Tag Archives: Sinn Féin

Political problems mount on both sides of Irish border

Political turmoil is growing on the island of Ireland. Each new development complicates the other. Here’s a quick summary:

  • The minority government coalition in the Republic of Ireland is on the verge of collapse. The opposition Fianna Fail party is threatening to break the three-year deal it made with the Fine Gael party just 18 months ago. A dispute over a police whistleblower case is the surface reason, but don’t be fooled: this arranged marriage was rocky from the start. If  Fianna Fail walks, Irish voters may have to trudge to the polls before Christmas.
  • As Reuters reports, this crisis comes three weeks ahead of a European Union summit in which the Irish government has an effective veto on whether Britain’s talks on leaving the bloc (Brexit) meet the Republic’s concerns about the future of the border with Northern Ireland. A weakened Irish government means less power at the bargaining table.
  • In Northern Ireland, the power-sharing Assembly has been suspended since January, when the nationalist Sinn Fein withdrew from government over concerns about the role of Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster in a renewable energy scheme. The New York Times does a good job of piecing together the ensuing events. “This is a more profound crisis than we’ve had at other times in the last 20 years,” said a member of the Alliance Party, a smaller centrist group that does not identify as either nationalist or unionist.
  • Complicating the border issues, Foster has written to the leaders of all 27 E.U. countries, telling them that Northern Ireland will not tolerate any difference in status between itself and the rest of the United Kingdom, after Brexit. She wants Northern Ireland to remain identified with the U.K. rather than any special arrangement with the Republic, as Sinn Fein wants. This reduces the chance of compromise on restoring the Assembly.
  • Remember, earlier this year Foster also entered into coalition government with British PM Theresa May.  As The Guardian reports, Foster now accuses the Irish government of exploiting Brexit to attempt to unify Ireland.
  • The ongoing Brexit negotiations, and what happens to the government in the Republic, will continue to impact Northern Ireland. Given the current difficulties, there may be calls to renegotiate the governing framework of the Good Friday Agreement, which reaches its 20th anniversary in April. Or political control may simply revert to London, a huge step backward. Next year also marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I and start of the Anglo-Irish War, which resulted in the island’s partition in 1921. Foster is right, in that talk of a referendum to reunify the island is only likely to increase.

Map of Ireland from the 1920s shows the partition of Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State, later the Republic of Ireland.

Gerry Adams to stand down as Sinn Féin leader

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams says he will retire next year after 34 years as chief of the Irish nationalist party in Northern Ireland and the Republic.

“His ultimate goal of a united Ireland is still elusive,” Reuters reported. “But the party he leaves is not only the dominant Irish nationalist force in the British-ruled province, but also strong enough across the border in the Irish Republic to have a chance of entering government there, too.”

Adams was first elected Sinn Féin leader in 1983, midway through The Troubles, when the party operated as the IRA’s political wing. As such, he became “the face of the IRA” for many in Britain and Northern Ireland. But he remained in the position through the peace process and Good Friday Agreement of 1998.

Adams spent most of his career as an abstentionist MP representing West Belfast. In 2011, he moved to the Republic and won a seat in the Dail representing Louth.

His retirement announcement comes at the end of a year that began with the January resignation of political partner Martin McGuinness as First Minister of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the nationalist-unionist power-sharing government. That decision resulted in the Assembly being dissolved for new elections, but months later the body has not yet been restored.

McGuinness died in March and was replaced by Michelle O’Neil as Northern leader. Mary Lou McDonald is widely expected  to replace Adams.

Adams said he and McGuinness had agreed to an exit plan last year. “Leadership means knowing when it is time for change and that time is now,” he said during his announcement.

Halfway to holiday, visiting St. Patrick’s in Harrisburg

I’m writing this post 17 September, which many pubs and other marketers with even the most tenuous connections to Ireland now promote as “Halfway to St. Patrick’s Day.” By coincidence, I was in Harrisburg, Pa., for some Irish research at the Pennsylvania State Archives (though not their Molly Maguires collection) and visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral on State Street, two blocks from the hilltop capitol.

The parish and earlier iterations of the church date to the early 19th century, when the construction of a vast system of canals, railroads, and turnpikes along the Susquehanna River brought many Irish immigrants to the area, according to the cathedral’s official history. Construction of the present building began in 1904 and was completed three years later.

St. Patrick. (Note the gloves.)

The church was officially dedicated 14 May 1907, though liturgies began earlier in the year. The Ancient Orders of Hibernians, Division 5 in Harrisburg, gathered at the new cathedral for a 7 a.m. St. Patrick’s Day Mass, a Sunday that year, either inspiring or requiring extra piety.

The fraternal group paid the $1,800 for the transept window of St. Patrick, holding a shamrock to explain the Trinity to the royal court at Tara. The men surely admired the beautiful stained glass from Munich, Germany.

“The Apostle of Ireland is a splendid figure … arrayed in full pontificals, even to the gloves,” is how the Harrisburg Telegraph described the window in a story detailing the church’s architecture and amenities.

But even the grand new worship space had to compete with the holiday’s contemporary commercialism.

“It is doubtful if St. Patrick ever in his life saw such a profusion of tributes to himself as are now displayed,” The (Harrisburg) Courier reported. “[H]is memory has not only been kept green, but his fame has increased. It may be whispered that there are certain tokens which he might not appreciate.”

The paper detailed an array of tchotchkes such as high hats and pipes, “green pigs of every variety,” “clovers growing in pots” and boxes decorated with harps and green flags. The items sold for a few pennies to 20 cents.

About 100 clerics attended the official dedication in May, including Archbishop P.J. Ryan of Philadelphia. He donated the exterior statue of St. Patrick that is mounted over the entrance of the church.

Two days after the dedication, Irish nationalists in Dublin denounced the limited self-government for Ireland bill offered by Irish Chief Secretary Augustine Birrell. The Sinn Fein Society called the measure “an insult to Ireland” and urged nationalists in the London parliament to “devise measures for the material betterment of Ireland and securing international recognition and support of Ireland’s political rights.”

Timothy Healy and William O’Brien were at the forefront of this latest split with Irish Parliamentary Party leader John Redmond. The Catholic Church hierarchy also rejected Birrell’s bill. Read more about this period of Irish history.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Harrisburg is the 20th St. Patrick’s church that I’ve visited in four countries. See the list.

How U.K. election outcome impacts Northern Ireland

BBC results map.

UPDATES:

This is how the UK election may destabilize Northern Ireland,” an excellent “what you need to know” piece from The Washington Post.

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“The tiny DUP, with its newly elevated status, has become an improbable factor in global geopolitics. All over Europe, dusty books on Irish history are coming off the shelves,” The New York Times reports in a story that offers the background.

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DUP cooperation in forming a new conservative government in London could come with a steep price tag, writes John Campbell, the BBC’s Northern Ireland economics editor. “One demand could be that E.U. funds, that will be lost as a result of Brexit, are replaced in full.”

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Prime Minister Theresa May’s failed election gamble has cast the Democratic Unionist Party in the role of kingmaker, giving the province an unexpected chance to have a big say in Britain’s divorce from the European Union, Reuters reports. “We will continue to work with our friends and allies in the DUP in particular,” May said.

ORIGINAL POST:

Irish nationalist Sinn Féin and the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party have gained seats in Westminster, while the moderate Ulster Unionist and Social Democratic and Labor parties are now shut out of the London parliament.

Results of the 8 June United Kingdom election are still being sorted. Below is one early analysis of the impact on Northern Ireland. I’ll update with more coverage over the next day or so. MH

The election outcome  “put a huge question mark over the future of Brexit,” Pat Leahy writes in The Irish Times.

There will be an immediate period of high uncertainty, as British politics comes to terms with the shock result. The pound fell sharply on the news of last night’s exit poll, creating fresh problems for Irish exporters to the UK, paid for their goods and services in less valuable sterling.

[The DUP could be] in a strong position to soften a future May Government’s line on Brexit, at least insofar as it affected Northern Ireland. It also, however, raises the intruiging question of whether Sinn Féin might be prepared to abandon its policy of refusing to take its Westminster seats if it meant it could deny Ms May a DUP-supported majority.

The remaking of the political map of the North – the election has carved it up between the DUP and Sinn Féin – will surely clarify this question.

E.U. would welcome the North in United Ireland

Northern Ireland will automatically join the European Union if voters on both sides of the 1921 partition agree to the island’s political reunification.

Leaders of 27 E.U. states agreed the decision at a 29 April Brussels summit called to prepare for the United Kingdom’s departure from the bloc. Last June, U.K. voters approved Britain’s exit, or Brexit, by 52 percent to 48 percent. Nearly 56 percent of voters in Northern Ireland, however, supported remaining in the E.U.

Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny urged E.U. leaders for the commitment to welcome the six counties of the north. The approved statement is now being called the Kenny text:

The European Council acknowledges that the Good Friday Agreement expressly provides for an agreed mechanism whereby a united Ireland may be brought about through peaceful and democratic means.

In this regard, the European Council acknowledges that, in accordance with international law, the entire territory of such a united Ireland would thus be part of the European Union.

A vote on Irish reunification is not scheduled at this time, and it appears unlikely to happen anytime soon. “In my view, the conditions do not exist now for a Border poll,” Kenny said after the E.U. statement.

Kenny

The more immediate concern is resolving what happens with the border between Northern Ireland, as part of the departing U.K., and E.U.-member Republic of Ireland.

The border has been nearly seamless since the late 1990s, when military check points began to disappear with the easing of sectarian violence in the North. The biggest difference between the two countries is the change of currency, since the U.K. never adopted the Euro. On the Dublin to Belfast train last summer, I also noticed the automatic change of data carriers on my mobile device.

The is just one part of even thornier Irish-British trade issues.

Stormont deadline extended until June 29

In a related development this week, the U.K. parliament extended the deadline to form a new power-sharing executive in the Northern Ireland Assembly until June 29. Unionist and nationalist leaders have been unable to reach an accord since the 2 March election, in which the pro-reunification Sinn Féin party made dramatic gains in the assembly.

Since then, British PM Theresa May called for a 8 June snap election in the U.K. to bolster support for the Brexit negotiations. The election, which includes Northern Ireland, provided a handy and logical rational to delay the formation of the assembly executive.

Confused? This BBC Q & A should help.

Irish reaction as America entered World War I

One hundred years ago, during the first week of April 1917, the United States entered World War I. President Woodrow Wilson could no long maintain his pledge of neutrality since the war began in 1914, and Congress supported his decision. The American draft began in June 1917.

“Ireland’s interest in the great decision is obvious,” the Freeman’s Journal editorialized. The moderate nationalist newspaper viewed America’s entry in the war as “vindication” for John Redmond, who in 1914 urged Irish soldiers to go “wherever the fighting line extends” in support of Britain. His call shifted Irish American support from home rule toward more militant Irish nationalism and Germany.

“America today is Ireland’s ally, as desired by Sinn Féiners, but she is Ireland’s ally because the Irish leader from the beginning set Ireland’s feet on the one path that every friend of freedom was bound to tread,” the Freeman’s Journal concluded in April 1917.

Redmond and others in the Irish Parliamentary Party believed that America’s presence not only ensured victory on the battlefield, but also guaranteed the implementation of home rule, the limited domestic autonomy for Ireland approved just before the war, but put on hold because of the outbreak. The IPP’s view was mistaken. Militant Irish nationalism, fueled by the 1916 Easter Rising and Britain’s execution of the rebel leaders, continued to manifest with Sinn Féin‘s 1918 electoral victories and the Irish War of Independence. The time for home rule had passed.

Across the Atlantic, Irish America rallied behind Wilson, putting aside criticism that he hadn’t done enough on behalf of the cause of Irish independence after the Rising and the executions of the leaders, historian Robert Schmuhl writes at RTE‘s Century Ireland. He continues:

The president understood that Irish Americans were a loyal constituency of his Democratic Party; however, he viewed the situation in Ireland as an internal matter to be resolved by the government of the United Kingdom. Bobbing and weaving like a prizefighter, Wilson hoped he wouldn’t alienate any segment of Irish America. His political ducking and dodging worked to his advantage for just so long.

Following the Armistice, Wilson once again faced the appeals of Irish-Americans to recognize Ireland as one of what he had called the ‘small states’ that deserved ‘self-determination’. … At the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, which ultimately produced the Treaty of Versailles and created the League of Nations, Wilson refused to allow the subject of an Ireland divorced from the United Kingdom to enter the formal post-war deliberations and discussions. Despite persistent efforts by the American Commission on Irish Independence to get the president to realize how his numerous calls for ‘self-determination’ had rallied the Irish and Irish-Americans throughout the Great War, the obstinate Wilson remained steadfast in his opposition to raising the fate of Ireland.

U.S. media plays sectarian card in N.I. election coverage

News of Sinn Féin‘s big gains in the Northern Ireland Assembly elections is reaching American media outlets, and with it the usual sectarian shorthand that has virtually disappeared from Irish and British coverage.

While Jewish-Muslim tension remains fundamental to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Catholic-Protestant animosity has a shrinking role in today’s Northern Ireland political narrative. But the storyline remains catnip to many U.S. news outlets.

Here’s the top of The New York Times‘ Assembly election coverage, which appeared at the bottom of page 10 of the 5 March print issue:

Sinn Féin, the main Catholic nationalist party in Northern Ireland, won its greatest number of legislative seats ever after a snap election this weekend, creating a virtual tie with its Protestant rivals and throwing nearly two decades of peaceful power sharing into turmoil.

This is an improvement over the 16 January Times’ story reporting the pending election:

Voters in Northern Ireland will go to the polls on March 2 in a snap election that was forced by the main Catholic party, Sinn Féin, after the collapse of a regional government in which Catholics and Protestants shared power.

The newer story introduces the concept of a nationalist party — instead of simply Catholic –in the first sentence. In the January story, the word nationalist isn’t used at all. The fourth paragraph does explain: “Sinn Féin wants Northern Ireland to stay in the European Union and eventually reunite with Ireland.” The word unionism is introduced in the same graph. Both stories were written by Sinead O’Shea.

The Washington Post published an Associated Press story on its website, though none has appeared in print as of 5 March. Here’s the lede:

Northern Ireland’s snap election has left the rival extremes of politics virtually neck and neck for the first time — and facing a bruising battle to put their Catholic-Protestant government back together again in an increasingly polarized landscape. The big winner from Saturday’s final results to fill the Northern Ireland Assembly is the Irish nationalist party that triggered the vote, Sinn Féin.

“Unionist” doesn’t appear until the fifth paragraph, in the formal name Democratic Unionist Party, then a graph later as lowercase “unionists committed to keeping Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom.”

The descriptions could benefit from modifiers such as “predominantly Catholic nationalists” or “historically Protestant unionists,” leaving room for those who do not fit the easy stereotype. We are a long way from the days of “Home Rule is Rome Rule.” Northern Ireland is increasingly diverse in its religious (or non-religious), racial and political make up. Winners of 13 of 90 seats in this election are from parties or independents that eschew traditional Catholic or Protestant affiliation. Their 14.4 percent share is up from 12.9 percent in the May 2016 election.

Think it’s impossible for U.S. media to avoid this sectarian shorthand? NPR’s coverage, by Colin Dwyer, shows how the basic political divide can be explained without using religious identifiers.

When the dust finally settled Saturday on Northern Ireland’s snap assembly election, it became clear a new political reality now awaits voters there. After an exceedingly strong showing by Sinn Féin, Northern Ireland’s government is split all but down the middle between Irish nationalists and their pro-British counterparts.

The story does not use the words Catholic or Protestant.  Only an online photo caption describes “the Catholic Falls Road” in Belfast. The word nationalist appears three times in this story, lowercase unionist four times, plus an additional reference to the Democratic Unionists.

The opening of The Irish Timeselection wrap-up is representative of how Northern politics is reported on the island of Ireland, and in Britain. Note the use of the word republican instead of nationalist:

Sinn Féin has emerged as the biggest winner in the North’s Assembly election after the party came to within one seat of matching the Democratic Unionist return of 28 seats. In a dramatic shake-up, unionists lost their long-enduring and highly symbolic overall majority in Stormont as the republican party came very close to securing more first preference votes than the DUP.

Peace walls, right, gated roads , center, and boarded windows are reminders of the lingering Catholic-Protestant divide in Belfast. Mark Holan photo, July 2016.

I’m not saying sectarian labels are never used in Irish and British media coverage, but they are becoming as sparse as people in Northern Ireland church pews. I wonder if these newsrooms have made conscious decisions to keep religious affiliation out of their political coverage.

To be sure, the “peace walls” separating Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods in Belfast are a stark reminder that sectarianism still exists in Northern Ireland. And the U.S. media coverage does include the important contemporary context of Brexit and the Northern Ireland renewable energy scandal.

Alan Bairner wrote a chapter about international and local media coverage of the Troubles in the 1996 book, Northern Ireland Politics, edited by Arthur Aughey and Duncan Morrow. Remember, this was more than 20 years ago, and two years before the Good Friday Agreement.

Certainly the people of Northern Ireland could have no grounds for complaint about the levels of interest shown by the international media, although they were frequently uneasy about the quality of the analysis which resulted from that media interest. … There is little evidence, for example, that British or, indeed, international coverage of the Troubles had a significant impact on the views of people in Northern Ireland itself. Most Northern Irish people formulate political views on the basis of numerous factors and their reaction to media output, regardless of its aim, is more or less predetermined.

And the local press coverage?

It would be preposterous to suggest that the owners and editors of Northern Ireland’s local newspapers are responsible for the divisions in their society. It is undeniable, however, that their papers, through the choice of stories which are published and even the use of language to tell these stories, give voice to the rival perspectives of the two communities and, as a consequence, give added strength to these perspectives in the eyes of those who hold them. Therefore, local papers as well as the [Protestant] News Letter and the [Catholic] Irish News have helped to reproduce sectarian attitudes and in so doing they have become complicit in the maintenance of the politics of division.

(I added the paragraph beginning “Such descriptions … ” and made other minor revisions from the original post. MH)

Northern Ireland voters return to the polls 2 March

Only 10 months have passed since Northern Ireland voters selected assembly representatives. Now, fresh polling takes place 2 March, prompted by the January resignation of Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness, the former deputy first minister. His move, in protest of a troubled renewable energy scheme overseen by Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) First Minister Arlene Foster, collapsed the power-sharing government. McGuinness also is in poor health and will not seek re-election.

The Irish Times says:

Power-sharing between the DUP and Sinn Féin is challenged by a collapse of trust and respect. Since other parties are unlikely to get enough seats, a prolonged period of direct rule [from London] is probable. That would come just as the British government invokes Brexit, creating huge uncertainty about the border [with the Republic] and hence the peace process itself. This issue has not had the attention or debate it deserves in the campaign.

The election outcome is made more unpredictable due to a previously scheduled reduction of the assembly to 90 seats, or five members for each of the 18 constituencies, from the previous allotment of 108 seats, or six representatives per district. This could upset the final balance of power.

Votes will be counted 3 March, and full results should be known by 4 March. Here are landing pages for major media coverage of the election:

And here’s a full 16 February debate among the major party leaders:

Sinn Féin names new leader in Northern Ireland

A 40-year-old mother of two children has replaced an aging and ill former IRA commander as the new face of republican politics in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland Assembly health minister Michelle O’Neill has been selected by Sinn Féin to lead the party in the province. The Mid Ulster representative takes over for Martin McGuinness, 66, who resigned earlier this month due to health problems and lingering questions about his unionist counterpart’s role in a troubled energy program.

O’Neill

“I have no doubt that I am following in the footsteps of a political giant,” O’Neill said in a statement.

The McGuinness resignation resulted in the assembly being dissolved and triggers fresh elections 2 March.

“In the aftermath of the election, there can and will be no return to the status quo,” O’Neill said. “Sinn Féin are only interested in participating in the power sharing institutions if they deliver for all of our citizens and operate on the basis of equality and respect.”

O’Neill has held elected office since 2005 and was first woman mayor of the Dungannon council area, according to a detailed bio on the party website. She lives in Clonoe, County Tyrone, about an hour west of Belfast.

The political landscape continues to evolve in Northern Ireland. As The Guardian reported a few days before O’Neill’s selection, demographics are driving a lot of the change. The ratio of Protestants to Catholics is close to even, and more immigrants are living in the province.

“Brexit may also mean an independent Scotland, the Unionists’ most natural ally in the U.K., which would leave Ulster as an even more isolated appendage than ever. And hemmed in to the south [by the Republic.] In such circumstances, the case against a united Ireland might seem absurd.”

 

McGuinness, citing health, is ending his political career

Ten days after announcing his resignation from the Northern Ireland Executive, Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness on 19 January said that he will not run for reelection in the 2 March elections. The former IRA commander has vowed to remain active in the republican cause. Here’s a roundup of headlines from Ulster’s three leading news organizations, with links to their top story and sidebars:

Sinn Féin‘s Martin McGuinness stands down from electoral politics

Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness is to stand down from electoral politics, signalling the closure of one of the most remarkable chapters in recent Irish history. Party president Gerry Adams has called on party members and republicans to “give him the space to get better” so that he can come back to an improved situation. McGuinness’s successor as leader of Sinn Féin in the north will be announced next week after Mr McGuinness told the Irish News that health problems prevented him from defending his Foyle seat in the forthcoming poll.

From The Irish News, nationalist

McGuinness quits and says: I’m not fit enough for election

Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness has announced he is quitting frontline politics to concentrate on recovering from “a very serious illness”. McGuinness resigned as Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister last week in protest against the handling of a botched energy scheme, forcing a snap election. He has now revealed that after “a lot of thinking” he will not be contesting those elections due to ill health.

From Belfast Newsletter, unionist

Martin McGuinness will not seek reelection to Stormont Assembly

Sinn Fein‘s Martin McGuinness has announced he is quitting frontline politics for health reasons and will not seek reelection to the Stormont Assembly. McGuinness said it was initially his intention to stand down in May, on the 10th anniversary of the power-sharing Executive, but that his health and the current political crisis had “overtaken the timeframe”. He added that he was not “physically able” to continue in his current role.

From Belfast Telegraph, centrist