The decay of Stormont and Sinn Fein

martin-mcguinness-resigns-2_-lewisWhen a dreadfully ill-looking Martin McGuinness appeared on television to announce his resignation as Deputy First Minister he perfectly personified the alarming state of Sinn Fein strategy.  Whatever about the nature of his illness there is nothing secret about the utter failure of the latter  The repeated response of Sinn Fein to republican critics that these detractors had no strategy to bring about their goals has itself been exposed, as their own policy has become a self-declared failure.

The resignation letter of McGuinness put a poor gloss on a hasty decision that was forced on the party and which it dearly sought to avoid.  Recent actions betrayed a desperation to save its position in the Stormont regime and thereby the regime itself.  It opposed a public inquiry into a scandalous Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) Scheme, designed to protect the climate by giving participants £160 for every £100 they spent on burning wooden pellets.  Unlike the British scheme no limit was set on how much was to be spent on the incentive to burn as much as one could.  It was indefensible and in any other liberal democracy, such as Northern Ireland pretends to be, it would have led to a resignation.

Sinn Fein opposed a vote of no confidence in the First Minister Arlene Foster, responsible for the scheme, explicitly stating it was because it wished to save the Stormont institutions.  It also opposed a public inquiry into the scheme because it knew that the Democratic Unionist Party would not wear it.  It hoped instead that a call for Foster to merely step aside for a few weeks, while some fig-leaf of an investigation did the needful in calming the political waters, would be agreeable.  However, the DUP advanced the age-old ‘not an inch’ approach of unionism to reject its request for the pathetic.

To rub salt into the wounds, just before Christmas the DUP Culture Minister withdrew the small bursary scheme, costing only £50,000, for children to attend the Gaeltacht to learn Irish.  The widespread suspicion that millions were being given to well-connected DUP supporters through the RHI scheme sat beside the vindictive insult to Irish language enthusiasts who are overwhelmingly Catholic.

McGuinness has accused the DUP of arrogance, to which it might be tempting to say that it takes one to know one, where the DUP not in a league of their own. Nevertheless, they made for a workable double act for 10 years and the DUP has not recently changed its spots.

The personal arrogance or otherwise of Arlene Foster (she hardly hides it) confuted the media-attempted creation of yet another new ‘moderate’ Unionist leader and is hardly the point.  Expecting a Unionist leader to show humility ignores the laager supremacist ideology with which unionism is inseparably entwined, summed up in its primitive slogans of ‘not an inch’, ‘this we will maintain’, ‘we can do no other’, ‘no surrender’ and ‘we are the people’, all testament to an utterly reactionary movement.

Sinn Fein sat for ten years promising and not delivering, promising equality while delivering sectarian division; promising to oppose austerity while imposing it; promising opposition to welfare reform while handing powers to Westminster to ensure it was implemented, and within the last year promising a ‘Fresh Start’ and a ‘united Executive’, which produced the old, stale smell of bigotry and bitter animosity.

It failed and its complaint about the failure of the Good Friday Agreement is its own failure – the DUP are not complaining about any such failure.  So sewn up has Sinn Fein been that when McGuinness resigned over the RHI scheme the DUP straight away cynically announced its support for a judicial inquiry, leaving Sinn Fein as the only party not to support one.

It promises no return to the status quo following the resignation.  But how is it going to convince anyone that it can go back into office with the DUP and deliver anything different from the last decade of failure?

We should be clear.  It was not RHI that forced Sinn Fein out.  As we have seen it was prepared to give the DUP a way out.  It has known about this scandal for a year and did nothing.  It put up with unionist arrogance and sectarianism for 10 years on the basis that it too had its own sectarian spoils to dispense.  It hasn’t all of a sudden become remorseful at broken promises: once it abandoned armed struggle against the British state the Provisionals had no principles left.

McGuinness resigned because Sinn Fein’s humiliation was so comprehensive its base were leaving it – through increased Catholic abstention and grumblings even from the membership.  The election of two People before Profit candidates in West Belfast and Derry was a warning that it could face an alternative.  DUP arrogance was a factor to the extent that it knew its predicament wasn’t going to change – Foster and the DUP were openly flouting the rules that both parties were deemed to be equal and could only act together.

Some will see these events as proof that the Northern State is irreformable.  McGuinness’s statement was careful to include the British in the cast of those to blame.  A local Stormont regime steeped in sectarianism has never been unpalatable for the British and Sinn Fein is not now presenting them as the necessary factor in making unionism more amenable to equality of sectarian division.  The final proof of the irreformability of the Northern State, in the sense of its inherent sectarian nature, is that it is more than likely that any election will return the same two forces as the largest parties.

The Stormont regime provides evidence of the instability of a sectarian carve-up.  While almost all commentators and political parties have lamented the loss of credibility of the political settlement through the RHI scandal, this is its only progressive outcome.  Stormont is destroying itself.  What matters for socialists is that some steps are taken by workers to build an alternative.

One thought on “The decay of Stormont and Sinn Fein

  1. I cant take issue with your analysis. Though I would like you to pay more attention to some of the linguistic terms you use. You refer to the Northern State in away that is not coincident with common usage. You intend to follow a ‘marxist’ grammar, which subsumes society under the term State. Thus the British Capitalist State or the Soviet Workers State in Marxist grammar typically refers to a UNITY or WHOLE, included in the Marxist grammar are things in common usage typically differentiated into Government, State, Society. Is the Government of Northern Ireland irreformable because the society is sectarian, if it is then elections will not change much, any new Government intending to be liberal will be destroyed by the sectarian pressures already operating in society. In short you get the politics society permits.

    One other problem over usage concerns the descriptive use of sectarian. In this case you seem to defer to common usage, describing northern Ireland as something sectarian is a common usage. However this common usage might be considered to be fallacious under Marxist grammar. In Marxist grammar the north or Ireland is first and foremost ‘capitalist.’ Also the common usage sectarian seems to indicate a theological conflict. You will be familiar with the common experience of meeting a foreigner and having to tell them that the political conflict is not about theology but rather about national identity, the Orange and the Green.

    If the conflict is really about national identity, can it be one that Marxists should enter into by taking sides, to take sides in a battle over national identity is to risk eschewing class identity.

    A little while ago I spent some time tracing the derivation of certain terms regularly deployed in our political journalism. I was prompted by the recent revival of the unconventional usage of Regime, as in Regime Change. The phrase Regime Change has a revivalist feel about it, due I think to the Bush Doctrine speaking about Regime Change in Iraq. What does Regime Change actually denote, does it mean a change in the Government, from some x to a democarcy? One could say it hardly matters what the usage is, but I think it does, if you substitute State Change for Regime change, you seem to be doing something more than Regime change, at the very least you may be changing the existing political borders, redrawing the political map.

    Recently I did some research into the derivation of other political terms.

    The ones I examined were, Government, State, Regime, Society, Nation. At least three were certainly modern, State can be traced back to Renaissance Italy. Machiavelli is the first political thinker to use the term the State, il Stato. Yet he was fully aware that that the ancients, say Plato and Aristotle don’t make use of the term State, rather they refer to a class of Political Regimes, the thought here is that the ancient political term is inadequate for modern conditions, the State captures something absent in Regime : power, arms or violence. The ancients did not understand the centrality of violence and arms to politics, this seems to be the reasoning behind the transition from Regime to State.

    The term Society is also of modern derivation, Hegel at one point says it came out of the period known as the Scottish Enlightenment, I guess Marx would say it marks the transition from the feudal to the capitalist. The term Government also seems very modern, it owes its common usage to the European enlightenment, the French aristocratic Montesquieu first proposed the idea of a separation of powers, Legislative, Juridical and Executive based on his study of England. The conception of a separation of political power is the germ of Liberalism, incidentally Liberalism was not in common usage until about 1840, meaning those who originated Liberalism, people like John Locke and others were not known as Liberals in their own time. The term society is today more associated with the term the economy than with anything political. It is used in the political neutral.

    The most difficult term to understand is Nation, this term seems to be both modern and ancient, one could make a case for saying that Aristotle’s political community is what we mean by Political Nation. The difference being that the modern use of Nation seems to stand outside or above the Political Regime that Aristotle speaks about, in Aristotle there is no life worth living outside of a Polis, therefore no Nation pre-existing the Political. In modern parlance the Nation is said not to be coincident with any political institution, when the French political institutions, or Government was destroyed in 1940, the French Nation continued to exist, or so it was thought. Also the Nation is not thought to be coincident with society, we speak of society in the universal, as in European society, or world society, or capitalist or socialist society, the Nation is spoken in the particular or the plural, French, Irish. The Nation is greater than the political and yet narrower than society. Its supremacy seems to rest on the fact that it has a particularity of History that all the others appear to lack. French governments, regimes, or States will come and go but the French Nation will continue or so it is believed.

    Marx seems to describe capitalist society as if it were a separated universal, it has been asked of his great book Capital, is it about British capitalism at a certain moment in its History or about Capital as a separated universal. Was he in some way the last of the Scholastics, obsessed with knowing the Being of the Universals?

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