Sinn Fein has always been an electorally pragmatic party, but with general elections north and south of the border expected in the not too distant future, as well as the looming centenary of partition, could the surprise tactic for the party be to swing it to the Hard Right and rebrand it as the unassailable heroes of Patriotic Nationalism?
In the current Northern Ireland Assembly (albeit suspended since January 2017), Sinn Fein was already in bed politically in the power-sharing Stormont Executive with what was once perceived to be one of the most hard-line of the Right-wing loyalist movements, the Democratic Unionist Party.
While the DUP was clearly Hard Right on the constitution and Union, it was equally viewed as a quiet soft Left party on bread and butter issues because of its Protestant working class roots. In spite of this supposed ‘soft socialism’ of the DUP, there is no way under Paisley senior’s leadership it could even have been branded a Marxist movement in terms of economic policies.
Any future Assembly poll will more likely see the SF/DUP dominated Executive returned as Sinn Fein finally puts what remains of the socialist-leaning SDLP under boss Colum Eastwood to the electoral sword, and the DUP pulls yet another poll rabbit of its magic hat to fend off both the challenge from a supposedly resurgent Ulster Unionist Party (if the Lisburn and Castlereagh council election is taken as a benchmark and not the European poll disaster) as well as the Alliance ‘bounce’ under Naomi Long.
In the Republic, Sinn Fein urgently needs to reverse both the recent Council and European election slides if it is realistically to become a minority coalition partner in the next Dail, probably with Leo Varadkar’s Fine Gael, still known in some circles as ‘The Blueshirts’ because of the party’s past history in the 1930s with the fascist Blueshirt movement which stomped about Southern Ireland.
Some might say – why should Sinn Fein give up its hardline socialist principles simply to climb into bed politically with Fine Gael, when it did not need to perform an ideological U-turn to enter Stormont with the DUP in 2007 following the St Andrews Agreement?
The core problem is not for Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland, but in the Republic, where memories of the bitter Irish Civil War of the 1920s still run deep in many republican families.
Again, Sinn Fein spin doctors could box clever, play ‘the red card’ and indulge in some historical revisionism by emphasising that the 1916 Easter Rising was inspired by the openly Leftist Irish Citizens Army, and fanatical socialists, such as James Connolly, the Scottish communist who formed his own Irish Socialist Republican Party – not to be confused with the terror group the INLA’s political wing, the Irish Republican Socialist Party.
However, an historical hurdle which republican revisionists have to leap is that the failed Dublin Easter Rising came a year before the 1917 Leninist-inspired revolution in Russia. The Irish Volunteers and Irish Citizens Army were active at a time when the core foe was Right-wing imperialism, and particularly the British Empire.
The Rising was a shotgun marriage between the fundamentalist Catholicism of Patrick Pearse and Connolly’s militant socialism.
But the modern Ireland which commemorates the Rising annually is a different political animal from the Ireland which witnessed the failed coup; a coup which saw some Dublin residents spit on the rebels as they were marched into captivity by the British. It was only the uncompromising decision of General ‘Bloody’ Maxwell who insisted on having the Rising leaders executed which turned them from political upstarts and nuisances into republican icons.
If Sinn Fein is now to capitalise on future Rising commemorations, the centenary of partition and the formation of the Northern state, as well as the centenary of the Anglo-Irish Treaty and the Irish Civil War, it must use them to create a new brand of Right-wing Patriotic Nationalism.
To achieve this rebranding, it must eliminate the view that modern-day Sinn Fein is a communist party under a new banner.
Likewise, while Sinn Fein’s propaganda machine has worked effectively in wiping the political landscape on one hand with the SDLP, and on the other, ensuring dissident republicanism does not become a significant electoral force in the same way as in the Unionist community, the No Camp parties against the Good Friday Agreement – especially the DUP – eventually overtook David Trimble’s Yes Camp UUP.
Sinn Fein must now convince the Southern electorate it has the political maturity – in spite of all Sinn Fein’s rantings against austerity and Brexit – that it is a party fit for government in Leinster House. The only way Sinn Fein can achieve this is for party president Mary Lou McDonald to swing her party to the Hard Right to avoid an Ian Paisley senior-style coup within her own ranks.
What Irish republicanism now as an ideology needs is a new radical Right-wing party – not Sinn Fein spinning out more left of centre rhetoric about saving the working class.
For years after the Irish Civil War in the 1920s, the Southern electorate rejected Sinn Féin because it regarded it as the Communist Party under another name. Could that perception of being too Hard Left have been the reason for the party’s poor showings in both the council and European polls in the Republic earlier this year?
Sinn Féin needs to relaunch itself as an ultra Right-wing nationalist party under the banner – Ireland for the Irish and nobody else!
Sinn Fein activists aligning themselves with Left-wing policies might have been cool in 1916 in the days of Connolly and Larkin, but it has become a major millstone in the third millennium.
Irish Labour’s recovery is at a snail’s pace; the Stickies’ agenda (Workers Party) has faded into the dustbin of history, and the new kids on the Left block, Peadar Toibin’s Aontu is viewed as a one-trick pro-life party.
Other leftist republican parties – such as the IRSP, Republican Sinn Fein, Saoradh and the 32 County Sovereignty Movement – will be nothing more than fringe organisations.
Former Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams had talked in the past about his admiration for radical Irish Presbyterianism. Could the solution to Sinn Fein’s political migraines following the Southern poll disaster be to turn Sinn Féin into an Irish National Party with the slogan – Be Proud to be a Patriot.
One of Ireland’s greatest Protestant nationalist patriots was the Lisburn journalist Ernest Blythe, who became a leading light in General Eoin O’Duffy’s Blueshirt movement.
To stop young republicans - for whom the 1994 Provisional IRA ceasefire is merely a date in a history book - becoming Saoradh radicals, Sinn Fein should launch the Greenshirts – a radical Right-wing youth movement which instils disciplined Irish patriotic values, folklore and culture into its ranks.
The Greenshirts could help eliminate the nationalist scourges of joyriding and recreational rioting.
Mary Lou should announce that the ‘Shinners’ are amending their title to Sinn Féin, the Nationalist Patriots Party.
If you want a radical Right-wing Presbyterian to explain this much-needed new Irish Patriotism to the unfaithful, give me a shout at my Twitter account @JohnAHCoulter
As a life-long Rangers fanatic, even I’d be happy to swap my beloved Glasgow blue top to don the shamrock shirt of the Greenshirt movement. Right is might, Mary Lou!
Listen to religious commentator Dr John Coulter’s programme, Call In Coulter, every Saturday morning around 9.30 am on Belfast’s Christian radio station, Sunshine 1049 FM. Listen online at www.thisissunshine.com