If you thought the Corbyn Labour Party would be a disaster for the United Kingdom, spare a thought for the Republic of Ireland, of which I am a non-resident citizen, where Sinn Fein is on the rise. It is still believed by the security forces and many politicians on the island of Ireland to be secretly run by the IRA Army Council in Belfast, men who conducted a terrorist campaign of which they are proud, and who in the name of uniting Ireland murdered almost 2,000 and wounded and bereaved many tens of thousands.
In the election on 8 February, the party far exceeded even its own most optimistic expectations by winning 37 seats, the same as the main opposition party Fianna Fail and two ahead of the governing party, Fine Gael. In the popular vote, it won 24.5% , with Fianna Fail on 22.2% and Fine Gael on 20.9%: in a poll last weekend, it shot up to 35%. No one doubts that if there is another election it will be impossible to keep Sinn Fein from being in government.
There is no mystery about why they did so well. It isn’t just crises in housing and health: Ireland, just like the rest of Europe, is hungry for change. There have been some other dodgy parties elected, but they don’t have an armed wing that thinks it’s the lawful government.
As Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, the parties that have dominated the state for almost a century, dither about potential coalition partners, Sinn Fein’s leader, Mary Lou McDonald, has been organising mass meetings claiming Sinn Fein is the voice of the voiceless and that democracy is under threat because the will of the people is being flouted.
I’m not much given to throwing around the “N” word (“Nazism”), but as an historian and close student of Irish republicanism, I’ve been reminded of the political success of the Nazis in Germany in 1932. My pro-IRA granny had a photograph of Hitler at the bottom of her bed in the 1950s. Not only did the IRA view him as a liberator whose “cleansing fire” was driving the Jews from Europe, but it offered military support in the event of a German invasion of the island of Ireland. In 1940, having been fêted in Berlin and given advanced explosives training, its chief of staff, Sean Russell, died on a U-boat of a burst ulcer.
The IRA and its Sinn Fein front-people have never disowned its historic support for Nazi Germany: the party still exhibits alarming fascist tendencies, not least in its cultishness, its suppression of internal dissent, its war on free speech (these days through lawfare and social-media intimidation), its success in teaching the young to hate and its anti-semitism.
In 1951 IRA supporters unveiled a statue to Russell in Dublin that has been occasionally attacked, is then repaired and still shames the city.
Republicans are big on honouring their dead, and Russell is no exception. Annually there is an event at his statue hailing him as a patriot. In 2003, when Gerry Adams felt it necessary to blood Mary Lou McDonald – his new able, articulate middle-class, educated protégé who would succeed him as Sinn Fein president – he had her beside the Russell statue as a supporting speaker to Brian Keenan, the late IRA mass murderer whose achievements included organising the bombing of Canary Wharf.
Like Adams, whom she has appointed to her negotiating team, McDonald is adept at presenting a respectable face in the south while nipping up from Dublin to keep the northern hardliners happy and insulting Unionists while spouting clichés about peace and reconciliation. While denying the IRA still exists she never apologises for its actions.
While British and Irish governments have bribed Sinn Fein into government in Northern Ireland, despite knowing they are subversive, having them in the government of a sovereign state with access to security files and a voice in international negotiations is a very different matter. Party leaders like Micheál Martin and Leo Varadkar are now spelling out why they can’t go into government with a party whose own constitution does not recognise the legitimacy of the Irish state, its defence forces, its police or even its name. Sinn Fein calls Northern Ireland “the North” or “the Six Counties”, and have a range of alternatives to saying Republic of Ireland that include “the southern/free state” or “the 26 Counties”.
The 75% of the Irish electorate who did not vote for Sinn Fein would settle for a coalition of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, but both party leaders realise that as the official opposition Sinn Fein will be ferociously effective.
The UK’s new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis, has been keeping a low profile since his appointment by Boris Johnson. We must hope that he has learned by now what democrats on the island of Ireland are up against. Sinn Fein is an anti-democratic, fascist party that cares only for a united Ireland. It is a cancer in both jurisdictions.