Monday was an extraordinary day for Northern Ireland politics. Firstly, there was the opinion poll, reported in the Belfast Telegraph showing the Martin McGuinness was Northern Ireland’s most popular politician.
Later, we had the announcement, confirmed today, that Fianna Fail had its first elected representative in Northern Ireland in Gerry McHugh, MLA.
Gerry McHugh was, until 2007, a member of Sinn Fein. He left Sinn Fein in November 2007 citing “lack of democracy” in his own party as the reason for his departure. According to a BBC report, he also said this
“I feel the direction Sinn Fein is taking is more about appeasement of the British government and administrating British rule in Ireland rather than working towards the end of British occupation.”
On Slugger December 7, 2007, he is also reported as having said this
“Assembly structures support this – at both committee and plenary level unionists have majority control. What was agreed at St Andrews cannot be delivered without unionist approval.”
Further along, the post also said
‘Mr McHugh said Sinn Féin’s decision to endorse policing in the north was a “factor” in his decision.
“I have no difficulties with the idea of civil policing but I have a difficulty with the excessive amounts of MI5 and military spooks operating in the six counties,” he said.
So it appeared at the time that he was against the St. Andrews Agreement and in particular, Sinn Fein’s acceptance of the PSNI as Northern Ireland’s official police. He appeared to be slightly more hard-line than Sinn Fein officially was.
The Fianna Fail Party and Bertie Ahern, in particular, gave unconditional support to St. Andrews.
So already, Fianna Fail have accepted a “hard liner” into their ranks and one who is averse to ‘control freakery’. That is most interesting. In a sense, it is Sinn Fein’s ability to keep discipline with its membership that has been one of the hallmarks of its success. One wonders how Mr. McHugh will react when Fianna Fail start to put their own restrictions on his political conduct.
McHugh also needs to ‘get real’ in relation to the ‘spooks.’ Were it not for those excellent brave people doing field intelligence work, we would by now have a tradgedy on our hands beginning with a dead police officer in Garrison.
It is going to be fascinating to see how Sinn Fein reacts. Will this make it more or less likely that Martin McGuiness will break the Executive if the DUP do not deliver a date for P & J by Christmas? Let the drama begin.
It is very hard, at this stage, to predict the impact of Fianna Fail onto the Northern Ireland Political scene. Could their success depend upon how many big names defect from Sinn Fein and the SDLP? Could this mark the death of the SDLP? Could their entry into politics split the Nationalist vote and kill Martin McGuinnness’s dream of becoming first minister?
f they attract no more than a token number of big names, Fianna Fail might begin with similar difficulties to the ones facing the Conservatives in the late 1980s. Fermanagh could become to Northern Ireland Fianna Fail what North Down eventually became to Northern Ireland Conservatives but their footholds might remain only that unless Fianna Fail’s central party invests substantial resources into their campaigning, as the Conservatives have recently began to do.
They have one possible problem which the Conservatives do not have. They are operating politics across a state boundary. That causes difficulties as policy in one state may not be appropriate for the other. On the other hand, Fianna Fail, as a populist party with no particular ideology may be the best Irish party suited to cross-border “horses for courses” politics. On that particular aspect, they have a serious edge over Sinn Fein who are wedded rigidly to the left of the political spectrum.
In time, Fianna Fail could become serious political opponents of our party but that is for the future.
Those are my observations. The truth is, I have absolutely no idea how what the future holds for Fianna Fail in Northern Ireland. Today, meanwhile, is a day for goodwill. The Conservative Party will never allow this event to get in the way of the friendships which Britain has developed with the Republic of Ireland as a neighbouring state.
We welcome the arrival of Fianna Fail into Northern Ireland politics. We hope that their presence in the Northern Ireland political arena will create new opportunities to do political business with them. We hope that there will be opportunities for both of our respective parties to implement great joint political initiatives which will enhance the lives of the people of Northern Ireland.
Filed under: Conservative Party, Devolution, Fianna Fail, Gerry McHugh, Nationalism, Republicanism, Sinn Fein, socialism | Tagged: Conservative Party, Devolution, Fianna Fail, Gerry McHugh, Martin McGuiness, Nationalism, Normal Politics, Northern Ireland politics, Populism, Republicanism, Sinn Fein, socialism | 10 Comments »