Republic still required a massive multi-million euro EU bailout. Its main function was to improve the availability of credit in the Irish economy, but it sparked allegations that politicians were benefiting financially from the deals.

A Stormont committee launched a probe into the allegations with its star witness being a well-known loyalist blogger. But the scandal shifted into top gear when the Sinn Fein Chairman of the Stormont Finance Committee, Daithi McKay, resigned amid allegations he had ‘coached’ the blogger into how to present evidence to the inquiry.

That, in turn, prompted a serving Sinn Fein councillor plus 17 other party members to quit in protest at how McKay was treated by Sinn Fein. Such a public act of rebellion by rank and file members had not been witnessed in Sinn Fein for 30 years, since the split over taking seats in Dublin’s Parliament, the Dail.

McKay was seen as one of Sinn Fein’s rising stars and was highly tipped for a ministerial post in the Stormont Executive. He is a product of the party’s so-called ‘draft dodger wing’ – those republicans who never served an apprenticeship in the Provisional IRA before taking up office in Sinn Fein.

His resignation is not so much about his alleged role in the Nama scandal, but who now runs the republican movement. Since the 1981 republican hunger strikes, it has always been assumed the hawks of the IRA’s ruling Army Council controlled the movement.

But since Sinn Fein eclipsed the moderate nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party in the 2003 Stormont poll, the assumption was that ‘draft dodging’ doves now ran the movement with Sinn Fein, the party, taking the leading role rather than the Army Council dictating the direction.

The McKay situation has rocked Sinn Fein in his native North Antrim stronghold. If the North Antrim crisis surfaces in other Sinn Fein boltholes, could the party face another serious rift – one which could be capitalised on by new or existing republican parties?

Just as Sinn Fein overtook the SDLP as the main voice of republicanism in Northern Ireland, and the SDLP in turn had surpassed the Irish Nationalist Party, the North Antrim Sinn Fein debacle is not just a personality blip, but the starting gun in a much deeper malaise within the republican movement. But Sinn Fein’s public civil war should not be misinterpreted as signalling a political comeback for the SDLP.

The latter has been battered irreparably by Sinn Fein at the ballot box. In the nationalist camp, the party to seize the initiative is the current majority opposition force in the Dail – Fianna Fail. It must seriously organise in Northern Ireland and contest elections by presenting itself as the radical Left alternative to Sinn Fein.

However, the real winners of the Sinn Fein dilemma could be the Labour movement, which must merge the parties on both sides of the border and rebrand itself as the Labour Party of Ireland.
Sinn Fein has always boasted that it is the rightful heir of the socialist agenda pursued by 1916 Easter Rising organiser James Connolly. An all-island Labour party could effectively snatch that crown from Sinn Fein.

And let’s not forget how the Unionists could capitalise as Sinn Fein slides on the slippery internecine slope. For decades, infighting and vote splitting were the political prerogatives of the Unionist family.

As Sinn Fein prepares to go to war with itself over who controls the movement, if Unionists can come up with agreed candidates in future polls, it could see the Sinn Fein star greatly wane, and give Fianna Fail that vital boost to make significant inroads into traditional republican heartlands in Northern Ireland. In turn, this could create a ‘bounce factor’ in the republic which would also allow Fianna Fail to win back constituencies and seats lost to Sinn Fein.

The bigger picture is the concept of all-island thinking; a concept unionists will have to consider as Brexit looms steadily nearer. An all-island Irish Unionist Party is urgently needed to campaign to have the republic’s 26 counties back in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.

With the Southern Protestant population starting to grow again for the first time since partition, Unionists need their own voice rather than being swallowed up by Southern-based parties.

1 comment:

  1. Why the fuck would southern prods vote for a Unionist party? Bunch of halfwits!