Sinn Fein's Strategy Laid Bare

By O'Callaghan, Sean | New Statesman (1996), June 20, 1997 | Go to article overview

Sinn Fein's Strategy Laid Bare


O'Callaghan, Sean, New Statesman (1996)


It involves both supporting violence and provoking it

As Mo Mowlam undertakes emergency talks with Orange Order and nationalist residents' leaders to seek agreement on parades, the mood on the ground in Northern Ireland is as ugly as it has ever been. The murder of two policemen came as no shock to those of us who understand IRA-Sinn Fein strategy.

Recent election results in both Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, which produced a rise in the Sinn Fein vote, have made the search for real peace in Northern Ireland more, not less difficult.

Until now it has been widely accepted that Sinn Fein could not go beyond its core vote while the IRA engaged in violence. So what has changed? The answer is that the peace process has made Republican leaders such as Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness respectable. They have retained that respectability, even though the movement they lead has returned to murder and bombing. The process also raised nationalist hopes to absurd heights and has resulted in nationalists being prepared to vote, in increasing numbers, for people whom unionists believe are terrorists by night and politicians by day. The result: increased sectarian polarisation over the loyalist marching season.

The election of a Fianna Fail dominated government and, in Bertie Ahern, a Taoiseach who believes it is his "primary duty" to represent Northern nationalists has not helped. Sinn Fein's vote increased substantially in every constituency it contested, the first time this has happened during the present IRA campaign. Sinn Fein headed the poll in the border constituency of Cavan/Monaghan. In Dublin's inner-city slums, where Sinn Fein community workers have been working for years, voter alienation and an understandable contempt for authority has allowed the IRA/Sinn Fein to portray itself as defender of an oppressed community, just as it has among nationalists in Northern Ireland.

In Dick Spring's Kerry constituency, Martin Ferris, a man convicted of gunrunning, IRA membership and assault, took 16 per cent of the vote. I know the area and Ferris very well indeed. No one voting for him did so with illusions. Ferris has led anti-drug vigilante activity in the area, which has seen violence directed against suspected drug dealers. The peace process has legitimised people such as Ferris, Adams' substitute on Dublin's Forum for Peace and Reconciliation.

This is the context for this year's marching season. Sensible people within the Orange Order have worked to avoid a repetition of last year's scenes at Drum-cree. Opposing them is their own hard-line Spirit of Drumcree group, which scorns talks with nationalists. On the other side stand the Nationalist Residents Groups, controlled or heavily influenced by the IRA/Sinn Fein. …

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