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7 December 2015

Sinn Fein edifice shakes as signs of dissent surface

TD Mary Lou McDonald

The amazing news from the Republic of Ireland is that there are publicly-expressed differences of opinion in Sinn Fein.

Since Sinn Fein is a cult it does not attract free thinkers, so its members rarely challenge their leaders and can mostly be relied upon to repeat the party line faithfully, mechanically and ad nauseum.

In Northern Ireland the party has been strictly controlled for decades by blood brothers who were IRA participants or cheerleaders, know far too much about each other to break ranks and have benefited from imposing on the rank-and-file a culture of fear.

The Republic is more challenging for the leadership, which is one of the reasons Gerry Adams abandoned West Belfast for Louth and took over from Caoimhin O Caolain, the obedient but mediocre leader of the party in the Dail.

For a start, apart from a few TDs like Martin Ferris (10 years for gun-running) and Dessie Ellis (10 years for explosives offences), most elected representatives in the Republic these days are young lilywhites, often with a decent education.

Some will have joined for tribal reasons, some because they were romantic about a United Ireland, and others because they believed in Sinn Fein's currently left-wing agenda.

Bright young people are wooed, encouraged and subsidised on their way up the rungs of the electoral ladder.

They know they will have a ruthlessly efficient party organisation with apparently limitless resources backing them in elections.

In exchange they know they are required to ask no difficult questions, be blindly loyal to Gerry Adams and toe the party line at all times

The sight of Mary Lou McDonald and other ambitious young hopefuls like Pearse Doherty and Padraig Mac Lochlainn reciting the "I-believe-Gerry" mantra on a wide range of embarrassing issues including cover-up of child abuse and Adams's denial of membership of the IRA has often made them seem ridiculous.

So for anyone who hopes that Sinn Fein might in time morph into a normal party, it has been encouraging in recent months to see tiny signs of independence or dissent.

The party has lost three Cork county councillors (two resignations and one expulsion), and its TD for Cork East, who complained that her work had been "consistently and persistently undermined by a small number in the constituency that called themselves members of Sinn Fein".

And now there are clear differences of opinion about what the party should do after the general election, which has to be held before April 8.

Adams would give anything to be Taoiseach, especially during the commemoration period of the 1916 Rising.

Micheal Martin, leader of Fianna Fail, has been consistently a savage critic of the murky past and ambiguous present of Adams and his party.

He has, for instance, talked often about the murder of Jean McConville and has been a principled champion of Mairia Cahill, and he has made it utterly clear that under no circumstances would he go into coalition with Sinn Fein.

With the polls showing Fine Gael support increasing, Labour staying stubbornly down and Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein vying for second place, Adams decided on the strategy of trying to damage Fianna Fail with the middle classes by last week talking up the possibility of going into coalition with it.

His aim is to make Sinn Fein seem more, and Fianna Fail less, respectable in the hope that through guilt by association Fianna Fail will win fewer seats than Sinn Fein, replace Martin and go into coalition as Sinn Fein's junior partners.

It was a cunning plan that had Martin and most of his senior colleagues fuming, as on doorsteps they were being asked: "You're not going in with that Sinn Fein crowd, are ya?"

And then the unthinkable happened and unhappy Sinn Fein TDs began briefing the Press against the idea on and off the record, insisting that they would contemplate coalition only with Labour and independent left-wingers.

Adams and his senior colleagues took refuge in the usual lies about how it was the members who determined policy, although everyone knows they merely rubber-stamp what the leadership has decided.

Unless, that is, some party members are beginning to think for themselves.

That really would change everything.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards