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16 February 2015

Sinn Fein beating tribal drum particularly hard as poll looms

Conor Murphy
Conor Murphy

I know the sound of the pre-election tribal drums and I don't like them, wherever they come from and whoever plays them, because they appeal to our baser instincts. But, at the moment, I'm finding those sounded by Sinn Fein particularly offensive.

I expected distortion over the Welfare Bill. Even as the United Kingdom is mired in debt and deficit, Sinn Fein never wavers from its touching faith in the bottomless coffers of the British Government.

It's not opposed to reform of the welfare system, Conor Murphy MP explains, "but to the drastic British Tory cuts masquerading as reform which are, in fact, an assault on the welfare state".

Confusingly, Martin McGuinness, who has been assigned the wise old statesman role as his mucker Gerry Adams tries down south to be redder than the reds, was simultaneously in the Assembly rebuking the SDLP for tabling amendments to the Bill, accusing it gravely of being "prepared to jeopardise the Stormont House Agreement and the power-sharing institutions".

Finding itself in a morass of contradictions, Sinn Fein has embarked on the tried-and-tested policy of trying to divert attention away from embarrassment by once again winding up the Prods. When all else fails, have the tribal drums beat out the well-known cultural battle hymn of the Irish language.

I always resent seeing this innocent language hijacked by politicians as it used to be for years in the south until the country grew up. In the Republic, it's generally accepted that the attempt to revive the Irish language by State intervention was a total failure.

Compulsory Irish is virtually a thing of the past and there are only a tiny handful of language zealots left - one of them being Eamon O Cuiv, who is very close to Sinn Fein, but being of the de Valera family is unlikely to jump from the Fianna Fail ship his grandfather built and commanded for decades.

There is plenty of resentment at the waste of money (roughly £2m a year) unnecessarily translating official documents written in English into Irish. The reason, however, is that the courts ruled it was a constitutional requirement and government already has to deal with more referenda than it can handle.

It certainly doesn't want to start an expensive row on a divisive issue where Sinn Fein would create mayhem just for the hell of it. Better just to keep wasting money, as the EU does on Irish translators no one needs.

It was no accident that Enda Kenny, who probably speaks Irish better than anyone in Sinn Fein, was happy to appoint a non-Irish speaker, Heather Humphreys, to the senior job at the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

Caral Ni Chuilin knows rightly that her proposed Irish language measures are ridiculous.

But they are part of the great tradition - noted in an NIO memo as early as 1986 - which quoted Irish officials as believing "that Adams and his colleagues have effectively highjacked the language and cast a shadow over all those who speak it".

With a 12-week consultative process, Sinn Fein hopes to distract the attention of activists from the reality that their party is implementing welfare cuts.

Even better, the sheer hypocrisy of the exercise and the refusal to put a figure on grandiose plans that would cost tens of millions annually is geared to get unionists worked up.

With a bit of luck, it might provoke another "curry my yoghurt can coca coalyer" outcry and put opponents in the wrong.

If that drum-banging is bad, it's nothing to the dog whistle Sinn Fein employed in voting to retain the name of Raymond McCreesh on a Newry playground.

It's hardly in the spirit of the peace and reconciliation the party piously preaches, since apart from dying on hunger strike, McCreesh's claim to fame is that he shot a Protestant farmer to whom he delivered milk and may have been involved in the Kingsmills massacre. But it will upset unionists and thus please republican bigots.

Fiscal irresponsibility is bad.

Hijacking culture for political reasons is repugnant. But celebrating ethnic hatred in a children's playground is quite simply immoral.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards