PUBLISHED IN THE HERALD FEBRUARY 10
There’s nothing worse than being a prophet who’s unrecognised in his own time. But that, sadly, is the position I find myself in.
Oddly enough, for a man who is in many ways an unreconstructed dinosaur, I actually have form for being ahead of my time on certain matters. A few examples: I was wearing those “Buddy Holly” glasses years before they became popular with hipsters; I had a beard years before they became popular with every male on earth; I was vegetarian for years before it became the done thing for environmental or health reasons; I was reusing, recycling and being eco-friendly for years before it became socially and legally mandatory; I was into Korean movies for years before one of them became the first foreign-language film to win the Best Picture Oscar; I was doing feminism-friendly “women in GAA” special editions as editor of a Gaelic games magazine years before the 20/20 campaign.
My life, in some regards, has been a broader version of the guy at a music festival, pointing at the wildly successful band on-stage and snottily declaring, “Yeah, well, I was into them before it was cool.”
And like that guy, I sometimes lose interest in something, as it reaches the critical mass of being loved by Joe Public and Mary Housecoat. Which brings me, sort of, to Sinn Féin.
Their remarkable election results – I’m officially obliged to use the word “surge” here, under various journalistic bylaws and sub-regulations – have propelled the party into the first division of Irish politics.
Sinn Féin have secured the highest number of first-preference votes. They’ll almost certainly be involved in the next government, despite all the “oh no they won’t” pantomime protestations from others beforehand. They’ve shattered the old two-party system. Even some fervently anti-republican commentators have had Pauline conversions and now clasp Sinn Féin to their bosom.
They’re definitively major players in the current Game of Thrones. And my main takeaway from all of this is: if only it had happened five or ten years ago.
I can’t take any real happiness or satisfaction from Sinn Féin’s rise, you see, because I no longer vote for them. From young adulthood up to a few years back, I only voted for them and the Green Party. “Green and green”, I would wittily reply when asked who I’d gone for in an election.
I was seduced, probably, by the glamour of “revolutionary chic”; the edgy, vaguely disreputable air surrounding people like Sinn Féin, Che Guevara or Leon Trotsky is attractive to callow minds. They feel like rebels, and when you’re young, that’s all you want to be. Smash the system, man!
I was also pretty nationalist in my inclinations. Not quite to the point of condoning murder and torture, but certainly more than willing to contextualise it and argue that, sometimes, armed “resistance” is justified.
So had Sinn Féin delivered this spectacular election result when I was in my thirties, I’d have celebrated like, well, a crowd of yahoos roaring Come Out Ye Black and Tans at a count centre. I might even have been one of those yahoos.
Unfortunately, at some stage over the last decade, the love died for me. There are various reasons, not least the continued association with an unelected, secretive and, let’s be honest, rather terrifying militia sequestered in the Badlands north of the border. Call me a boring old fuddy-duddy if you must, but there’s something undemocratic about that.
And there were other reasons. Sinn Féin always seemed to be criticising everything, but never proposing practical solutions to problems. They’re hideously anti-Israel, an automatic minus-point for me. They spent decades moaning about the EU, urging a No vote in every referendum, yet when Britain chose to leave they suddenly transformed into the EU’s biggest fans. That stupid three-year stand-off at Stormont.
What really broke the camel’s back was the – have to be careful here – alleged cover-up of alleged sexual assault of women and girls by IRA members. For a party which has traded heavily on identity politics, including feminism, when it suits, there didn’t appear to be a whole lot of #MeToo and #IBelieveHer going on in that instance.
Anyway, that’s where it lies: I was a strong Sinn Féin supporter when few other people were, and now that everyone loves them, I’ve jumped ship. Contrarian or what?
There’s also a quandary for anyone seeking an alternative to the political mainstream. Who do you vote for, if you want to stick it to the Man? Sinn Féin now are the Man, and will likely soon be in power.
Labour seem pointless, as do the Soc Dems. The various socialist mini-parties are laughable. A lot of Independents seem daft, and besides they have little influence. There’s always the Greens, of course, but other than that, options for proper protest voting are slim.
Sinn Féin. I preferred their earlier stuff, man. Before they sold out and went all commercial, you know?