MICHAEL CLIFFORD: Sinn Féin party blind-sided by ambition

Michael Clifford examines the funny goings-on within Sinn Féin.

AT THE RISK of damaging the Peace Process, this column feels compelled to examine funny goings-on within Sinn Féin.

It’s not funny ha-ha. It never is with the Shinners. But what’s unfolding in East Cork is certainly funny peculiar, or at least it would be in your average political party. We must, however, tread carefully when dealing with an organisation whose default position is “don’t hit me with the Peace Process in my arms”.

Yet, to be fair, while there have been funny goings-on, there is also much progress to report in the party.

Last week, it was revealed that two Sinn Féin county councillors in East Cork have been turfed out. Kieran McCarthy has been expelled and Melissa Mullane suspended for a year. Their ejections follow a secret internal party investigation, which recommended the sanctions.

There have been mutterings about an unorthodox credit union loan allegedly involving Mr McCarthy and other problems with bullying and general bad feelings towards the party’s sitting TD in the area, Sandra McLellan.

The whole shebang has led to the East Cork organisation being “stood down”. That particular term usually applies to military rather than political activity. A unit in the IRA might have been “stood down” if they shot the wrong person, or set off a bomb without proper authorisation. Thankfully, those days are gone, but some of the more benign military trappings are still a feature of the party.

Despite all that, let’s salute progress. The investigation of the ‘Rebel Two’ was not a kangaroo court, as it might well have been two decades ago. The ejected politicians have emerged from the process with their lives and their kneecaps intact. This is to be welcomed.

One of the matters at issue in the dispute would appear to be political ambition. This again signals a giant leap forward. Politicians, by their nature, have a number of different strands to their make-up, of which ambition is a central element.

Heretofore, they didn’t do ambition in Sinn Féin, which is just as well for the members as the party’s leader has been in an unassailable position for more than 30 years.

Down in East Cork, though, ambition appears to have got the better of Mr McCarthy and Ms Mullane. Both were discommoded at the performance of their TD, Ms McLellan. Not just that, but the dissatisfaction had spread to many ordinary members.

This again is something novel for Sinn Féin. It is well known that dissatisfaction is not tolerated in the party. Everybody chants from the same sheet, accepting direction and guidance from the great leader and his entourage.

That core value may now be under attack. It is too early to spot a trend, but the notion that independent thought may become a feature of Sinn Féin gives rise for further encouragement that the party is emerging from the bunker.

Such progress is astounding in light of events late last year. Following revelations about child sex abuse cover-ups and kangaroo courts within the IRA, not one Sinn Féin member took issue with the party’s stance, or that of the great leader, who, after all, was never in the IRA. Now a few short months later, ambition is pushing through, where the cover-up of child sex abuse didn’t seem to bother anybody. This is serious progress.

Back in East Cork, the hullabaloo over Ms McLellan’s performance is a touchy subject for the party. She is one of only two female TDs in a party that sees itself as championing equality and all that stuff. Women voters have been reluctant to flock to the party’s standard so it is seen as important to have a female bum or two on the seats of the Dail.

Ms McLellan has not set the political firmament alight since her election in 2011. Her only real impact on the national stage was through a newspaper interview in 2012 in which she bemoaned the party’s policy of only paying its public representatives the average industrial wage. In particular, she noted that the party barely left her with enough money for make-up.

“You know you have to maybe get your hair done a bit more often, maybe put a bit more into make-up and bit more into clothing that you would normally put,” she told the Irish Mail On Sunday.

“People might say, ‘oh God they’re worried about the hair, they’re worried about the make-up’ but you are representing a party. And when you’re representing a party you want to look well.” All of which is fine and dandy, but unfortunately Ms McLellan hasn’t been seen much in places like the media where she could have the opportunity to look well.

She should be grateful that she is not Gerry Adams. He is forced to run three houses on the average industrial wage. He has a family home in Belfast, a holiday home in Donegal, and uses another residence in his constituency of Louth.

“Try it sometime,” as Gerry’s kindred spirit, Pee Flynn, once said about his efforts to keep three homes on the go. At least Pee was pulling in over quarter of a million in today’s money. Try it on Gerry’s very modest stipend, Pee.

Between the jigs and the reels, the split has now raised its ugly head in East Cork. The upheaval had led to a raft of resignations from the party, in Cobh, Fermoy and Mallow. Some estimates are putting the defections as high as 70, but party HQ is adamant it’s not as bad as that.

Here again, progress can be detected. Maybe the Shinners have cottoned onto the old Fianna Fáil number of filling cummans with phantom members, who, when circumstances demand, can be disappeared.

The split appears to be nevitable. We’ve had official, provisional and continuity Sinn Féin, and now we could have Rebel Sinn Féin, trading under the name “The People’s Republican Party of Cork”.

This column is primarily concerned with progress. As far as the substance of political philosophy is concerned, the Shinners have come a long way. Once, they pledged fidelity to political thinkers like Mao Tse Tung. These days they take their lead from one of the great modern political theorists, Bartholomew Ahern. Mr Ahern’s short-term success in propagating a top brand of populism has set a template for the Shinners which they are pursing with some profit. They have copped that policies are all very well, but promises are where it’s really at.

So, happy to report that despite the upheavals in East Cork, progress is being made. The way things are going, Sinn Féin will actually be fit to govern in the Republic around 2040. By then the great leader will be over 90, and most likely declare that he will only commit to serving three terms in government.

By then, however, the Fourth Green Field may have been reclaimed. Questions will be raised as to whether the country has any further use for a nationalist party, if we end up as a nation once again.

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