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Like Syriza, SF idealism gives way to realism

By Liam Clarke

Published 26/11/2015

Has Sinn Fein finally become a normal political party? And has Syriza paved the way for them? Many members will resent the implication. The party still thinks of itself as bringing about a revolution, although by peaceful means, that will totally transform society fairly soon.

Most people enter politics with that idea, but learn that - as the first German Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, put it - "politics is the art of the possible". It is good to have vision and ideas, but at every point you must do your best in the circumstances, not what would be best if the circumstances were better.

Sinn Fein have now accepted a collection of benefits cuts that is arguably worse than the one they turned down. They got some money for tax credits - a new cut - so the case is arguable.

Syriza in Greece had the same choice and did the same as Sinn Fein. Like local republicans, it drove negotiations with creditors virtually into the wall before its rethink. It pushed for an open-ended commitment to protect its citizens from cuts and then compromised at the 11th hour.

When Syriza was defying its creditors, Pearse Doherty, Sinn Fein finance spokesman in the Republic, was in Athens for the original referendum vote backing their defiance.

He said he stood with the Greek left-wing party because, "we stand with anybody who argues on behalf of their people that a better deal is possible, to put front and centre at the European stage that debt relief has to be brought about for the Greek people".

Martina Anderson, our own Sinn Fein MEP, specifically identified Sinn Fein with Syriza at the Sinn Fein ard fheis, suggesting the two parties were really the same movement in different countries.

It wasn't long after that Alexis Tsipras, the Syriza leader, and Euclid Tsakalotos, the finance minister, who attended the ard fheis, led a movement within the party to accept austerity after all.

Mr Tsipras won an election on that, saying that, as captain, it would have been wrong for him to abandon the ship of state at this point.

Has Sinn Fein learned the same lesson - that you have got to work with what you have? Time will tell.

For now, they will have to convince voters in the Republic that they won't simply accept many of the things they opposed if elected.

The party leadership has a selling job to do to show they can be consistent and can adopt to circumstances without bringing the state to the verge of bankruptcy first.

There is a lot of wild talk to be quoted against them. For instance, Mary Lou McDonald's July statement that she opposed the Fine Gael/Labour coalition because, "We see them again like nodding dogs at the EU table, rolling over, failing to stand up for what is required, and what is required is the resolution of the debt issue".

Rolling over, that is, before Syriza followed suit.

Belfast Telegraph

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