It would appear the more centrist elements of the Irish establishment have yet to learn its lesson with regards what to do with an electorally insoluble Sinn Féin.
Aiming to test the old proverb, our media is attempting to flog a dead horse one more time with another round of Shinner bashing. This time focusing on the lack of social distancing measures by party top brass at funeral for Provo strongman Bobby Storey, it is likely to be water off a duck’s back to an indifferent electorate and Sinn Féin base.
Sinn Féin are well and truly under the tent of respectable public opinion, not merely replacing Fianna Fáil as the Free State’s mainline Republican party but the likely successor to the already atrophied coalition. In an era of global populism, Sinn Féin functions as a sort of electoral phantom limb of where a nativist party would normally be situated in most European countries.
While the media agenda barely batted an eyelid for Black Lives Matter pounding the pavements of Irish streets, the funeral arrangements of Mr Storey have garnered an inordinate amount of media criticism.
That the Provisional leadership and crowds at the funeral for Mr Storey erred seriously is of no major doubt. However no one believes for a second that the majority of criticism is made in good faith. Beneath it all critics are uneasy rightly or wrongly about a potential Taoiseach commemorating a Provisional IRA member. The hatchet is not fully buried from the Troubles in the minds of many media commentators with the political muscle memory from the conflict showing itself in the hostility shown contemporaneously towards the post-Provo party.
While it is easy and forgivable to think of Irish progressives as one homogenous blob of opinion, there are indeed factional disputes, as best typified by the ire shown towards Sinn Féin by some. Stuck in a perpetual time loop from the 1980s. Aspects of the political and media mainstream, not to mind the latent security apparatus of the State, hold Sinn Féin in contempt for the Provisional campaign and for the sectarian undercurrent within the party.
The spectrum of hostility towards Sinn Féin and physical-force Republicanism extends from the more anglophile wing in Fine Gael to certain Trotskyist sects or even the tankies in the Worker’s Party. This cohort holds the Shinners as a few heartbeats away from being ethno-sectarian fascists.
The media Cold War between the Provisional movement and anti-Republicans is as long as it is unspoken arguably with its origins in the original Official/Provisional split of 1969 as well as inherent dislike of Republicanism by the State. It is an old set routine played out over the airwaves and column inches, and frankly tiresome twenty-plus years after the ink on the Good Friday Agreement dried.
That being said the neoteric controversy around the suspension of councillor Paddy Holohan, and infighting among Sinn Féin Dublin South West cumann provides plenty of food for thought for the future cultural battlelines facing the party.
A scion of the mixed martial arts renaissance that has captured the hearts and minds of working class areas of Dublin in the wake of the Conor McGregor saga, Holohan entered the political arena in 2019 as a councilor for the party. Hailing from Tallaght, he epitomises the working class base that has buttressed the Republican movement as it went mainstream on the back of street level resistance to water charges among other issues.
Popular in his own constituency, he engendered impassioned criticism due to remarks unearthed on his podcast pertaining to the heritage and sexuality of Leo Varadkar and his loyalty towards Ireland as a consequence. While initially forced into an apology he was later suspended following the further emergence of audio of him crudely describing the alleged trend of underage girls extorting older men for money after sleeping with them.
A source of heavy embarrassment for Sinn Féin leadership mid election, Holohan was suspended from the party with the issue apparently biting the dust until this week. The controversy reemerged in strength when it appeared that Holohan had been reinstated and had further been nominated by his local Sinn Féin cumann for the mayorship of Dublin.
Wasting no time, activity for the entire Dublin South-West cumann, who it appeared had acted without the permission of Sinn Féin HQ was suspended. In the week following the fiasco, certain local councillors have voiced their dissatisfaction with how the matter was handled, and with an apparent disconnect with party hierarchy.
While that particular patch of Dublin Sinn Féin has accumulated substantial street cred for its combatting of drug dealers in the Tallaght region, it would appear party leadership has felt the need to bend the knee to accusations of racism and misogyny.
Famously the internal machinations of Shinner council politics has been a source of repeated controversy the last few years, from issues ranging from bullying to waterboarding. This incident however speaks to a potential cultural fault line that may very soon emerge as it has done to many other left parties across the Western world.
Holohan in his remarks, nevermind membership to an avowedly anti-racist party, is not xenophobic in the traditional sense. That being said, when he described Leo Varadkar’s patriotism as being limited by a diminished familial connection with the nation he stumbled upon a certain undeclared truth. Nationality as a bond is dependent on a shared sense of historic identity, often based around the concept of struggle and is not entirely inclusive.
By describing his advantage of having grown up listening to Fenian war stories in comparison to the more transnational Varadkar, he had stepped on a cultural landmine.
While axiomatic off-the-cuff comments in his mind, and to many Sinn Féin faithful, they immediately triggered a Pavlovian response from the progressives in the party, as well as the media. For all the Marxist and left-wing imagery contemporary Republicanism cloaks itself in, there is an implicit deference to a form of Irish ethno-nationalism in the movement, This scares our elite more than it cares to admit. In short there is a reason why the party name loosely translates as ‘We Ourselves’.
Similarly, Holohan’s references to preferring a family man as leader of the nation threw up additional red flags for the fundamental truth hinted upon. Varadkar as a leader was the political by-product of our socio-economic zeitgeist, centred upon a deracinating order of capitalism that sees this nation as a mere economic zone rather than a living breathing organic entity. His outlook as a leader is very much altered by not being a ‘family man’ as Holohan stated.
It is unlikely that Holohan would define himself as being right-wing, but through his words he imbibed certain concepts articulated by the radical right. Nationhood is not some neoliberal brand, or indeed a means to an end for Marxist politicking; it is a radical concept with a strong essentialist element to it. Something that a MMA wrestler turned municipal councilor accepts as second nature is denied by our societal elite at every level.
This week the membership of the party are scratching their heads at the entire debacle. Why does a party that understands the need to never disavow IRA actions to a hostile press gallery acquiesce around accusations of racism? Surely Holohan’s comments gel well with the driving ethos of the party?
Across the Western world, the working class core of left parties are breaking ranks and voting for more rightist parties. From the majority of working class voters opting for Boris Johnson than Corbyn in 2019, to the post-industrial voters who flipped to Le Pen in France there is a clear pattern of left parties haemorrhaging to the right.
Driven partially by the tide of economics and immigration, the cultural aspect plays a key role with this transition. The embrace of insane anti-social policies by the left has played a significant role in the crossing of the electoral picket line by working class voters. Fundamentally more and more of the old left base is fragmenting towards nativism seeing how awful the new left has become, focusing on progressive fads over real world socialist pursuits.
While Ireland is nowhere near such a scenario, the Holohan ordeal highlights a future path where this may occur. It is no major secret that Sinn Féin will spearhead the next government, likely in conjunction with a range of far-left parties who will push more outlandish social policies. The Paddy Holohans of this world who help put Mary Lou MacDonald into the cabinet room may very well a decade from now drift away, should they see the reality of progressive policies on community life.
The British Labour party is presently trying to keep a doomed coalition of proletariat Brexit voters, SJW college activists and cosmopolitan Remainers afloat. Similarly in the not-to-distant future, a freshly elected Sinn Féin regime could find it increasingly hard to manage a party catering to Paddy Holohans as well as Fintan Warfield electorally. From the schism between the more communitarian elements of the left and the ascendant SJW entryists comes the chance for populism.
The framing of Sinn Féin as a dissentient populist force is a constant source of eye-rolling for the nationalist right in this country. While Sinn Féin may raise the blood pressure of special branch officials who quietly fear the day they cross the threshold into government buildings, any discerning rightist can see them as part of the liberal pack.
Where endless Eoghan Harris polemics against occultic Army Councils lurking among Sinn Féin failed, the embrace of the extremities of identity politics may succeed. Like many left-wing parties, the electoral ranks of Sinn Féin are composed of a lot more Paddy Holohans than a progressive leadership may like to admit. The point at which they decide to take their business elsewhere is when Irish politics becomes a lot more interesting.
Image from Wikipedia used for reporting purposes