Monday, September 26, 2011

Civil War Politics is Alive and Well in Ireland

The Presidential election, which had been so boring but has now sprung into spiteful life, has already proved one thing beyond all doubt: civil war politics is alive, well and thriving in Ireland.

Martin McGuinness’ entry, and his very strong chance of victory, has galvanized a moribund Fine Gael campaign. All week they have queued up to take shots – ho, ho – at McGuinness and all he stands for. While Fianna Fáil’s footsoldiers are much more sanguine about the prospect of President McGuinness. This is the insurmountable difference between the parties; their attitudes to the North, and bloody history of island.

Fianna Fáil have been deathly quiet about McGuinness, even though it is they who are in greater political danger from the rise of Sinn Féin. But even though their existence is threatened by the rise of Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil apparatchiks can’t muster the level of vitriol that blows up like a volcano in every Fine Gael heart at the very thought of a Shinner about the place.

Part of that Fianna Fáil quietude could be a hangover from another exercise in shooting themselves in the foot. Fianna Fáil’s declining to run a candidate in the Presidential election made sense in that the election of the First Ribbon-Cutter (thank you, Deputy Flanagan) is of secondary importance to preparing 2016 General Election candidates in the Local Elections of 2014. But they can never have imagined that Sinn Féin would pull off such a masterstroke as the entry of McGuinness. McGuinness’ candidacy has changed everything.

It is interesting to wonder if Sinn Féin would have run McGuinness if Fianna Fáil had run a candidate – An Spailpín suspects they would have kept their powder dry and not have brought so big a gun to the front. But that’s for the historians to worry about later.

In the present, the Fianna Fáil top brass can only lick yet another wound while knowing that a very big chunk of the fanbase will follow the flag and the republic, standing with Emmet and Wolfe Tone. The fact its someone else beneath the mast is of secondary importance.

While Fine Gael brings the fight to the Shinners, just like always. Fine Gael is the party that bedded the institutions of the state into the fabric of the country during the Dála of the first ten years of independence. As such, Fine Gael tend to defend those institutions with a religious zeal that Fianna Fáil have never been able to muster, despite their greater time in power. This Fine Gael zeal is especially interesting in this time of national crisis, when the institutions of the state have so clearly let us down.

The nasty sectarianism already evidenced in the campaign – that while Martin McGuinness is good enough for Nordies he is utterly out of the question for the good folk of the south – is perhaps another reflection of the reverence in which Fine Gael hold the institutions of the (southern) state. While they view the North as a failed state, Fine Gael hold the southern state to be just fine.

Well, it’s not. It’s really not. The evidence of the crash is that the institutions of the southern state have failed her people, and the fact that the new broom government are using a very old broom indeed for all their promises is something that can only fill the average citizen with despair.

Another reason why McGuinness is so attractive a candidate. The political establishment’s harping on about McGuinness’ past shows they are out of touch with the Irish present, where more and more people are beginning to realise that there may be more than one failed state on the island.

The First Ribbon-Cutter election isn’t that important in itself, but may be the beginning of a national conversation about who we are and who we want to be. The good and decent Unionists of the North were asked to put up with a lot for the sake of what they were assured was progress and a new tomorrow. For the people of the South to say that’s what’s good enough for the North isn’t good enough for the South suggests we have still to learn the lesson of history after all these bloody years. God help us.