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29 April 2014 Edition

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No holds barred in Establishment attacks on Sinn Féin

Far from becoming part of the Establishment, Sinn Féin is increasingly becoming the standard bearer for what a new Ireland will be like

WITH the consistent growth in Sinn Féin’s electoral support North and South, there has been an increasingly frenetic media campaign of demonisation and distortion - in which the notorious Sunday Independent has played a leading, though not exclusive, role.

There is very little attempt to analyse the policies and strategies of the party, however. Instead, while playing the demonisation card as the main weapon, any excuse will be jumped on to further the reactionary agenda, accusing the party of having abandoned republicanism and joined the Establishment.

The role of Anthony McIntyre and the Boston College Project are well-known in this regard, with media opponents of armed struggle like RTÉ’s Prime Time quite happy to rely on those who condemn the ending of armed struggle to further their attacks on the party.

And even responsible journalists like Vincent Browne are happy to join in, accusing Sinn Féin of implementing austerity policies in the North that it opposes in the South.

The problem with these criticisms, like those from otherwise genuine republicans, is that they ignore the actual context in which Sinn Féin operates and the strategic priorities which the party must put forward.

All thinking people now understand that the achievement of a democratic reunification of the country – that is a united Ireland which implements social and economic equality for its citizens – must involve at the least the acquiescence of the Protestant population in the North which still sees its interests as tied in with the connection to Britain.

The Peace Process is founded on the need to create conditions in which the discriminations of the past can be stopped and real equality of respect for both communities established so that the Protestant/unionist community can come to see that reunification, far from being a threat, is a guarantee to future prosperity and community development.

In this regard, republican leaders have repeatedly made it clear that the Good Friday and St Andrews agreements are not the end of the process but intermediate steps which create the space to strengthen the republican position by constructively neutralising opposition.

In other words, it is what it says it is – a process; not a conclusion.

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Journalist Vincent Browne

Of course, this means that the scope of what Sinn Féin can achieve through the Northern Executive is limited. For example, the Executive has no power to raise funds through specific fiscal measures and little power to oppose other fiscal measures imposed by Britain from the Westminster parliament.

The ultra-Left (those who consider themselves more left-wing than anyone else) argue that Sinn Féin should refuse to operate under such conditions.

Of course, this would mean the collapse of the existing institutions. And the question should be put: do those who demand such a move recognise that without these institutions sectarianism will be given a free rein with an inevitable push back to the internecine conflict from which we have escaped?

The point should be made about the ‘All or Nothing’ approach of these purist critics is that the result of All or Nothing is invariably Nothing.

This doesn’t mean that Sinn Féin can never make mistakes or that it is beyond criticism. But it does mean that criticism needs to be made within the framework of understanding the context.

For example, in April there was a major rally in Belfast to demand Irish language rights. Sinn Féin was to the fore in this rally, quite rightly. But the party has been criticised because of its involvement in the Executive and cross-Border bodies which some believe are doing less than they should.

Indeed, at St Andrews, the two governments and the DUP agreed to the republican demand that there be a Language Act in the North. But the DUP have refused to honour this commitment and both governments – BOTH – have done nothing to bring it about.

Should Sinn Féin bring down the Executive, or should they support the popular movement to bring pressure on the governments to see the St Andrews commitments implemented?

And for people like Vincent Browne, the economic restraints on republicans in the North are ‘proof’ that they would do nothing about austerity in the South, ignoring the fact that Sinn Féin is the only party in the Executive to demand the transfer of fiscal powers, a transfer that Browne himself has never referred to.

The South does have fiscal powers to tax or not tax, and Sinn Féin’s programme is one that fills the Establishment with dread.

Far from becoming part of the Establishment, Sinn Féin is increasingly becoming the standard bearer for what a new Ireland will be like: an Ireland of community equality, founded on economic equality, true national sovereignty, and the undoing of the Conquest, not least by the revival of our indigenous language.

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