SF’s confidence is growing but failing to vote on Offences Against the State could haunt them
Winston Churchill said of Sinn Féin’s ideological forebear, Communist Russia, that it was ‘a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma’.© Provided by Extra.ie
Sinn Féin are so different from the traditional parties that they are an enigma that is difficult to decipher. There is, perhaps, a code, again to be found by studying Churchill.
For he saw a key to the Russian mystery, the ‘Russian national interest’.© Provided by Extra.ie Winston Churchill said of Sinn Féin’s ideological forebear, Communist Russia, that it was ‘a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma’.
How does one interpret Sinn Féin’s actions on Thursday night, when they scorned Dáil Éireann and the victims of crime by walking out of the Chamber rather than vote on the Offences Against the State Act?
The key is Sinn Féin’s selfish strategic interest. Sinn Féin is a fanatical, revolutionary movement. So radically different are they from their rivals that they cannot be judged by their standards.
This, they will tell you in private conversations, is a mark of honour. Publicly, they eschew luxurious trappings, many claim to be taking the average industrial wage and you certainly won’t see them joining a reformed Oireachtas Golf Society.© Provided by Extra.ie Publicly, Sinn Fein eschew luxurious trappings, many claim to be taking the average industrial wage and you certainly won’t see them joining a reformed Oireachtas Golf Society, like some of their opponents. Pic: RollingNews.ie
Many political opponents, would see it as a self-sabotaging move, to symbolically vacate from the Dáil Chamber rather than register a vote on the Offences Against the State Act last Thursday. I will return to that, but let’s look first at Sinn Féin’s explanation.
Sinn Féin TDs told me that that there was some silly mix-up. They did not know there was a second vote on the Offences Against the State, and that they had to remain to press the ‘abstain’ button.
Sinn Féin is a centrally controlled organisation unlike any we have seen in Ireland. There are no dissidents, like those in Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. Disagree and you leave, though you might not be forgotten. But certainly, there are no unpremeditated screw-ups.
The ‘abstain’ option was introduced when Fianna Fáil entered the confidence and supply arrangement over five years ago. Sinn Féin used it for the Offences Against the State Act last summer. For a party of such control and unity, to claim incompetence makes no sense.© Provided by Extra.ie Many political opponents, would see it as a self-sabotaging move, to symbolically vacate from the Dáil Chamber rather than register a vote on the Offences Against the State Act last Thursday. Pic: Collins Courts
There is an annual vote to restore the Offences Against the State Act, which also re-establishes the non-jury Special Criminal Court. The non-jury courts were initially established in 1939, to savagely crackdown on the IRA, for fear they would subvert Ireland’s neutrality by joining combatants in the world conflagration. The State, and civilian juries, were deemed under a similar threat from the Provisional IRA in 1972 and the Court was re-established.
That the Government holds an annual vote to maintain the Court acknowledges its draconian nature. That the Cabinet has initiated a judge-led review of the Special Criminal Court further acknowledges the opposition to the non-jury court by human rights organisations.
The Social Democrats TDs registered five abstentions on Thursday. Again, orthodoxy would dictate that Sinn Féin could sensibly articulate a legitimate stance and vote that way. Candidate Lynn Boylan has a chance to pull off modern Sinn Féin’s most extraordinary electoral success. A victory in Dublin Bay South would give Sinn Féin two seats in a constituency of soaring socio-economic prosperity.
The sans-culottes will finally be toasting their feet on the fireplaces of Versailles. If the Young Turks who believe the past must be left behind were truly in the ascendancy in Sinn Féin then this was the moment to push the ‘Tá’ button on the Special Criminal Court.
Sinn Féin is aware – because I told them – that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are pursuing a single canvassing mantra in Dublin Bay South: ‘Vote for our candidate to keep the Shinner out.’© Provided by Extra.ie Sinn Féin may get away with theatrics like Thursday’s walkout for a while. They may even take power. But as Barbarossa shows us, freedom and the urge to defend the homeland are powerful things. Photo:Gareth Chaney/Collins
Could the shadowy former IRA, that many of us believe retain significant power in Sinn Féin, not have given their candidate this one thing? As its name says, the court is dealing with ‘special criminals’, classed as such brutal outlaws they give even less thought to intimidating juries, than they do murder. Three judges sit in judgment. The Provisional IRA technically ended the war in 1997 and the Special Criminal Court adapted.
But despite the change of direction, a deep historical antipathy to the Court remains in Sinn Féin. Yet, even if there is a hatred for the Court, particularly in the North, the party accepts that there is damage incurred from their actions this week. Sinn Féin TDs told me that they believe that their perplexing stance on the Special Criminal Court could hit them electorally in another more important area – its working-class strongholds.
For it is against top drug dealers and traffickers that the Special Criminal Court is most used. ‘Any incoherence in this area would not be looked upon by our voters in areas tortured by drug dealers,’ said a TD. So why did they do it? Why now? At a time they are on the potential cusp of a paradigm-shifting electoral victory.
A partial explanation lies in image control. Sinn Féin’s social media strategy is indeed complex, constantly shifting and brutally effective. They love to post photos of embarrassing Government votes. Thursday night photos of their vote show only a list of ambiguous zeros. No social media totem was given to their enemies. But truly, like a Tour de France cyclist cruising on the Champs-Élysées, they know the race is already run.
They just look at the poll numbers. They see, like we all do, the complacent, torpid decadence of the Establishment. They know they can subvert and snidely undermine democracy over an issue that decides the fates of murderers and many influential media outlets inexplicably ignore it. Sinn Féin looks at the panorama of Irish politics. This week their housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin pointed to the importance of an article revealing a Cabinet memo admitting that the housing crisis is beyond this Government’s rescue.
Childcare, health and many rural issues remain resolutely intractable while Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Greens are in power. Sinn Féin believes of the Establishment as Adolf Hitler did of Russia before Operation Barbarossa: ‘We have only to kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down.’
Sinn Féin may get away with theatrics like Thursday’s walkout for a while. They may even take power. But as Barbarossa shows us, freedom and the urge to defend the homeland are powerful things. Don’t write off the Establishment yet. It still has one or two chess moves to play.