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Sinn Féin’s Dual Strategy To A Reunited Ireland?

Two Sinn Féin leaders, two stories. On one side is Gerry Adams T.D., president of the party, member of Dáil Éireann, and the leading advocate for a reunited Ireland in Sinn Féin’s renewed push to end partition. From the Belfast Telegraph:

‘Many people in Ireland are opposed to Britain, the European Union (EU) or the International Monetary Fund (IMF) “ruling” over Irish affairs, Gerry Adams has said.

“But there are many people in Ireland who want rid of outsiders ruling us whether from London or the IMF and EU,” he said. “They want a free and united and independent Ireland.”

The reference to the impact of the Republic’s multi-billion euro EU and IMF bailout came in a speech in which the Sinn Fein leader predicted growth for his party.

“The fact is that Irish republicanism is stronger today than at any time since partition,” said Mr Adams. “But to make further advances and to be able to exercise even greater political influence and power, we need to build our struggle.”

He said: “Thirty years ago there was an Orange State. The Orange State is gone. The Government of Ireland Act is gone. The right of citizens to opt for a United Ireland is equal to that of those who wish to retain the union.”

He added: “There is now an entirely peaceful way to bring an end to British rule. Our duty is to develop democratic ways and means to achieve and to unite behind the leadership and the campaigns which will bring this about.”‘

On the other side is Martin McGuinness M.P. and M.L.A., Joint First Minister of the North of Ireland (or Deputy First Minster of Northern Ireland, depending on your politics) and the party’s chief strategist in seemingly making the British Occupied North of Ireland a tolerable place for Irish citizens to live in while on the road to a reunited Ireland. From the Guardian:

‘Petrol bombs were thrown at police officers and vans by masked youths in the Bogside area, and at the Apprentice Boys’ Memorial Hall HQ in Derry at the climax of the loyalist marching season.

Dissident republicans were also believed to be behind a pipe bomb attack at police lines close to Derry city centre on Saturday evening. No one was injured during the disturbances, which lasted for several hours.

The violence erupted after supporters of the Real IRA-linked 32 County Sovereignty Movement attempted to make their way into the city centre. At the time up to 15,000 members of the Apprentice Boys along with their supporters were marching in Derry.

McGuinness said on Sunday: “What we witnessed last night in Derry was completely unacceptable. I challenge those who were behind this violence to come out and try and defend the incidents that occurred in our city.

“The attacks on the Memorial Hall were motivated entirely by sectarianism and whoever carried them out should know that such behaviour goes against everything about Irish republicanism.”

He added: “The vast majority of people in Derry want to get on with the job of moving this city forward. Those behind last night’s violence seem to be wedded to an entirely different agenda.”‘

So what are we to make of this dual strategy? A variation on the ballot box and armalite? A combination of working from without and within? Certainly there is little evidence that Sinn Féin is any less wedded to its long term goal, the reunification of Ireland through the ending of the British Occupation and partition, than it has always been. In fact with the re-emphasis on that project both at home and abroad the long-term agenda seems clear, even if the particulars of the actual strategy itself are slightly less so (though cynics might claim the new push is derived more from worries about lost support in Ireland and the Irish communities abroad to the various groups making up the disparate movement of Dissident or Resistance Republicans, than any real ideological commitments).

It is clear that the reunification of the north-east of the island with the rest of the nation will involve a considerable period of ‘home rule’ in the North. In other words the North of Ireland will continue for a period with some form of regional assembly and legislature while under ‘Dublin rule’. After all this is nothing new in a European context where local autonomies based upon regional or ethnic differences are commonplace across the Continent, from Italy to Sweden, Spain to Romania. Many Western European nations have made accommodations with local ethnic or national minorities without compromising their overall sovereignty or territorial integrity and there is little reason why Ireland will be any different.

In fact such a situation was foreseen long ago, even during the heady days of the Irish Revolution, with many envisaging a ‘northern parliament’ within a free Ireland as one solution to the accommodation of Ireland’s separatist British minority. Éamon de Valera certainly allowed for such a scenario in the 1937 Bunreacht na hÉireann, with its clauses facilitating exclusive language use, be it Irish or English, throughout the state at the discretion of the Oireachtas, one of many overtures to the British community on the island.

Sinn Féin, at least at the leadership level and those immediately under it, seem to be working on this basis by laying the groundwork in the North for such a constitutional arrangement (others of course will have another interpretation). However in the process they also seem to be undermining their own position, at least as far as some of the younger generation of Irish people in the North are concerned. These are the very ones that are turning to or sympathising with the counter-arguments being put forth by many of  the Resistance Republicans.

Like the armalite and ballot box policy of yore it is another difficult dual strategy that Sinn Féin (and what’s left of the Provisional IRA) has entered upon. However it may be one that proves, in the long term, to be as equally as successful. And it is worth remembering that it is in the long term that Gerry Adams, of all the Sinn Féin strategists, not simply thinks but excels.

2 comments on “Sinn Féin’s Dual Strategy To A Reunited Ireland?

  1. Like the armalite and ballot box policy of yore it is another difficult dual strategy that Sinn Féin (and what’s left of the Provisional IRA) has entered upon. However it may be one that proves, in the long term, to be as equally as successful.

    How successful was that old strategy though in reality? Sinn Féin never really made any headway in the ballot boxes, North or South, until they had dumped the armalites.


    • Yes, that is partly true. However the furore over the H-Blocks and hunger strikes led directly to the successes of SF in the early-mid 1980s in the north-east. There was relatively little slippage from then until 1994/98. Media bans (imposed or self-imposed) and a “partitionist” media in Dublin did more to impede SF’s growth than the use of the armalite. And they still do.


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