The president of Sinn Fein, Gerry Adams, when he announced that he was defecting from West Belfast to stand for election in Co Louth, said: “The reality is that we have a republic in name only. The Fianna Fail leadership has lost its way. Fine Gael never knew the way. And Labour? If Labour is true to its origins it needs to get back to James Connolly.”
The south’s misfortune he sees as Sinn Fein’s opportunity. It’s time, says Adams, for “a revival of republican values”.
These are worrying days for the stability of politics in the Republic. Gerry Adams would like to see it moving much further left embracing the old republican ideology of James Connolly and therein lies the rub not just for Dublin but for Stormont as well.
Connolly became a martyr after the 1916 Easter Rising when he was bound to a chair in Kilmainham jail and executed by a British Army firing squad. He was regarded as one of the leading Marxist thinkers of his day revered in the Communist world by leaders such as Lenin.
If these are values to which Sinn Fein still adheres, then it comes as no surprise that there is deadlock at Stormont in responding to London’s spending cuts. It also explains why no party in the south wishes to form a coalition with Sinn Fein and why it has so few TDs in the Dail.
Until the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, the constitutional future of Northern Ireland dominated political debate. Not so anymore. The financial collapse of the Republic renders redundant the possibility of a united Ireland for the foreseeable future. We are in a new era, north and south, where the politics of economics, not the constitution, will be centre stage for a long time to come.
Sinn Fein may well make electoral gains down south because so many ordinary people are disillusioned with the established parties and appalled at being made to pay for the financial mismanagement of their country. An infusion of Marxist-influenced Sinn Fein TDS in the Dail will hardly enhance the south’s much-damaged international reputation but it is a real possibility.
Up north, it’s no surprise that the Stormont Executive has failed to agree a draft budget unlike Scotland and Wales. After all, Gerry Adams says his Co Louth candidature is “a measure of our determination to provide a real alternative to the consensus for cuts being pushed through by the government and other parties”.
The opposition to spending cuts is a populist stance for Sinn Fein yet cuts there will have to be, from Antrim to Kerry, from Louth to Fermanagh, from Stormont to the Dail. What exactly is Sinn Fein’s economic policy? Is it in any way compatible with any of the major parties in London, Dublin or Belfast? The worrying answer for future political stability looks to be an emphatic No.
There is a certain irony in a British Chancellor imposing £4bn of spending cuts on Northern Ireland and at the same time promising generous financial support to the Republic.
The current crisis has thrown a spotlight on the huge inter-|dependency between the UK and the Republic — two sovereign states which behave as one in many respects. We should stop harping back to past Anglo-Irish enmity. We are all in this |together in 2010.
The financial crisis does necessitate the maximum economic cooperation between all parts of this island, not least the so-called border counties.
We need to pool resources in health, agriculture, tourism, transport, the environment and whatever other common interests we have, much better than we have done to date.
Both parts of this island will have to cut their cloth to suit the new age of austerity. No unionist should be afraid to engage in this process.
That is not a loss to any person’s British ideals or traditions. On the contrary, co-operation is common sense.
The modern history of this island has been re-drawn at the stroke of many an Irish banker’s pen. In time, historians may even debate whether the conflict in Northern Ireland made a greater impact on all our futures than the Republic’s economic collapse.