There have been vitriolic attacks on Sinn Fein in the Irish media since the recent election because of the party’s poor performance
Sinn Fein won only four seats, a major setback as they were widely expected to have at least 10 seats after the election. Of course, that led to an outburst of doom and gloom among hostile commentators. The Sunday Independent, long a bitter enemy of Sinn Fein, attacked the party in several articles on Sunday, mostly along predictable lines.
Much more remarkable was this comment in The Irish Times from Ed Moloney, former Northern Ireland-based journalist and author, who now lives in New York.
“It would be no exaggeration to say that the strategy carefully crafted and implemented by the Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams to underpin the IRA’s move from war to peace effectively lies in ruins this week in the wake of Sinn Fein disastrous performance in the Republic’s general election,” Moloney wrote.
The statement it so ridiculous that it can hardly be taken at face value. Last time I looked the Sinn Fein peace strategy was resulting in worldwide headlines as leaders gathered in Stormont to announce a new era, with Sinn Fein in power with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in the North. The Irish elections are hardly likely to impact on that development in the slightest.
The English-born Moloney is an important figure, however, whose book on the IRA, A Secret History of the IRA, has received widespread praise from reviewers.
But he is also indicative of a breed of journalists and commentators who have had it in for Sinn Fein ever since they had the temerity to embark on the risky road called the peace process, wrong-footing numerous media folk in the process.
There are more than a few in the media who made their livelihoods out of bashing Sinn Fein and the IRA. The Sunday Independent made it their signature issue, and much to their dismay have since been desperately trying to justify their criticism in light of the success of the peace process,
Others have made their careers as self-styled experts on the IRA and their campaign in Northern Ireland. When that campaign stopped it proved highly inconvenient.
Moloney certainly wrote knowledgeably about the IRA and their inner workings, as well as quite bravely about Loyalist paramilitaries groups. For many years he was considered an exceptional journalist on the topic.
However, he called the peace process wrong, seemingly believing it had little hope of success. As a result he was constantly predicting it and Sinn Fein’s doom. The problem was, that never happened.
It will hardly happen now that an election has gone against the party. The Sinn Fein strategy which now sees them in power in Northern Ireland and winning the allegiance of almost one-third of a million voters on the island of Ireland is actually an incredibly successful one which can absorb the occasional inevitable setback.
When you consider that Sinn Fein had less than 2% of the vote in the north and a negligible presence in the south as recently as 1980 that is quite an incredible climb.
Indeed, 140,000 people voted for Sinn Fein in this most recent election, an increase of over 20,000. Contrast that with the Progressive Democrats, who have been in government with Fianna Fail during a period of huge prosperity, yet saw their vote shrink to just 56,000.
The Green Party, a darling of much of the media, has a total of 100,000 votes, still putting them behind Sinn Fein in the south. As Sinn Fein official Jim Gibney noted in the Irish News last week, putting the totals of all the political parties on the island of Ireland together, Sinn Fein comes in third after Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.
Nonetheless, the party does have to reconsider its role in the Irish Republic. The results were disappointing on several levels, not least the expectations that had been raised after the successful peace deal in the North.
Sinn Fein in the south, however, still needs coherent and individual economic policies that reflect a post-Celtic Tiger era which Ireland seems to be heading into. They also need to develop figures in the south who can rival leaders such as Adams and Martin McGuinness, who tower over the current crop of leaders there.
None of that is impossible, however, and the party is exceptionally good at the type of internal critical analysis which will be vital after this election.
As other parties have learned to their cost when it comes to Sinn Fein, it is never over. There is merely another phase.
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