Monday, July 09, 2018

Liadh Ní Riada Can Win Sinn Féin the Presidency

Sinn Féin can claim an astonishing double-result this autumn if they contest the Presidency. Firstly, they can strike another devastating blow to Fianna Fáil, who were too quick to row in behind a second term for President Higgins. But more importantly, by selecting Liadh Ní Riada as their candidate, Sinn Féin can make a profound statement of nationalism and Irish identity, the kind of which we haven’t heard in at least half-a-century.

Why Ní Riada? Because of who she is and what she represents.

Liadh Ní Riada is the daughter of Seán Ó Riada, the man who saved Irish music from doom in the early 1960s. We have made a bags of many, many things as an independent state among the nations of the world, but two things we have to show for ourselves are our games and our music.

Before Seán Ó Riada, people were ashamed of the music. It was strictly for hicks. What made the difference was the music’s embrace by Ó Riada, because Ó Riada came from the classical tradition. He knew the table settings, as it were.

Ó Riada recognised traditional music’s inherent dignity, and brought it to the concert hall. And people who had thought nothing of the music heard the orchestration of Róisín Dubh that Ó Riada did for Mise Éire and thought: hold on – is that us? To echo Gerard Manley Hopkins, the Irish Nation suddenly realised that this music, which they had considered a joke, poor potsherd, was actually immortal diamond and worthy of admiration all over the world.

Ó Riada founded Ceoltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, from whom came the Chieftains. The Clancys and the Dubliners were the beloved sons of the masses but without the Chieftains the music would have sunk back to obscurity. Instead, it lives, survives and thrives.

Seán Ó Riada himself cannot run for the presidency. He died young, in 1971, two months after his fortieth birthday. But Liadh Ní Riada, in coming where she’s from and in being who she is, can be the avatar of what Ó Riada believed in, an Ireland Gaelic, united and free.

Because what does the President do, really? The office is the vestigial tail of the Lord Lieutenancy. It’s either a retirement home or a springboard to a cushy job in the UN or the Vatican (although that’s not going so well lately).

Perhaps the most important role of the Presidency is in telling us who we are, in being an avatar for the nation. And what better avatar than someone who believes in the causes for which independence was won, at the cost of so much blood?

At a time when it’s so hard to say what it is that makes us different, why Ireland deserves nationhood, why, God spare us, the island should be united under one flag, would it be so bad to return to first principles?

Even if she were not to win, Liadh Ní Riada could do her party some service in landing another kick to the prone body of what was once the mightiest force in Irish politics, the Fianna Fáil party.
Fianna Fáil was once renowned for its profound political sense.

DeValera said he only had to look into his heart to know what the nation was thinking. But that political sense is entirely absent from the party now as it lurches from one disaster to another.

The confidence-and-supply agreement was a good move. But everybody knew it was, to echo a phrase of the past, “a temporary little arrangement”. There was no way it could be long-lasting, because there would come a threshold when such kudos available to Fianna Fáil for putting the country first by supporting a government would all have been gained.

After that, the pendulum swings in the other direction, and Fianna Fáil gets all the blame for being in government, and none of the benefit. Fianna Fáil were always going to pull the plug.

Except they didn’t. Opportunities arose one by one, and passed by one by one as Mícheál Martin steadfastly refused to take advantage. The revelations about the Gardaí making up traffic violation reports was the sort of dream chance that oppositions of other eras requested from Santa in their Christmas letters, and still Fianna Fáil held fire.

And now, it is they who have presented an open goal to Sinn Féin, in a misunderstanding of both the age and the current political situation.

Our is a populist age. It an age of clearing swamps, and giving voices back to the people. It is an age of distrust of the establishment and cosy deals among the members of same.

Not only have Fianna Fáil backed President Higgins for a second term, they have done so absolutely, positively, with no way to back down. With Fianna Fáil now backed into a corner - the last place any sensible politician wants to be -  Sinn Féin can now run a candidate that hits Fianna Fáil in both the head and the guts.

The head, by making Sinn Féin look like a party more interested in what the people think than what is convenient for the establishment. The guts, by fielding a candidate who will be a siren song to the traditional vote of the (once) Republican Party.

Can Ní Riada win? Reader, she can win on the first count. She doesn’t even need to say anything. All they need do is play this at her rallies and the Park is hers. Go n-éirí léi.