As the Democratic Unionists continue their surprisingly very public implosion with Stormont Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots’ reign as leader becoming not just the shortest in the party’s 50-year history, but one of the shortest of any political party on the island of Ireland, it seems that Sinn Fein’s Westminster agenda is conveniently slipping under the radar.
At first sight, Unionists have a point that Secretary of State Brandon Lewis agreeing to introduce legislation via Westminster at the behest of Sinn Fein for an Irish Language Act looks like republican blackmail.
Unionists - who want to remain part of the UK - want the Westminster Government to politically ‘butt out’ of what they consider to be devolved matters in Northern Ireland.
Sinn Fein, on the other hand, which ultimately wants to take Northern Ireland out of the Union, seems to be consistently looking to Westminster to get its Irish Language Act. In short, where would republicans be without the help of the British Government on this issue?
But Sinn Fein’s tactics of using Westminster to politically ‘hoodwink’ Unionism over the culture and language legislation in the middle of a pandemic should come as no surprise.
The British intelligence community’s infiltration of the republican movement has come a very long way since the disastrous internment raids mainly on nationalist areas half a century ago in 1971 when the British security forces acted on clearly outdated information.
In 2021, given the number of agents, informants, touts and spies which British intelligence has secreted within the republican movement, the question could be posed - who is really running that movement?
Indeed, any Unionist who still believes the Provisional IRA has disbanded and the IRA’s ruling Army Council has ‘gone away, you know’ is living in cloud cuckoo land.
Key question - how much of Sinn Fein strategy is being at least influenced, at best dictated by British intelligence’s legion of agents within the republican movement?
Look at how that manipulation has developed since 1971. In the early Seventies, Sinn Fein was nothing more than a social club to remember and commemorate the Irish Volunteers of the failed Dublin Easter Rising of 1916, or indeed, the failed Border campaign of 1956-62.
In spite of the Provos’ so-called ‘long war’ strategy, the British intelligence community quickly learned from its internment debacle and developed its network of agents inside the republican movement.
The British intelligence community’s own ‘long war’ was to use its agents to convince the IRA’s Army Council that terrorism would not work and a political strategy was the only way forward, perhaps to enable the British Foreign Office to achieve its long-term goal, which was to rid England of one of its most expensive final colonies - Northern Ireland.
It must not be forgotten that Arthur Griffith, who founded Sinn Fein in 1905, did not see his fledging movement as a diehard republican outfit. Canadian-style dominion status was the ultimate aim of the original Sinn Fein.
The violent drive in becoming an apologist for terrorism only emerged when British general, Bloody Maxwell, decided to have the 1916 Rising leaders executed by firing squad.
Given that many Dublin Catholics physically spat and verbally abused the Rising participants as they were marched into captivity, the Westminster Government should have ordered Maxwell to simply give them jail terms and tell so-called republicans to ‘grow up’, given that in 1916, many Irish nationalists were fighting for the Empire in the trenches of the Great War.
All the executions served was to turn a bunch of troublesome rebels into global Irish martyrs and propelled Sinn Fein into a Westminster General Election landslide in 1918 when Sinn Fein won over 70 of the 105 Irish Commons seats on offer.
Indeed, was the use of the Black and Tans during the War of Independence the best way to quell the IRA campaign?
While abstentionism has always been at the heart of Sinn Fein’s strategy, that took a dramatic U-turn in 1986 when the movement voted to drop this policy towards the Dail in Dublin and take their seats.
It would be more than a dozen years later when Sinn Fein dropped its abstentionism of Stormont and took its Assembly seats in 1998. Now only the House of Commons boycott remains, given that Sinn Fein takes its seats in every forum to which it has been elected.
Again, given the increasing number of so-called ‘draft dodgers’ emerging as elected representatives at all levels - namely people who have never served an apprenticeship in the Provisional IRA.
In the Republic, suspicion of Sinn Fein remains high among the political establishment, prompting the two main rival parties which have ruled in Leinster House for decades to form an historic pact to keep Sinn Fein out of power.
Indeed, setting aside this pact, the only reason Sinn Fein is not in power following the most recent Dail General Election was simply that the party did not run enough candidates - a mistake the ruling IRA Army Council will not allow the Sinn Fein element of the republican movement to repeat.
Realising this, constitutional Southern nationalist politicians and moderate Northern Unionists have been in talks to see how the Sinn Fein bandwagon can be combated across the entire island. In short, is it possible to create an agreed island without the influence of the ‘Shinners’?
While the DUP indulges in political self-destruction, is the plan of British intelligence to use this legion of agents to get Sinn Fein to evolve into a modern-day version of the now defunct constitutional republican Irish Independence Party, once fronted by a Protestant ex-British Army officer?
If British intelligence can ‘persuade’ Sinn Fein to increasingly rely on the interventions of the Westminster Government, how long before a deal emerges whereby Sinn Fein MPs take their Commons seats like the Scottish and Welsh nationalists?
Irish politics may recently be the art of the crazy and brinkmanship, but it can also be - if past deals between Rev Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness are taken as a benchmark - the art of the impossible.
Follow Dr John Coulter on Twitter @JohnAHCoulter
Listen to commentator Dr John Coulter’s programme, Call In Coulter, every Saturday morning around 10.15 am on Belfast’s Christian radio station, Sunshine 1049 FM. Listen online.