Just before Christmas, in what many in the Westminster establishment and Northern Ireland Unionism viewed as a totally irresponsible act, Fine Gael’s Leo Varadkar, the Taoiseach of Southern Ireland, said that Dublin would launch an inter-state case against the UK’s so-called legacy legislation under the European convention on human rights.
This latest political gauntlet came a matter of weeks after Dublin unveiled a multi-million pound package to assist all-Ireland projects inside Northern Ireland. That move was unveiled by Varadkar’s predecessor as Taoiseach, Micheal Martin, now the Tanaiste, as part of the Shared Island Fund.
Taken in tandem, these two announcements reek of political hypocrisy - a pat on the back from Shared Island, followed by a stab in the back from the legacy move. The latter has plunged Anglo-Irish relations to a new low not witnessed since before the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement.
But Dublin’s latest move against the UK over legacy should really be seen as part of Southern Ireland’s internal political crisis that in the next Dail general election, Sinn Fein could emerge with its best election result since the 1918 Westminster General Election when the movement won over 70 of the 105 Commons seats for Ireland when the island was all part of the British Empire.
After all, it’s been less than 40 years since the IRA’s political wing voted at a special conference in 1986 to allow its elected TDs to take their seats in Leinster House.
And the last time Sinn Fein had such an electoral mandate in the 1920s, the movement split over the Treaty which partitioned the island sparking a bloody civil war between the new pro-Treaty Free State Army and the anti-Treaty IRA. Sinn Fein may be an expert in protest politics, but it has an atrocious historical record as a party of government.
Taken in this light, and given that opinion polls suggest Sinn Fein will probably emerge as the largest party in the Dail after the next Southern general election, really all that has to be decided is will Sinn Fein have enough TDs to form a majority government, or will it need the help of Independent TDs or a coalition partner, such as Fianna Fáil, to form a stable government?
In the last Dail election, Sinn Fein was only kept out of government because of an historic pact between the two establishment rivals - Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.
With Sinn Fein’s supposed New Year resolution of a border poll on Irish Unity by 2030, the Dublin establishment - and especially the FG/FF shotgun marriage - needed to show Southern voters it could provide an alternative to Sinn Fein’s sabre-rattling Irish unity rhetoric.
In short, the current Dublin administration needed to prove it was the real seekers of Irish Unity, not the republican movement.
Step one was Tanaiste Martin’s softly, softly carrot tactic of throwing millions at all-island initiatives from the Shared Island Fund. Step two, the stick; it came from the so-called political hard man act from Taoiseach Varadkar taking the UK to court.
But throwing all that cash at Northern Ireland stinks of the Dublin establishment trying to buy the next election by providing as much cash incentives as it can before Sinn Fein gets its hands on the Dail’s budget.
Sinn Fein has pledged a massive spending spree to alleviate the republic’s social housing crisis - a spree which could easily bankrupt the Southern economy within five years, leading to yet another crash in the Celtic Tiger … except, unlike before when the UK was in the EU, there will be no British millions to bail out the South’s economy.
Likewise, by flexing its political muscles against the UK over legacy, the current Dublin administration is showing it has the will to take on the British in the hope that wavering voters will stay with the FG/FF partnership rather than follow opinion polls and defect to Sinn Fein.
Whilst Unionism has branded the Shared Island slush fund as a ‘Trojan horse’, the real ‘Trojan horse’ will come if the European court supports the Dublin case against the UK, and legacy issues remain open to investigation.
Imagine the dilemma for a Sinn Fein-led government. Think of the number of attacks which the IRA and INLA carried out where the terrorists retreated to the territorial safety of the 26 Southern Irish counties.
How many unsolved murders as part of the republican movement’s ethnic cleansing of the Northern Ireland border county Protestant population during the Troubles would be open to serious scrutiny as to the role which the Irish Republic as a geographical terrorist springboard played in that slaughter?
Imagine the embarrassment for a Sinn Fein-led government in Leinster House having to provide detailed information on the IRA and INLA death squads which carried out the Tullyvallen Orange Hall massacre, the Kingsmill minibus massacre and the Darkley Mission Hall massacre.
It poses the serious question - is Dublin’s case against the UK really the current administration in Leinster House leaving a ticking political time bomb for any future government which contains Sinn Fein either as a majority party, or a coalition partner?
In short, has Sinn Fein - because of its lack of government experience - been set up by the old dogs in the Dublin establishment; a move which could confine Sinn Fein’s 2030 border poll dream to the dustbin of history for generations to come.
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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.