Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Sorry, Gerry -- the Irish Republic isn't buying what you're selling

Peace in Northern Ireland doesn't excite the voters in the Irish Republic - not nearly as much as economic growth.

Gerry Adams was yesterday under attack from within the Republican movement as he surveyed the wreckage of an election campaign that has proved to be disastrous.

The fall in Sinn Fein support in the Irish Republic was a setback for Mr Adams's long-term strategy to unify Ireland by gaining power in Dublin as well as Belfast.

In last week's elections, Sinn Fein's representation in the Irish parliament fell from five seats to four.

Chris Gaskin, who writes on Balrog, a Republican blog, put the blame "directly at the foot of the leadership". The problem, according to Mr Gaskin, a trainee solicitor who supports Sinn Fein, was down to "pub talk" policies and a manifesto that was "watery, airy fairy" and "head in the clouds".

Sinn Fein strategists had hoped that the political settlement that has seen Martin McGuinness appointed Deputy First Minister in Northern Ireland would play well south of the border.

That proved to be a misjudgement with the Republic's electorate more interested in domestic economic performance, health, education and transport than constitutional issues in Northern Ireland.

Having experienced the benefits of the Celtic Tiger, voters were also unimpressed by Sinn Fein's left-wing approach and uncertain economic principles, which saw policies jettisoned in the search for votes.

But Dean Godson, the research director of the independent British think tank Policy Exchange, sees the failure of Gerry Adams south of the border as a warning sign to Britain and the Northern Ireland peace agreement:

Mr Adams had hoped to have Sinn Fein ministers on both sides of the border, putting the squeeze on for gradual harmonisation of services, and thus leading to reunification. He only has ministers in a northern executive working with southern ministers from Fianna Fail - who now have a mandate to be tougher than ever on republicans.

The likeliest outcome is that Mr Adams, as so often before, will play "the ethnic card" - winding up the Unionists through some sectarian gambit that will polarise opinion North and South.

The period of good behaviour, imposed on Sinn Fein by the need to appeal to a non-ideological southern electorate, is now over. Renewed instability is in the offing in Northern Ireland.

One hopes that someone will warn Sinn Fein in the strongest possible terms that there is no turning back in Ulster.

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