In his latest Fearless Flying Column, unionist writer Dr John Coulter maintains that if the republican movement cannot dump abstentionism towards Westminster, Sinn Fein must rethink its role towards the CPA.
Join the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) as an all-island accommodation for Brexit and possible foundation for Irexit.
With a General Election looming in the Republic, Sinn Fein needs to sell itself as a mature democratic movement and not the puppet of the IRA’s Army Council otherwise the Southern electorate will never put the party as a minority government partner in the next Dail.
Sinn Fein loves to indulge itself in rewriting Irish history, but it must waken up to the reality that Fine Gael Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is determined to form the next Dail government without any need for a coalition partner – especially if that partner is Sinn Fein.
Sinn Fein must also face the bitter reality that the centenaries of the Anglo-Irish Treaty which partitioned the island and the Irish Civil War are just around the corner.
How does Sinn Fein spin the fact that after the Treaty, it split republicanism and sparked a conflict on the island more brutal than anything meted out by the Black and Tans during the War of Independence.
On one hand, Sinn Fein has strayed badly politically from its founding roots in 1905 when Arthur Griffith’s vision was for a separatist movement supporting dominion status for the island. That vision would have made Ireland more like modern Canada. Instead, Sinn Fein deteriorated into the mere mouthpiece of a violent republican movement. It has never fully matured politically from the bloodlust of the Irish Civil War when more IRA members were executed by Free State forces than shot by the Tans.
Sinn Fein needs to learn that politically or militarily, the British can never be outgunned when it comes to the tactic of attrition. Somehow, the Provos forgot the British had the experience of dealing with the Mau Mau in Kenya when the republican movement kicked off its so-called armed struggle in the early 1970s.
Using a system of informers, ambushes using the SAS, or alleged collusion using the likes of the so-called Glenanne Gang, the British Establishment – as it did in 1920 – forced republicans to the negotiating table. The British could replace dead or wounded squaddies with more trained soldiers much, much faster than the IRA could replace expert bombers and gunmen.
Sooner or later, the IRA was going to run out of experienced members and family relatives would put pressure on the IRA leadership to call a truce as more and more ‘volunteers’ were lost to prison or the grave. Essentially, the IRA can never go back to war otherwise Sinn Fein will see its political credibility evaporate overnight. Instead, Sinn Fein has only one way to go – to immerse itself even more deeply in the democratic process. Sinn Fein must play the British Establishment at its own game – playing democracy.
During my almost 40 years in journalism in Ireland, I’ve witnessed Sinn Fein take seats in local government, the Dail, Europe – and Stormont. I recall as a young cub BBC freelance covering the Fermanagh South Tyrone Westminster by-election won by Owen Carron. I wonder as he gave his victory speech that day did he ever imagine a situation where Sinn Fein would operate a partitionist parliament at Stormont with Rev Ian Paisley as its power-sharing partner?
The once insurmountable bastion of abstentionism has been diluted to just the House of Commons. Maybe one day Sinn Fein MPs will show the same tactical maturity as the Scottish and Welsh nationalists as well as anti-monarchists in Labour and take their seats at Westminster.
In the meantime, Ireland north and south must prepare for Brexit. Just as Unionists may have to swallow their pride and realise a special status may be needed for Northern Ireland given that the North voted ‘remain’ in the referendum, republicans must also have to face even more bitter medicine that for the South to retain a reasonable standard of living, it must negotiate a closer working relationship with the UK.
If republicans will not ditch their abstentionist policy towards the House of Commons seats, then Sinn Fein should definitely rethink its policy towards the CPA.
The UK and Ireland will have to be part of a major global economic body to survive Brexit. That potential solution lies with the CPA, which represents more than 50 national and regional parliaments throughout the world - not all of them part of the former British Empire.
And therein lies the solution. The CPA contains representatives which were never part of the imperial Empire, so what’s the problem in Sinn Fein linking up with the CPA for the benefit of all Irish citizens?
If Sinn Fein can work with the DUP at Stormont, surely the party can work with representatives of other parliaments in the CPA?
The process would be for the Republic to join the CPA and for the UK to negotiate a new Union with the Republic. This would encourage Unionists to think outside the six-county Northern Ireland.
It would also encourage nationalists to be part of a global alternative structure to the EU. The ethos would be an all-island accommodation rather than a united Ireland. Nationalists get an all-island system of government; Unionists see a return to the formation days of the CPA in 1911 when it was founded as the Empire Parliamentary Association when Ireland was entirely under British rule.
At that time, it must also be remembered that Sinn Fein favoured dominion status, not the 32-county democratic socialist republic as outlined in the Proclamation. It was Bloody Maxwell’s insistence on having the Rising leaders executed which changed Sinn Fein’s ethos from dominion status to outright republic.
For Sinn Fein, the question is simple – does it put the welfare of the people of Ireland first, or does it put an outdated aspiration of Irish unity first? It’s a ‘no-brainer’ – people before policy. Another question remains – does Sinn Fein possess the courage and maturity to follow this path into the CPA?
- Follow Dr John Coulter on Twitter @JohnAHCoulter