Belfast Telegraph

A Fianna Fail-Fine Gael merger may be only way to keep SF out of power

Sinn Fein's haemorrhaging of local councillors alleging bullying should sound a cautionary note to any prospective political bedfellows, writes Malachi O'Doherty

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams had hardly finished announcing his plans to step down before the leader of Fianna Fail, Micheal Martin, was saying that it would make no difference to his party's refusal to enter a coalition deal with a party which he regards as undemocratic.

Mr Martin is under several kinds of pressure to make a deal with Sinn Fein. The first is the simple reality that he may never be in government again himself without such a deal.

After the last election, neither Fine Gael nor Fianna Fail was able to put a government together without the support of smaller parties and independents. Fine Gael needed a deal with Fianna Fail a bit like the one that the Tories now have with the DUP.

A stronger deal would have been a coalition between the two big parties, but that appears to have been unthinkable, given that the civil war, from which they carry the divided legacy, hasn't been over for as much as a century yet.

Some wonder if that centenary, in 2022, might call for a final reconciliation between them. That may be what it takes to stop the growth of Sinn Fein.

Another pressure on Fianna Fail is that it comes out of the same political and military tradition as Sinn Fein. Both grew out of the IRA.

Of course, Fianna Fail will argue that the IRA of the War of Independence was different, its cause more legitimate, but that is debatable.

That war began when Dan Breen and Sean Treacy and others started shooting policemen - Irish policemen. This was the same strategy the Provos adopted, making the state ungovernable by targeting first the constabulary.

De Valera, the founder of Fianna Fail, did what Gerry Adams did; he reconciled himself to a political system rather different from the Republic he had fought for and settled for party growth as a consolation prize short of Irish unity.

Neither Micheal Martin, nor Gerry Adams, has put the aspiration of Irish unity behind him and Adams may be seen to be more committed to it now than the Fianna Fail leader, but basically the same passions which produced Fianna Fail produced Sinn Fein. It would be hard to argue that their electorates are not natural allies. It may even be that Fianna Fail shuns Sinn Fein so passionately not because they are different, but because they are alike.

That presents the danger that Fianna Fail would be swallowed up by Sinn Fein, with a younger voter-base which would see the Mary Lous as the more authentic, more radical, more energetic expression of the same tradition.

And the Mary Lous play hard. Fianna Fail might not be just plain tricky enough to retain a distinctive character.

An illuminating exercise for anyone who wants an insight into the internal machinations of Sinn Fein is to google "Sinn Fein councillor resigns".

Other parties lose councillors, but there is a consistency to the complaints that people make about Sinn Fein when they have had enough of life under the shadow of a dictatorial leadership.

They complain of bullying, of being denied the right to express contrary opinion and of candidate selections at local level being decided on high and party members voting as they are told to.

When the youngest female councillor, Lisa Marie Sheehy, resigned from Sinn Fein in September, she said she had been "bullied and humiliated". Councillor Seamus Morris resigned in Nenagh, saying the party was "seeking to stymie honesty and transparency".

When Mickey Coogan resigned over selection procedures in Ballynahinch, he said: "People in that room were told what way to vote."

And others have said the same kind of thing.

After Sheehy's resignation in Limerick, Gerry Adams said he would resign from the party if there was bullying. He apparently does not believe her.

At a recent ard fheis, a delegate argued on stage for the party to support the legalisation of cannabis. He was applauded and cheered by a huge audience of people, who seemed obviously of one mind with him on this policy. And yet he was thoroughly voted down.

And this week, when Sinn Fein announced that there would be an election for a new party president, the claim to being a well-oiled democratic machine serving the needs of the people took a blow to its credibility when likely candidates announced that they would not be running and the way seemed clear for the leader designate, Mary Lou McDonald.

Sinn Fein, like the IRA before it (and, indeed, like De Valera, the founder of Fianna Fail), seems to know what the people want before the people do.

Micheal Martin claims that Sinn Fein is not a democratic party, but still takes its direction from the IRA.

Indeed, a security report fed into the Fresh Start talks said that many in the IRA held the same opinion.

Martin McGuinness allayed fears of that to the satisfaction of the DUP, by saying that his party took instruction from no one.

A year later he was dead and his gravestone honoured him as 'Oglach Martin McGuinness', suggesting that he has been an IRA member at the time he died. Now, the DUP seems more determined that the glorification of the IRA has to stop.

There had seemed a possibility that the passing of Gerry Adams as the leader of Sinn Fein would make it easier for Fianna Fail to cosy up. Adams had just been too great a risk of producing further embarrassments.

He might, indeed, be arrested again if the PSNI comes up with evidence that he was in the IRA. They certainly tried to get him behind bars in May 2014.

And Adams was often coming out with atrocious statements; that the killers of Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan had been doing their duty as they saw it; that Mairia Cahill was lying and undermining decent people when she described her interrogation.

Micheal Martin said last week: "I describe Sinn Fein as a cult, a party that enforces rigid control from the centre. We learned from intelligence reports two years ago that the IRA (army) council essentially controls elements of what happened in Sinn Fein in the past. It is part of the reason why people are leaving (the party)."

If there was some hope that a leader might emerge, who was not as committed to defending the good name of the IRA and providing it with political cover, who clearly was not taking orders and not routinely exposing the party to charges of hypocrisy and insensitivity, then it would be understandable if Micheal Martin was tempted.

But an election which looks like a coronation is not going to impress him with Sinn Fein's democratic credentials.

Malachi O'Doherty's Gerry Adams: An Unauthorised Life is published by Faber & Faber, priced £14.99

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