Pro-life republican party Aontú has found itself in quite a bit of hot water this week after a number of scandals causing a rift between the party and its grassroot supporters.
The latest of these scandals, which involves Derry GP Anne McCloskey, a former councillor for the party, has seen Mr. Peadar Tóibín’s party aggressively distance themselves from their former Deputy Leader after comments she made regarding the Covid crisis and vaccinations. Many commenters under the twitter post have lambasted the party, with many calling the statement on Twitter ‘Disappointing’ and ‘cowardly’. McCloskey previously came to loggerheads with the Aontú leadership over her statements regarding lockdowns and vaccinations, resulting in her resignation from the Council in favour of Emmet Doyle.
The scandal comes hot on the heels of another highly controversial statement put out by the republicans, which demanded that Ireland must be a ‘leader in accepting Afghan refugees’. Again, this post was widely condemned by commentators online, with many expressing surprise, shock, and even confusion as to why the party would take such a stance.
From my point of view, this confusion is very much warranted. Aontú as a party, in splitting off from Sinn Féin over abortion, showed significant promise in regards to being a strong Nationalist party with an uncompromising conservative social outlook. The party itself proudly states that it is looking to tackle ‘Establishment Group Think’, which is no doubt a very laudable goal.
However, the party’s recent actions and words have thrown serious doubt on the hopes of many in regards to this, including myself. Both of the above statements paint a picture of a party desperate for mainstream approval, rather than one willing to stand up against the political current.
Both of these scandals represent scenarios where, unusually for a political party, it would have been better for Aontú to simply keep their mouths shut, to not say anything on these issues.
The party would not have greatly suffered from the McCloskey scandal should they have not clarified her status as not currently being a member, and if they felt that this point really needed to be emphasized, then a few quiet emails to various outlets would have likely done the trick. Their chosen method of a public statement however, makes a mountain of a molehill, and gives the impression of turning on a former ally, over an issue of her breaking from the mainstream no less.
The refugee issue however is far more worrying than the McCloskey one. Aside from the obvious issue of prioritizing foreign problems over domestic ones, why a supposedly republican party would see it fit to try and undermine the native establishment of a country for a foreign one is beyond me. While the Taliban are far from perfect, they do indeed represent native resistance to what are effectively imperialist incursions by both the Soviets and United States. For an Irish republican party to come out against such a resistance, especially after the fighting in Afghanistan has effectively ended, is utterly preposterous.
Ultimately, while we can only speculate on what the real reasons are for the party’s actions in regards to these two incidents, we can definitively say that it gives the image of a party far too eager to please a mainstream which hates it. As a result, the party, at least from the outside, looks more and more like an element of the Irish mainstream rather than a possible alternative to it.
With this being the case, what is the point of Aontú? The party was founded, ultimately, to be a way of challenging the political mainstream. However, if the party no longer challenges the mainstream, but instead supports it on crucial issues such as immigration and social unpersoning (which it appears to be doing here, intentionally or otherwise), then why should anyone bother supporting it? If Aontú continues down this path, it will ultimately be a failure.
That being said, when I say failure, I do not mean an electoral failure. Aontú has been consistently polling rather well, especially when compared to other right-wing parties, and chances are it will make some gains in the next election. As Fianna Fáil inevitably collapses, Aontú may in fact find itself slowly becoming the newest member of a big three, serving as a counterbalance of a Fine Gael/Sinn Féin establishment.
However, while it is true that a party that is good ideologically but poor electorally is of little use, what is more useless still is a party that is poor ideologically but effective at gaining votes. Put simply, what’s the point of voting for Aontú when they don’t represent a vehicle for change? What’s the point of an Aontú government, if such a government will be no different to what has come before?
Hopefully, this week has been merely a blip in the radar, and that things will start getting back on track for the party. However, I myself worry that the party has already been derailed, and that voters will have to look elsewhere if they want to truly challenge the established understanding of Irish politics.