17 November 2005 Edition
Election fever puts Sinn Féin centre stage
BY SEÁN BRADY
Sinn Féin in government : 'Red scare' aimed at stemming republican growth
Election fever has gripped the political establishment in the 26 Counties and in an ironic twist, comments by leaders of all the conservative parties have catapulted Sinn Féin to centre stage in the debate about the make up of the next Irish government.
The occasion of Fine Gael's national conference in Cork last weekend, coupled with a Progressive Democrats 20th anniversary dinner, saw Enda Kenny and Michael McDowell compete with each other for the anti-republican vote which they perceive as existing among some of the more privileged sections of the 26-County electorate.
In the course of a leadership address at his party conference, Enda Kenny said: "Soon, the Irish people will go and choose a new government. The choice is stark. The old guard of Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin, those rip-off republicans. Or those who want to change Ireland for the better: Fine Gael and the Labour Party. And on election day, one tick on the ballot paper will decide this nation's future. Our future will hang on a single choice."
Kenny's speech was a clear attempt to portray the coalition alternative to Fine Gael and Labour as being a Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin coalition. In a tactic reminiscent of that used by Ian Paisley's DUP against the rival Ulster Unionists, Kenny is fostering the notion among anti-republican elements that 'a vote for Fianna Fáil is a vote for Sinn Féin in government'.
That same evening Michael McDowell unveiled that latest version of his 'PDs as watchdogs in government' ploy when he told a PD gathering that their presence in government was vital to keep Sinn Féin out. "It is time that every republican on the island of Ireland made it absolutely clear that there will be no room in democratic government, North or South, for a party or a movement that is controlled by a secret army", he said. McDowell's comments will undoubtedly be used by rejectionist unionists to support their stance in refusing to re-establish the political institutions in the North.
The following day, in a panic reaction to Saturday's speeches and subsequent media commentary, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern rushed into print with the notoriously anti-republican Sunday Independent to rule out the scenario of a coalition with Sinn Féin. In a desperate effort to neutralise what he saw as a key opposition tactic the Taoiseach attacked what he alleged were Sinn Féin's economic policies. Ahern quite deliberately fed into a modern version of the 'red scare' beloved of reactionary politicians at home and abroad for generations but most recently and regularly propagated by his eccentric Justice Minister Michael McDowell.
"Even a radical overhaul of Sinn Féin economic policy would have little real credibility after 35 years of Marxism", he said, adding without any hint of embarrassment that: "I believe Sinn Féin are agents of poverty and disadvantage."
The following day a spokeswoman for the Taoiseach told the Irish Times that: "He will not be dependent on Sinn Féin for any act" to allow him form a government.
Responding to the comments of Ahern, Kenny and McDowell, Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said this week that the establishment parties in the 26 Counties were "using scare tactics in the vain hope of stopping Sinn Fein's growth". He said Taoiseach Bertie Ahern "had a brass neck to accuse Sinn Féin of being 'agents of poverty and disadvantage' while he presides over a wealthy economy where one in seven children live in poverty".
"It is a measure of the political bankruptcy of all these parties that their main focus has been on scare tactics designed to stem the growth of Sinn Féin. Fine Gael and the Progressive Democrats are engaging in a contest over who are the biggest anti-Sinn Féiners. Both parties are desperate to present Fianna Fáil as Government partners-in-waiting with Sinn Féin in order to, as they see it, boost Fine Gael and PD prospects in the General Election.
"The Taoiseach Bertie Ahern was clearly rattled by the vacuous speech delivered by Enda Kenny in Cork on Saturday. The only memorable thing about that speech was the Fine Gael leader's effort to link Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil. In what can only be described as a panic response, the Taoiseach has reverted to the old tactic of the 'red scare'. And he rushed into the arms of the viciously anti-republican Sunday Independent to deliver his message.
"The Taoiseach has a brass neck to describe Sinn Féin as agents of poverty and disadvantage while he presides over a wealthy economy where one in seven children live in poverty. Sinn Féin represents disadvantaged communities across this country who have long been abandoned by Fianna Fáil and the other conservative parties. The Taoiseach's sudden interest in Sinn Féin's policies will fool very few people. He knows Sinn Féin is not a Marxist party but his attack has nothing to do with our ideology or our policies. It is all about decommissioning some of the political weaponry of Fine Gael and the PDs in advance of a General Election.
"For our part Sinn Féin will continue to challenge the conservative parties, including the Fianna Fáil/PD government and the Coalition of the Confused that poses as an alternative. The coalition we want to build is with the Irish people as we work together to create an Ireland of Equals. Scare tactics will not stop the growth of Sinn Féin."