As the dust settles on the 2021 Sinn Féin Ardfheis, the Free State’s assimilation of the Provisional Movement is complete: Sinn Féin has trod the ways of Fianna Fáil evolving from a revolutionary militant party to a “slightly constitutional” party (in the words of Lemass) and now to a fully-accommodated sanitised Party of the Regime.
With the adoption of a motion supporting the use of the Special Criminal Court, Sinn Féin has finally brought its party into concomitant positions on both sides of the border where they uphold the institutions responsible for the non-jury Diplock Courts.
A former Councillor for the Party, Toiréasa Ferris, said she would “have to find another party to vote for” in the aftermath of the change. Ms Ferris served as a Sinn Féin councillor for a decade and a half and described the move to abandon opposition to the Special Criminal Courts as “total and utter bullshit” calling it “electoral expediency and power at any cost.” Her father, Martin Ferris, joined the Provisional Movement in the 70s and served various terms in prison for republican activities and was named by Minister for Justice Michael McDowell as allegedly one of the members of the IRA Army Council in 2005.
The slow shedding of the Provisional Movement of formerly staunch supporters is nothing new. With every major change in policy Sinn Féin has suffered a small deluge. In 1986 major Republican figures established or joined Republican Sinn Féin, including some of the men who were instrumental figures in the establishment of the Provisionals – Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, Seán Ó Brádaigh, Billy McKee etc.
In 1997 more stalwarts of the Republican Movement split to form the 32 County Sovereignty Movement including Bernadette Sands-McKevitt in opposition to the ongoing Peace Process. More Republicans left in 2006/7 when the Party moved to recognise and support the PSNI. Most recently the relative newcomer Saoradh, was alleged to have several former Provisional members who became dissatisfied with the current leadership.
Aontú had strong prospects but several republicans previously involved have seemingly left the organisation, and the group has the appearance of simply being Sinn Féin sans abortion.
It’s unlikely that this move will be the rubicon crossed for many others, the cusp of power is too strong an allure. And so the inability of non-GFA Republicans to coalesce around a political group, and the slow release of members thwarts any prospective growth of an alternative to Sinn Féin.