30 June 2005 Edition
A coalition for change
A coalition for change
A number of recent articles in An Phoblacht have discussed the possibility of Sinn Féin taking part in a coalition government in the 26 Counties, and what form such a coalition might take.
There appear to be two alternative strategies open to republicans.
The first is a coalition, or some other arrangement, with Fianna Fáil. The price of Sinn Féin's support for such an arrangement would be the Dublin Government taking a more pro-active role in securing the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and developing the All-Ireland agenda. The long-term or strategic aim would be to draw Fianna Fáil into adopting a more republican position. As such, it would be in line with the strategic objective of "greening the island".
The analysis underlying such a strategy, however, is flawed in at least two respects.
In the first place, it is based on a deep misunderstanding of southern politics and of the southern political elite. This is the belief that there is a republican or nationalist tendency within Fianna Fáil and other 26-County parties strong enough to exert leverage over the leaderships of those parties and move them in a more nationalist direction — ultimately towards some sort of alliance for Irish unity.
This profoundly underestimates the extent to which the 26-County elite -- in business, politics and the media — has moved outside any frame of reference that could be described as nationalist. Their loyalty is not to the Irish nation, to the people of the 32 Counties, but to the 26-County state, as the administrative apparatus which serves their political and economic needs within the context of a globalised economy and a quasi-federal Europe.
So what if some of the Fianna Fáil faithful still sing Kevin Barry when the whiskey and the Guinness are flowing? If they did not persuade Fianna Fáil to take a republican direction in 1969 and 1971, when Irish citizens were being driven from their homes in their thousands, what hope is there they will do so today?
The Fianna Fáil leadership will not be deterred from its core purpose — that of managing the 26-County economy and state to the benefit of the interest groups on whose backing it depends — by dreams of Irish unity or the Republic of 1916. Still less will they give Sinn Féin the oxygen of joining with it in an alliance for Irish unity, which could only boost the party's electoral support and acceptability in the South.
Republicans might extract from Fianna Fáil, as the price of coalition, concessions such as speaking rights for Six-County MPs in Leinster House, or a promise to push for speedier implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. But we will not persuade turkeys to vote for Christmas. We will not change the political culture of the Fianna Fáil leadership, which will remain resolutely partitionist and anti-republican.
There is another massive flaw in any analysis that sees coalition with Fianna Fáil as a means of forwarding our republican objectives. This is the failure to see that the national and social aspects of our struggle must go forward hand in hand, if they are to go forward at all.
If republicanism is to gain momentum as a movement across the 32 Counties — not just in the North and border region — it cannot subordinate its social aims to that of national liberation. The struggle must be made relevant to the daily lives of people in Dublin and Cork if it is to secure mass support. It must be clearly a struggle for democracy and equality for all Irish people, not just nationalist residents of the Six Counties. Any arrangement with Fianna Fáil would inevitably relegate Sinn Féin's radical social policies to the sidelines. It would put the aim of a socialist republic on hold, in favour of securing a more pro-nationalist position from Dublin. By doing so, it would effectively subordinate the interests of the party in the 26 Counties to those of the party in the Six, and mortgage the future of republicanism as a 32-County movement.
Sinn Féin simply could not deliver to its 26-County electorate in such circumstances. The party would risk entering future elections viewed as simply one more set of politicians climbing the greasy pole. It would have lost its gloss of newness and radicalism — and for what? For given the ingrained partitionism of the 26-County elite, the only way for republicans to achieve either national or social liberation is to build political strength across the 32 counties.
This brings us to the second option: that of building an alliance of the left with the aim of eventually taking power in a left-wing government whose core would be Sinn Fs drilled into us that "socialism has failed". Today, it is clear that it is neo-liberal orthodoxy that has failed. In America — where the neo-liberal experiment has been carried furthest — the poor eat dog food because it is the only meat they can afford, while the government runs a deficit of billions to fund tax cuts for the super-rich.
Why has a left alternative in Irish politics not emerged already? One reason is the fragmentation of the left and the lack of clear political leadership. The other is the difficulty there has been in articulating a clear alternative to capitalism since the collapse of the socialist command economies.
Sinn Féin can supply both the organisational muscle and the political will that is absent on the Irish left. In the process, we can establish ourselves as the leaders of a genuine alternative to the right-wing parties that have dominated 26-County politics since the foundation of the state. Well revolutionaries. We cannot hope to establish a 32-County republic based on the ideals of James Connolly in alliance with the 26-County establishment. We will not achieve the Republic by collaboration with its enemies. We will only do so by mobilising the forces on this island that are genuinely committed to justice and equality.
By all means let us enter a coalition — but a coalition for change, not a pact with the devil. We are deluding ourselves if we imagine that Fianna Fáil can be our companion, for even a part of the way, on the road to the Republic; for that road passes over its corpse.