From Socialist Voice, July 2007

Republicanism tripped up by the national question

The fall-out from the failure of Sinn Féin to make an electoral breakthrough and the loss of an important Dáil seat in the Dublin area continues to rumble on and to cause much debate within the republican movement.
     Sinn Féin had hoped to capitalise on the momentum following its success in the Northern Assembly elections and the re-establishment of the Executive. The peace process provided Sinn Féin with great photo opportunities for leading individuals, particularly Southern personalities. They had easy access to the Taoiseach’s office, as well as to Downing Street and the White House.
     They now find themselves in a situation where the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive continue to take root and are bedded down, leading to fewer political crises that could propel them into the limelight and give them the opportunity to appear to be central to any solution.
     Their strength in Dáil Éireann is reduced, and the technical group that gave them a platform in the last Dáil is now obsolete. Fianna Fáil was clever enough to mop up the independents to make sure that minority parties will have little or no say.
     Sinn Féin will now have to operate in a more hostile corporate media environment, with photo opportunities becoming few and far between and with less access to the Taoiseach’s office and Downing Street. There is the likelihood of becoming just another small party, receiving little publicity and with invitations to appear on television beginning to dry up.
     As we have pointed out many times in Socialist Voice, the political establishment, both in Ireland and Britain, was not unduly concerned about republican weapons and their decommissioning but was more concerned about securing the decommissioning of radical republican politics.
     The comment reportedly made by Pat Doherty, that there was “too much ideology” in Sinn Féin, will come as a surprise to many within that party. The leadership are clearly attempting to circumscribe the nature and the extent of the debate allowed and the conclusions and lessons to be learnt from the debate now under way.
     Judging by some statements by leading republicans, they would have settled for a similar deal to that secured by the Green Party, with a “green paper” on Irish unity thrown in. In the majority of constituencies where Sinn Féin did badly, left-wing independents polled well. Many working people were not impressed by talk of being “ready for government.” They have had the experience of the Labour Party being ready for government for years, promising everything and delivering little.
     People understand politics from their own immediate experience and demands. What may be a priority for one person or group or a particular section of the population may not automatically translate itself throughout the country. Nor can one political strategy cross over where there is a different set of problems and demands that require a different political strategy. The national question is more than just partition, and progressive forces need to take a much broader approach to its resolution.
     Simply having a strategy for getting into and staying in government, regardless of what you stand for or do while in government, will lead only to growing opportunism, demoralisation, and defeat. The left has to get back to radical street politics, with the mobilisation of working people, uniting them on clear demands and goals.
     Republicanism is a limited ideology if it is not connected to the transforming of society and the empowering of working people. It is empty if it does not address both political and economic democracy. Fianna Fáil can call itself a “republican party,” but we know that there is little of republicanism within its ideology.
     Republicans are faced with a dilemma. You can’t be in government in the Northern Executive implementing conservative policies while in the South be engaged in making radical demands and taking radical political actions. Is not the point of being in government fighting for and, more importantly, implementing people-centred policies, providing the means to broaden out the struggle and building the potential forces for progress? It is not less ideology that we need but a deeper understanding of the nature and course of the struggle.
     The national question, as the CPI has argued for decades, requires a more sophisticated political strategy, centred on the interests of working people. This will require the unity of all progressive forces, united in joint action. It will take time and patient political coalition-building.
     The over-emphasis on electoralism fosters a false sense of politics and in many instances disempowers people and reduces them to mere election fodder. Republicans need to address the nature of opportunism and what gives rise to it.

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