The Worm in the Shamrock
Ireland is midway between two elections. March 7 saw an election for the new Northern Ireland Assembly in the six counties under British rule. In the Republic of Ireland — the southern twenty-six counties, self-governing since 1922 — there is a constitutional requirement for an election this spring. The precise date will be announced by the Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, with May 18 a favorite with pundits.
The news from the March 7 election in the North was of further advances in support for Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party and Gerry Adams' Sinn Féin, at the expense of the more moderate parties on both sides. The news from the coming election in the Republic will be of further advances by Sinn Féin — or, much more sensationally, because much less probably — of a decline in SF support among the Republic's voters.
It is cheering, after the horrors of the 1970s and 1980s, to be able to speak of Irish affairs as those of a normal country conducting democratic politics. It is even more cheering in the context of the Republic's stunning economic success this past 20 years. The Irish Republic's GDP per capita is now fourth in the world, after Luxembourg, Norway and the United States. The Economist Intelligence Unit, in its report "The World in 2005", placed Ireland first on its Quality of Life Index.
On closer inspection, things are not quite so rosy in either the North or the South. If the new Northern Assembly really can be got up and running, the "power-sharing" that the politicians of Britain and Ireland have been trying for thirty years to promote will likely turn out to be a wary, unproductive standoff between Paisley's Unionists and Adams' Republicans. As Jenny McCartney put it in last week's Sunday Telegraph:
No one, however, appears to have thought beyond arranging the marriage of Sinn Féin and the DUP, to what kind of nightmarish political chimera it might create. An enforced alliance of extreme Irish republicanism and Protestant fundamentalism does not sound like the recipe for a healthy democracy. I suspect that departments will be run as fiefs, steeped in vitriolic point-scoring.
In the South, meanwhile, Sinn Féin goes from strength to strength. The party's January announcement that they will now give their support to the Police Service of Northern Ireland (as opposed to shooting policemen, both Northern and — see below — Southern, the party's preferred approach for the preceding ninety years) convinced another few tens of thousands of Southern voters that the "Shinners" can now be trusted with power. Sinn Féin, which represents the losing side in the Irish Civil War of the 1920s, has been a fringe party until recently, winning only tiny numbers of votes in the Republic. The party currently holds 5 out of 166 seats in the Irish parliament. You can't find anyone who thinks they will not improve on that number in May.
Has the leopard really changed his spots, though? Has Sinn Féin decisively severed its connections with psychopathic terrorism? For clues to the answer one can hardly do better than view the remarkable documentary Murder on Main Street, made last year by the Irish public broadcasting service RTÉ. The entire documentary can be viewed on YouTube, where it is broken into twelve parts for convenience of downloading. Here are easy links to the twelve parts.
Part 1 Part 4 Part 7 Part 10
Part 2 Part 5 Part 8 Part 11
Part 3 Part 6 Part 9 Part 12
Murder on Main Street is about the killing of Jerry McCabe, an Irish police detective, in June 1996. The IRA men who killed McCabe were arrested, but because of fierce intimidation of witnesses, could not be convicted of murder. For political reasons, their Sinn Féin handlers (Sinn Féin is the political front for the IRA: leading figures in the two organizations are on intimate terms, when not actually the same person) told the arrested men to plead manslaughter, and they were at last convicted on that basis. One of the killers is due to be released on May 17 — the day before the likely date of the Republic's general election.
The McCabe killers would have been released much earlier, as beneficiaries of the 1998 Good Friday agreement, which specified releases of prisoners serving sentences arising from the "Troubles." Sinn Féin pressed hard for this, and the government of the Republic — which has, to put it politely, never been conspicuous for courageous resistance to Sinn Féin demands — would have yielded but for the dogged efforts of Ann McCabe, Jerry's widow. Murder on Main Street tells the story.
Particularly revealing is the scene in a Bronx pub — it spans the end of Part 10 and the beginning of Part 11 in the YouTube segments linked above — where Mrs. McCabe confronts Gerry Adams. The Sinn Féin leader has just received a rapturous reception — this was March of last year — from a room full of American Sinn Féin supporters, people whose understanding of international terrorism was apparently not improved by the events of September 11, 2001. Adams is at his most reptilian in fending off Mrs. McCabe's calm requests that he state the names (which he certainly knows) of the IRA commanders who ordered her husband's killing.
Just as unsettling is the appearance of Toiréasa Ferris, daughter of IRA boss (and one of the five Sinn Féiners in the Irish parliament) Martin Ferris. In tones which I think are meant to convey anguished concern, but through which the cold light of insincerity shines like the glow from something putrescent in a dark cellar, Ms. Ferris carefully explains that the hooded IRA men who shot Jerry McCabe had no intention but "to raise funds for the struggle" by robbing the Post Office van McCabe was guarding.
What could be more honest and praiseworthy? It was just, as Ms. Ferris further explains, "part of an operation to keep the campaign going." Well, that's all right then! What's to condemn? If that fool policeman hadn't got in the way of these bold lads and their perfectly understandable — nay, admirable! — venture in armed robbery — for the Cause! for the Cause! — he wouldn't have got himself shot, would he? (Gerry Adams, elsewhere in the documentary, tells us that the gunmen "would not have benefited themselves" from the robbery. How selfless they are, these soldiers of freedom!)
What really chills the blood here is the fact that Ms. Ferris is the elected leader of the Kerry County Council.
(And for a wonderful dash of sheer Irishness, catch the closing remarks by Ben O'Sullivan, Jerry's partner, who was injured in the 1996 shooting. Ben delivers the body of his remarks in verse. Only in Ireland …)
As Jenny McCartney noted in that Telegraph piece, Vladimir Putin did not drop the mentality of a KGB man on coming to power in Russia. It is not likely that the Sinn Féin capos will drop the mentality of terrorists on coming to power in Northern Ireland. To the degree they can advance their respectability in the Republic, the same will apply there. The shamrock is looking pretty good right now, glowing a bright healthy green with economic success; but there is a worm in its substance, and the name of the worm is Sinn Féin.
By way of a footnote, giving a broader view of events, here are some off-the-cuff notes sent to me by an Irish friend a few months ago. This fellow's family has been deeply involved in Irish security and police matters for generations back. His notes:
- Certain things have happened over the last fifteen years or so. First, the moral authority of the Catholic Church has been pretty much terminally damaged by all the sexual and financial scandal. No one takes much notice of the clergy any more, and they sure as hell ain't recruiting any more (except in Africa).
- The awe inspiring economic take off of the last decade in the South has not gone unnoticed north of the border. The Republic these days is the Land of Milk & Honey: 4.5% unemployment, 7% economic growth over the last 10 yrs, US software companies opening on every street corner, Euro subsidies coming out of the farmers' [rear ends]. All this, combined with the catastrophic decline in the Protestant manufacturing heartland in the North means that a lot of Ulstermen are going to have to swallow their pride and send their sons down south to get a job. The market does seem to solve a lot of problems. If everyone is making money, they are less likely to be shooting each other. Even if you don't like the other tribe very much, sheer economic self interest will tend to act as something of a solvent. I went to a relative's funeral in Killarney last month: the taxi drivers outside Farranfore airport were all Polish: discuss.
[The March '07 issue of the papo-paleocon magazine Chronicles has a fascinating article by Christie Davies on "The Polonization of Ireland." Davies says that the shortfall in vocations to the priesthood is being made up largely by Polish immigrants. — J.D.]
- The Unionists [i.e. pro-British, mainly Protestant inhabitants of Northern Ireland] have twigged that the Catholics within the Six Counties [i.e. Northern Ireland] are now 43% of the population. Certain parts of the border area in particular which, 40 yrs ago had thriving Protestant communities — Newry, Strabane, West Bank of Derry City — are now 99% Catholic. The Provos [i.e. Provisional IRA, the main factors in anti-British and anti-Protestant terrorist violence] called the ceasefire because there wasn't much point in carrying on. Demographically, the Catholics have won. More worryingly from the Unionist point of view, [Sinn Féin] seem to have won the internal Catholic battle against the SDLP [moderate Republican party]. Throughout the "armed struggle," Sinn Féin never got more than 30% of the Catholic vote, most garnered in the ghettoes. Most middle class Catholics hated them. However, memories are short: a new generation has come along since the cease-fires with no personal memories of what the IRA got up to. Sinn Féin are sexy: recruiting heavily in the colleges and GAA [i.e. Gaelic Athletic Association] clubs, wearing suits and ties.
- They [i.e. Sinn Féin] seem to be breaking through in the South … Also, they are all getting their hands in the till: levels of corruption amongst the newly elected SF folks are not getting any lower.
- Where this all leaves the Loyalist [i.e. die-hard pro-British Protestant] lumpen in the ghettoes, I just don't know. There are still a lot of them who would, if they got the chance, go for the Götterdämmerung scenario: the middle classes are all buggering off to Edinburgh, or Dublin. All in all a complex scenario: could go either way. They may work out some sort of accommodation. On the other hand, it is not inconceivable that there will be an uprising in the loyalist ghettoes with the object of achieving a Protestant Bantustan in the Eastern Half [of Northern Ireland].
The two curses of recent Irish history have been poverty and violence, with poverty most acute in the South, violence in the North. It is a great relief, and a cause for rejoicing, to anyone who loves Ireland, that these two demons are no longer walking about in the land. Have they been decisively vanquished, though? Or only imprisoned, like genies in fairy-tale lamps? We must hope for the best, but perhaps Ireland is the last place one should go looking for the End of History.