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Sunday 8 July 2007

Unsmiling truths behind the smiling mask of Sinn Fein

THERE are understandable reasons why a decent person might give Sinn Fein a vote on Thursday. Young idealists respond to their anti-establishment socialist rhetoric. Others think the republican leadership deserves reward for its part in the Northern Ireland peace deal. Bored citizens want to see a bit of a shake-up in the Dail.

Then there's the celebrity factor best exemplified by Mary Lou McDonald, who - since she left Fianna Fail and had a Sinn Fein makeover - has popped up so often on television beside Gerry Adams that she is now one of the most famous faces in Irish politics.

Yet decent people should think long and hard before taking the gamble of giving them any vote at all.

For a start, as was starkly evident in the Adams/McDowell/Rabbitt/Sargent RTE rumble last week, the Sinn Fein president is out of his depth in southern politics. And that applies in spades to Martin McGuinness and Pat Doherty, the rest of the triumvirate who call the shots in the party.

Why is Adams - a British MP and member of the Stormont Assembly - leading the election campaign, rather than Caoimhghin O Caolain, Sinn Fein Dail party leader? It's not just because Adams has the X factor, it's because O Caolain - like the other four Sinn Fein MPs - is a bit of an embarrassment. Sure, they are hard-working constituency MPs, but they are terrible speakers, obviously dim and - like all the Dail candidates - totally subservient to the northern leadership.

If Sinn Fein does well enough to have a say in who forms the next government, it will exact a high price. As Adams explains, it will use its well-honed negotiating skills to get the deal itwants. Would it really be good for Irish democracy to have its government influenced by people whose first-hand experience of the South is mainly limited to the occasional visit to their Donegal holiday homes?

What kind of deal would they want anyway? Having received a hammering for their plans to raise corporation tax to a level that would drive most businesses out of the country, they've taken refuge in uncosted economic policies: medical cards for all children, maximum class sizes of 20, 70,000 affordable homes and so on.

Every political party in Ireland would like to endorse such policies, but they know the money has to come from somewhere: the Sinn Fein leadership still inhabits a dependency culture that views the British treasury as Santa Claus. The richest political party in Ireland, it's raised millions from Irish-America, and many more from robbing banks, smuggling, fraud and selling know-how to Farc guerrillas in exchange for narco-dollars. Of course they don't understand the value of money. How can we expect them to?

Apart from minor deals (like getting rid of the Offences against the State Act), Sinn Fein will focus on making a drive for a united Ireland the major goal of Irish foreign policy, thus making reconciliation with unionists impossible. These old-fashioned nationalists want to keep their old-fashioned northern nationalist constituency happy, regardless of the consequences. McGuinness will keep laughing and joking with Ian Paisley until after the dust settles in the South, and then it will be business as usual.

In local councils up north, Sinn Fein has serious form: any time nationalists and unionists seem to be getting on too well, they wreck the peace with a motion calling for a united Ireland, the erection of a memorial to a local IRA killer or a demand for parity for the Irish language. Hardened by hatred, Sinn Fein politicians thrive on confrontation. As Fianna Fail will soon find out if it does a deal at national level, these are bedfellows who promise you a quiet night, but end up taking the duvet off you and kicking you out of bed.

Sinn Fein deny all this, but they are, of course, propagandists of genius. Look how they are airbrushing out of history the 2,000 the IRA murdered, while raising hell internationally over every corpse they can make political capital out of.

As I listen to Adams talk about making the prevention of suicide a priority, I think of those children who killed themselves because they had been tortured and mutilated by the IRA brutes who ran (and still run) their ghettoes. As he demands a rights-based culture, I think of Joe Rafferty, an innocent who had his most basic right - the right to life - removed by the IRA in Dublin in 2005 because he had annoyed one of its thugs. His sister, Esther Uzell, supported by other victims like Ann McCabe and the McCartney sisters, is standing in Dublin South-East to draw attention to what lies behind the smiling mask of Sinn Fein.

The Republic of Ireland is doing well. Sinn Fein will bring it trouble. Bad, bad trouble.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards