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4 October 2007 Edition

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OPINION : Opposition inside and outside Leinster House

Taking on Fianna Fáil

THE Sinn Féin representative for Dún Laoghaire/ Rathdown, EOIN Ó BROIN, argues that it is time to take on Fianna Fáil and break their stranglehold on 26-County politics.

SINN FÉIN has consistently and correctly called on Fianna Fáil-led governments to live up to their commitments under the terms of the Belfast Agreement and to act as a guarantor of Northern nationalists’ rights while at the same time railing against their appalling record on issues such as health, education, childcare, neutrality and the EU.
Fianna Fáil’s record on the peace process has been better than Fine Gael’s or Labour’s. Despite their tendency in recent years to place immediate electorate concerns before the implementation of the Belfast Agreement, a Fianna Fáil-led Government is always preferable to one led by Fine Gael in this regard.
But I believe that certain political factors are now emerging which require republicans to re-examine our strategic approach to Fianna Fáil.
The DUP/Sinn Féin deal leading to the restoration of the Assembly marks an important turning point. Assuming the deal remains stable and the institutional aspects of the Belfast Agreement are bedded down, the nature of Northern politics is going to change dramatically. The need for ongoing intervention by the Irish and British governments will recede. Political progress will be increasingly determined by our ability to deliver change in the Assembly and the All-Ireland Ministerial Council. Of course, there will continue to be important negotiations, over issues such as the transfer of policing and justice powers but, with time, our need to secure the ‘added value’ of Fianna Fáil in order to counterbalance Irish and British unionism will reduce.
Fianna Fáil’s entry into Northern electoral politics is another important change. While it is too early to judge how or when such an intervention will take place, there is no doubt that this is a response to the electoral rise of Sinn Féin. When Fianna Fáil starts contesting elections in the North, either alone or in conjunction with the SDLP, it will alter the political dynamics of nationalist electoral and political competition.
As always, our political course should be guided by our strategic objectives. We need to ask ourselves how best can we increase our political strength and weaken our political opponents in order to secure state power and implement real political and economic change.
At the centre of this discussion needs to be our relationship with Fianna Fáil. We need to stop seeing them as a wayward ally or as a potential partner. Rather we need to see them as the key political obstacle to achieving republican objectives in the 26 Counties. We need to develop a strategy whose primary aim is to break the stranglehold that Fianna Fáil have had on state power in the 26 Counties since the 1930s.
Only a left republican party, with a campaigning base and a radical social and economic programme for the transformation of Irish society, can achieve this task.
We need to become the opposition to this Fianna Fáil government inside and outside of Leinster House. In much the same way as did Clan na Poblachta in 1948, we need to detach Fianna Fáil’s urban and rural working class vote from the party on the basis of practical yet radical solutions to the country’s growing social and economic problems, while exposing their republican rhetoric with our real project for Irish unity.
However, we also need to learn the lessons not only from Clan’s coalition failures but those of Labour, the PDs and possibly the Greens. Smaller, ideologically-driven parties always suffer as a consequence of coalitions led by Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil - there are no exceptions.
Sinn Féin needs to offer Irish society, North and South, a real alternative. We need to be the primary voice arguing for a new social and electoral coalition for change. Adopting such an alternative would necessitate the altering of our strategic relationship with Fianna Fáil. It would require us to take on Fianna Fáil in a more aggressive and systematic way and a clear strategy to do this.

An Phoblacht Magazine


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