Better the Devil


President Michael D Higgins began his working tour of South Africa with a visit to the Johannesburg Apartheid Museum and afterwards reflected on the nature of state violence and it’s legacy. It struck me however that his words may have been intended for another target, far closer to home.

The President was unquestionably moved by the experience and by the level of state violence, suggesting that in such situations the ‘state… make appropriate recognition of what has been done in the name of the state’.

Here in Ireland, we might ask that Sinn Féin and their supporters begin to make appropriate recognition also of what has been done in the name of Republicanism. For while the President, acknowledged that the actions of the past could not be undone, he also warned of ‘their capacity to disable the future’.

An Uachtarán might also have been speaking directly to Adams when after acknowledging the benefits of taking on different interpretations of the past in order to make the version of events as ‘complete as possible’, he warned against conferring any ‘moral equivalence’. Given that for Adams, seeking moral equivalence has been modus operandi for the last thirty years, it was timely advice.

It is not certain whether Sinn Féin’s future will be ‘disabled’ by the actions of the past, or what the fallout will be from Maíria Cahill’s revelations. My guess is that for the vast majority of the electorate in eighteen months time, the weight – or lack thereof – in the wallet will weigh heavier than any moral weight on the conscious as they mark their ‘x’.

Gerry Adams may be the most shameless liar in Dail Eireann – an achievement in itself – but he is also an accomplished and formidable politician. And Adams has sought to ride out the latest storm with his customary enthusiasm for Realpolitik, deflection, accusation and victim-claiming. Anyone who finds such descriptions harsh, would do well to read the transcript of his cross examination by Eilis McDermott QC during his brother’s trial last year.

If Adams is not a liar and we are to take him at his word, one would have to assume he lives in some kind of idiotic state; one of permanent confusion about where he stands and what he stands for.

Gerry Adams is not an idiot.

While Mairia Cahill’s suffering will endure, Adams knows that his party’s current difficulties are no more than a temporary itch and so long as the polls continue to show support for his party, Adams et al will continue to stoke the flames of civil unrest with reactionary populism and promises they cannot, and have no great desire in delivering. Mary Lou MacDonald’s pitiful stunt in the Dáil during the week was a further example of the lengths to which Sinn Féin will go to obfuscate and antagonise and a further indication that her mask, like her party’s, is slipping.

Sinn Fein have only two concerns. The 32 county Republic and the preservation of the party omertà. The current play for the people is a means to an end.

Sadly then, the losers will once again be the people themselves. The Mairia Cahill’s. The placard carrying masses, justifiably angry but for all the wrong reasons and emboldened by populist rhetoric and empty sloganism. Truth is lost also, along with social justice. And those of us on the left who yearn for the days when politics saw the clashing of grand ideas with real distinctions between parties. Those of us who believe that for real social democratic change to come about, there needs to be an alternative. That there has to be something better, fairer and more equitable than slavish subservience to free-market ideologues. Blind allegiance to neo-liberalist agendas, GDP and low inflation suffocates every debate within Dáil Éireann – when Mary Lou permits debate to take place, that is.

You see, Sinn Fein’s surge in the polls is not simply the result of their ‘post-war generation’ of bright young things. Despite the excellence of several of them – Mac Lochlainn, O Clochartaigh, Ó Broin and McDonald herself. Their rise owes a far greater debt of gratitude to the utter inadequacy of the present incumbents in Leinster House. The government would do well to realise quickly that the public is more than able to compartmentalise the issues when it comes to Adams and get it’s bloody act together.

If they don’t they will find that today’s party of protest is tomorrow’s party of policy. Sinn Féin will form a coalition with Fianna Fáil after the next election, despite protestations to the contrary. My only hope is that during the next eighteen months, some of those bright lights within Sinn Féin heed Michael D’s advice.

Milton Friedman once said, ‘Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When the crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas lying around’. ‘The politically impossible becomes politically inevitable’.

The problem for Ireland lies in the paucity of ideas which may be considered.


  1. Patrick said:

    Subscribe: to every single point. Spot on analysis.

  2. Tomás M. Creamer said:

    I am not sure that I would agree with the idea that Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein WILL form a coalition. For a start, since Sinn Fein historically under-perform in the polls, it is unlikely that the two would even have the numbers for a coalition. And as strong as “Civil War Politics” may be, I don’t think that Fianna Fail are so bone-headed as to desire a coalition with Sinn Fein over Fine Gael – after all, in many councils after the last Local elections, most of them are now ran by Fianna Fail-Fine Gael coalitions, even when, in many cases, Fianna Fail and Snn Fein had the numbers.

    My money is still on a grand Fine Gael-Fianna Fail-led coalition, with Fianna Fail probably having slightly more TDs.

    • All valid points, Tomás. My contention however is that while Sinn Féin do invariably underperform when it matters, the forthcoming election will sadly be viewed by a great many as a referendum on water.

      Expect to see Sinn Féin side with the people in the run up then rehash Labour soundbites about the importance of acheiving consensus and the necessity of compromise within coalitions for continuing charges as before.

      Thanks for your contribution.

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