Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Why many feel threatened by rise of Sinn Féin

Damien Kiberd:

Northern Secretary Peter Hain clearly hopes that he can kick-start the peace process in February. He wants to stop wasting time and, to that end, has decided to issue warnings every few days to people who want to waste time.

Firstly, he says that there is little point in holding assembly elections in 2007 if there is no prospect of getting the various parties to agree. Then he hints that the existing assembly members – already operating on reduced wages – could be ‘decommissioned’ completely by mid-year, if they are making no progress in reaching agreement.

He further refers to the Six- County economy as “unsustainable”, alluding to its massive dependence on public spending. Two thirds of economic activity in the Six Counties now depends on public cash and one third on employment.

Hain adds, somewhat oddly, that he would like to see a united Ireland in his lifetime and that the future of the northern economy lies in the context of an all-Ireland economy.

All of these statements have been made against a backdrop of ongoing leaks concerning spies and alleged spies, with Denis Donaldson being “outed” after the PSNI told him he was suspected by various unnamed republicans. This was followed by the attempted and very public “outing” of other alleged spies and by the planting in the media of various bizarre stories designed to de-stabilise Sinn Fein.

The process of using informers to sow confusion and of using contacts in the media to create suspicion has accelerated in the period since IRA decommissioning was completed. Some might have imagined the de-commissioning would result in an improved political climate: but the opposite is in fact the case.

Why is this so?

Well, there are a number of very obvious reasons. Firstly, the publication of the next report of the Independent Monitoring Commission is imminent and there is a possibility, though only a possibility, that the commission will give the republican movement a clean bill of health. Hence, despite the dropping of charges against three men previously accused of involvement in the alleged Sinn Féin spy ring at Stormont, more stories are being planted in the media to the effect that there was a spy-ring and that it was operating a massive intelligence-gathering operation.

Perhaps, between now and the publication of the IMC report, other strange events/disclosures will take place. There are lots of people who do not want the IMC to unlock the door to political progress. And there are people who positively dread a situation where the IMC would give republicans a clean bill of health.

This is because they fear that such a report from the commission would permit Sinn Féin, if it so desired, to participate in the control of the policing system in the six counties and that this, in turn, could lead to the dismantling of the Special Branch and of various special units within the police.

Now, after what has happened since 1970, there are clearly people within the security services who — for reasons that are perfectly understandable in human terms — are viscerally opposed to the idea of republicans taking decisions in relation to future policing. They will have lost comrades who were killed by the very forces that may now be given a central role in policing. But there are other aspects to the problem.

Clearly a lot of money is at stake too. Over 35 years, a whole security industry grew to very large levels and while some of that has withered away, there is still a lot at stake for many people. Looking at possible meltdown for the security apparatuses that they have built they will use whatever cards they have at their disposal to halt progress: the two big cards at present are informers and contacts in the media.

Just as a whole security industry has grown within the police and army in the six counties, a parallel industry has grown in the media — in the North and especially in the South — where writers are occupied on a virtually full-time basis in attacking Sinn Féin, Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and the rest of republicanism. A symbiotic relationship exists between the securocrats and these columnists and “journalists”. The more Sinn Féin is normalised the less of a raison d’être can be advanced for the continuance of such obsessions.

South of the border there are equally logical reasons why the waters are being routinely muddied. The biggest party Fianna Fáil, rightly or wrongly, fears the growth of Sinn Féin and clearly approves of actions by third parties designed to prevent the growth of the Sinn Fein vote. The Taoiseach has to perform a high-wire act here. On the one hand he has to negotiate with people like Adams and McGuinness and seek to get the Belfast Agreement implemented. But all across north Dublin, including in his own constituency, Fianna Fáil deputies will face challenges in 2007 from Sinn Féin candidates who did well in the local elections.

So when the Progressive Democrats descend into rabid attacks on Sinn Féin — attacks which have become more rabid since decommissioning — it is inevitable that the Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil will approve. It is, in a sense, a perfect situation for the Taoiseach. Someone else is throwing the stones by proxy on his behalf.

And just as there is a highly developed security apparatus in the Six Counties, there is a similar security apparatus south of the border. Again twin factors combine: a visceral hatred of republicans coupled with an objective financial interest in frustrating the normalisation of politics on this island.

In a sense, the only people in this equation who unambigously want a political deal to be struck in the Ssix Ccounties are Sinn Féin and the SDLP.

They have nothing to lose from the creation of such a deal and lots to gain. Arranged against them in this regard are a whole variety of forces: political parties, security forces, bureaucrats and so forth. Anybody who expects significant progress to be made in 2006 is an optimist.

The priority given to the Six Counties within British politics is also likely to decline. The NIO now constitutes half a cabinet portfolio for one minister, and people may start asking why it is necessary to subvent the Six-County economy so massively with British taxpayers’ cash.

Reducing reliance on the public sector in the North clearly offers a way forward but that can only be done if the private sector takes up the slack. There has been some significant inward foreign investment in manufacturing in the Six Counties but not enough to alter the balance of the economy. Perhaps overseas investors do realise that a degree of normalisation has been achieved but suspect that the situation is “not normal enough”. Media hype about conspiracies and spies, coupled with the annual circus surrounding the marching season, must act as powerful disincentives to investment.

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Sinn Féin call for all-island economy


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