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Eoghan Harris

Sinn Fein has no secret formula for success - just a fanaticism that will fade with time and a spell in Opposition

Eoghan Harris


If Leo Varadkar has lost his way, then Tanaiste Simon Coveney should tell him to get on and do a deal with Fianna Fail, writes Eoghan Harris

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Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald celebrates with her supporters after the party’s recent election success

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald celebrates with her supporters after the party’s recent election success

AFP via Getty Images

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald celebrates with her supporters after the party’s recent election success

Is there anything more contemptible than those who desert their duty, or spread defeat in the face of the enemy? That is what the Leo Varadkar circle in Fine Gael and the Foolish Faction in Fianna Fail are doing: delaying the formation of a government the majority put in place three weeks ago. Mentally put in place three weeks ago.

Have the abortion and marriage referendums taught Fine Gael and Fianna Fail's Foolish Faction nothing about the fast mind of Majority Ireland?

The iron rule of modern Irish politics is that Majority Ireland is always ahead of politicians and the media - in that order. A week after the election, Majority Ireland had already worked out the only alternative to Sinn Fein in government was a coalition of Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and the Green Party. Having put that democratic coalition mentally in place, Majority Ireland waited for politicians to catch up (the media never did).

Micheal Martin was the first to face facts. Simon Coveney and Charlie Flanagan were close behind. Leo Varadkar never caught up. Like some student politician he postured and philosophised about going into opposition, creating a new political persona: Fine Gael Trot.

Since Micheal Martin, in tune with Majority Ireland, was never for turning on coalition with Sinn Fein, Varadkar's vacuous response led to one conclusion: Fine Gael was prepared to let the ship of state drift towards the rocks, while Leo Varadkar sunned himself.

Majority Ireland stared at this spectacle of political turpitude, first in disbelief and then in despair. A mindless section of the media, which pretended that Martin and Varadkar were equally to blame, only added to the air of anarchy.

Martin stoically soldiered on. He knew the growing threat of covid-19 meant we desperately needed a government that was also immune to new threats from triumphalist Sinn Fein.

Last week, Colm Keena in the Irish Times told us three things about post-election Sinn Fein. First, it is the wealthiest party in Ireland. Second, it agreed Micheal Martin was right to say that unelected activists - not TDs - decide party policy. Finally, Gerry Adams will head a new unit whose aim is a united Ireland - probably in his lifetime. In sum, council houses still take second place in the party of safe houses.

Any student of Sinn Fein - and I am one of the most diligent - knows Gerry Adams never really retired. The Teddy Bear stuff was just Adams hiding in plain sight. The new unit signals a major push on Northern Ireland that is bound to end badly.

The recent rallies were a foretaste of what to expect from Sinn Fein in power. And, of course, the tiny Foolish Faction in Fianna Fail would have been the first to fold for two reasons: first, as traditional nationalists, they are easily seduced by Sinn Fein's sectarian fables; second, they reject the alternative to Sinn Fein's sectarian saga - republican pluralism based on the teachings of Wolfe Tone.

Luckily, the foolish faction has no clout. More worrying were mealy-mouthed remarks about "respecting Sinn Fein's mandate".

Here's a reality check. Hitler did not seize power by force: he had a democratic mandate. But there is no democratic mandate that excuses an evil policy.

German social democrats, communists and Christians did not respect Hitler's mandate to do evil. They died on gallows and guillotine, defying his morally flawed mandate.

Like the late Con Houlihan, I do not respect the mandate of a party which condones political torture and murder.

Certainly, I can forgive working people who voted for Sinn Fein. And young people who voted because everybody else was doing so.

But I can't forgive the 17% of upper-class people who voted for Sinn Fein while Breege Quinn's cries for justice on radio were still ringing in their ears.

True, the Fianna Fail canvassers I spoke to after the election were frustrated, confused in their reactions and unsure what they would finally settle for. At first, they knew what they did not want: coalition with either Sinn Fein or Fine Gael. But that soon changed.

In the past two weeks, I believe that most of them, like Fine Gael members, have learned the lesson of the lesser of two evils. Yes, Sinn Fein's sweeping success calls for analysis. But you don't analyse a situation while agitators are working up angry crowds. You first hunt off the agitators and then fix whatever made the crowd angry.

In short, you put Sinn Fein in opposition. After that, you build the houses and the hospitals.

Micheal Martin began that process at a six-hour meeting just after the election. He got a mandate to make up a government without Sinn Fein. Predictably, Sinn Fein went to work on the shaky nerves and bad politics of the Foolish Faction.

Predictably, too, Sinn Fein media cheerleaders tried to start the same stampede they work up every time Martin makes a progressive decision, be it on abortion, or supporting Fine Gael during the first difficult act of Brexit.

Leo Varadkar pretends a few dissenters in Fianna Fail might change Martin's mind. But to what end? Does he believe a majority in Fianna Fail secretly wants a deal with Sinn Fein - as Pearse Doherty does?

If so, Leo Varadkar is living on Planet Media, where he spends far too much time already. If not, he is playing adolescent mind-games not fit for grown-up politicians.

Either way, he is out of touch, because Majority Ireland can see that Micheal Martin is one of the few adults in the room. Martin proved that last week when he told Sean O'Rourke he was willing to slay any sacred cows to give us a stable government.

So, why is Leo Varadkar not helping him to do so? Why is his close associate, Josepha Madigan, still warbling about Fianna Fail doing a deal with Sinn Fein?

Time for Fine Gael to consult its old moral compass. If Leo Varadkar has lost his way, then Tanaiste Simon Coveney should tell him the following facts of life about Fine Gael.

Fine Gael politicians founded the Free State and declared our Republic. Fine Gael has always put country before party. Liam Cosgrave tipped off Jack Lynch that Charles Haughey was doing business with the IRA rather than risk ruining the country for party gain.

Time for both parties to spend some time together, do the job in housing and health and rebuild their frayed morale.

Sinn Fein has no secret formula for success, just a fanaticism that will fade with time - and Opposition.

Fianna Fail and Fine Gael should heed James Carville, Clinton's brilliant Cajun spin doctor, who recently reprimanded Democrat defeatists: "I think the other side wants us to think there are no swing voters, that we're doomed and it doesn't even matter if you have a message because you can't reach anyone. I think that's bull***t. But, look, if no one's persuadable, then let's just have the revolution. Falling into despair won't help anyone, though. I mean, you can curse the darkness, or you can light a candle. I'm getting a f*****g welding torch, okay?"

Eoghan Harris is a Dublin-based political commentator

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