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“Sinn Féin is not like other Irish political parties” goes the propaganda campaign against the party by media commentators and rival mainstream politicians during the elections. What nonsense! It is exactly like the other main Irish political parties – and that’s the problem.
Their opponents’ main objection seems to be that Provisional Sinn Féin was widely seen as the political wing of the armed resistance group Provisional IRA and, although the IRA have dissolved and decommissioned their weapons, the party still carries that mark in the eyes of its detractors (and, it must be said, fondly in the eyes of some of its supporters).
This propaganda campaign is acutely unhistorical. A few short lessons in Irish history might be of use here.
The Irish Labour Party was founded by, among others, the revolutionary socialist James Connolly and anarcho-sindicalist Jim Larkin. In 1913 both advocated arming union workers to resist armed police attacks. In 1916, the Irish Citizen Army they founded was part of the armed Rising and two of their leaders were among the 16 executed by British firing squads.
The party stayed neutral during the Civil War and was an opposition party to the Cumann na nGaedheal government. Since then, the Labour Party has been in Government only as a coalition partner – most times with the right-wing Fine Gael party. Except for it links with trade unions, the party has little claim to having “Labour” in its name and has turned away from everything if which its founders believed.
Fine Gael was formed in 1933 when two smaller groups joined Cumann na nGaedheal, which had been the governing party of the partitioned Free State from 1923 up until the merger. Michael Collins and his followers were the kind of people The founders of Cumann na nGaedheal were among the pro-Treaty and Free State supporters, i.e people who until then had been active in leading or supporting a campaign of armed resistance to the occupying British forces, including assassinations, ambushes and robberies. The Free State began the Civil War in 1922 by an artillery bombardment of Republican positions in Dublin and over the next few years carried out repression on the civilian population, torture, summary executions of prisoners of war as well as State executions – and assassinations. The victors handed the reins over to Cumann na nGaedheal in 1923.
The parties that joined Cumann na nGaedheal in 1933 were 1) the National Centre Party, essentially a big farmers’ quasi-fascist party and 2) the Army Comrades Association (the fascist “Blueshirts”). Of the mainstream Irish political parties, Fine Gael has stayed truest to its founders and base.
Fianna Fáil emerged from a split from Sinn Féin in 1926; interestingly, much of what is being said against Sinn Féin by establishment political commentators now – and worse — was said then about Fianna Fáil: “murderers”, “revolutionaries” (and even “Communists”!). The party first entered power in 1932, its leader De Valera having been — little more than a decade previously — a leader of the Republicans during the Civil War, opponents of the Treaty and of the Irish Government of the time. It freed the Republican prisoners locked up by the Cumann na nGaedheal government, also having a special police force (“Broy’s Harriers”) to persecute the Blueshirts, who aspired to taking power as had Fascists in Europe.
By 1939, the Fianna Fáil government had introduced the savage repressive legislation of the Emergency Powers Act to intern republicans without trial and after a successful habeas corpus challenge by Seán McBride (one of the founders of Amnesty International), the Government brought in the Offences Against the State Act, was re-arresting Republicans and interning them without trial again (around 2,000). Two Republicans died on a hunger strike protest in Mountjoy Jail. Under Fianna Fáil the State executed six Republicans and some more are alleged to have died as a result of their treatment in the concentration camp.
In 1957, a Fianna Fáil government once again brought internment without trial into force, the colonial administration of the Six Counties having done the same the year previously. The last prisoner was released by FF in 1959.
From having been seen as the main political party of Irish Republicanism, Fianna Fáil became in a short time the preferred party of the Irish capitalists (the “Gombeen” class) and has been in government more than any other party, more often indeed than the party that won the Civil War and set up the State.
JUST LIKE ANY OTHER IRISH PARTY
There is no historical basis for saying that Sinn Féin is very different from the other Irish mainstream political parties. It has traversed a similar path to all those others, perhaps most similarly to Fianna Fáil – it’s just a more recent arrival on the mainstream scene. It is already very like other main Irish political parties and is getting to be exactly like them.
That is not a compliment.
This is a party that, in recent decades, had a revolutionary Irish republican – or at least nationalist – position. It strongly opposed the partition of the country and the colonial occupation of one-sixth of the nation’s territory. With the latter came — naturally enough — opposition to the colonial police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary but this was much more than an ideological opposition: the RUC was an armed force created specifically for the repression of Irish Republicans and acted consistently against the Catholic minority in the Six Counties, which SF sought to represent and among which it organised.
The colonial Statelet itself, with its gerrymandering of electoral boundaries, sectarian allocation of housing and employment and its Special Powers Act, was the sworn enemy of the Sinn Féin party. And when British troops were sent in 1969 to repress the civil rights uprising, of course Provisional Sinn Féin and Provisional IRA fought them too.
The Provisional IRA gave up armed struggle against the British in 1998 and, although it maintained its armed force for control of its community for some time afterwards, eventually dissolved its organisation. By then it had already decommissioned its weapons.
In 2007 the SF party became part of the British colony’s administration in Stormont, with Martin McGuinness, former chief of the IRA in Derry, partnering Ian Paisley, notorious Loyalist religious sectarian and social bigot.
That same year the party agreed to support the armed and sectarian police force and in the reorganisation of the RUC had the name changed to “the Police Service of Northern Ireland”. The essence of the force, naturally, remains the same.
All the austerity measures inflicted on the working class by the administration since the party entered joint government of the colony have been approved by Sinn Féin MLAs.
In 2011, despite an official SF policy of opposition to the visit of the Queen of England, Commander-in-Chief of the British Armed Forces, to the 26 Counties (the Irish state), leaders greeted her (one in person) and urged no protests be made against her visit.
In 2019, SF welcomed Prince Charles on a two-day visit to the colony and to the State; this man is not only son of the English Monarch but ceremonial commander-in-chief of the Parachute Regiment, authors of the massacres of Derry’s Bloody Sunday (14 dead) and Ballymurphy (11 dead) for which not a single soldier or commander has ever been tried. The SF Mayor of Derry, however, refused to meet him.
This year, 2020, the Six-County part of the leadership of Sinn Féin joined others in publicly seeking recruits for the PSNI, while the 26-County leadership withdrew from its previous position of seeking abolition of the repressive emergency powers of the Offences Against the State Act.
In the 26 Counties, SF long ago indicated its willingness to join in a governing coalition with some one of the other mainstream political parties: i.e capitalist, neo-colonial political parties.
On so many occasions, it has shown itself to be like the other parties and prepared to ditch formerly-declared principles for what it considered a political advantage, proving itself a “safe pair of hands” to the rulers of the system.
Yes, Sinn Féin is indeed a party like any other Irish mainstream political party: capitalist, neo-colonial, undemocratic and supporting State repression. As to the latter, why not? It won’t be SF that the State will be repressing — it’ll be Irish Republicans. And if SF ever get where they want to, into majority control of government – they’ll have plenty of opponents themselves to drag before those non-jury courts.
MORE INFORMATION LINKS
“Sinn Féin is not a conventional democratic party”: https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/sinn-f%C3%A9in-is-not-a-conventional-democratic-party-this-is-undeniable-1.4161818?
The most vicious of unhistorical attacks on SF, although from an alleged historian: https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/opinion/columnists/ruth-dudley-edwards/sinn-feins-rise-akin-to-that-of-nazis-in-1930s-and-is-a-threat-to-democracy-on-this-island-38940177.html
Internment without trial under Fianna Fáil 1957: https://www.anphoblacht.com/contents/19806
Sinn Féin shares in administration of the British colony for the first time: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/sinn-f%C3%A9in-endorses-psni-by-overwhelming-majority-1.1292110?
Sinn Féin accepts the colonial police force: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/sinn-f%C3%A9in-endorses-psni-by-overwhelming-majority-1.1292110?
Relatives of people murdered by Crown forces and allies object to SF support for the PSNI: https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/209838/posts/2580601201
Sinn Féin leader McGuinness welcoming Queen of England to the colony despite SF official policy against her visit: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/queen-publicly-shakes-hands-with-sinn-feins-martin-mcguinness-after-historic-meeting-7892750.html
SF leader Gerry Adams commenting favourably on Queen’s visit to the Irish State despite official SF policy: https://edition.cnn.com/2012/06/27/world/europe/uk-queen-northern-ireland/index.html
Sinn Féin welcoming Prince Phillip: https://www.irishnews.com/news/northernirelandnews/2019/05/22/news/duchess-1625989/
Gerry Adams meeting Prince Phillip: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-32786393
Sinn Féin recruiting for the colonial police force: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/crime-and-law/sinn-f%C3%A9in-presence-at-psni-recruitment-event-seismic-and-historic-1.4161267?
Sinn Féin and the Special Criminal Court: https://www.thejournal.ie/special-criminal-court-explainer-4993281-Feb2020/
February 2020 Election results: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/feb/10/irish-general-election-everything-you-need-to-know