- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 17, 2007

Sinn Fein’s vote

Every once in a while we receive a submission from one of our correspondents that doesn’t fit the normal rules of American journalism but deserves to be placed before our readers.

That was the case with an article submitted shortly after Sinn Fein, in a landmark vote at the end of January, agreed to cooperate with the Northern Ireland police.

The story from our Ireland stringer Anthony Healy was so personal and subjective that I felt I couldn’t put it on our news pages, but it was so interesting that I couldn’t bear to “spike” it. So, with Mr. Healy’s permission, I have decided to publish it here:

Watching pigs fly

Is this the end of Irish republicanism? It’s as if Hamas had voted (Jan. 28) to support the Israeli police, but in Dublin, Sinn Fein voted to support a British police force in Northern Ireland by a margin of nine to one.

My great auntie Peg was an “unrepentant Irish republican,” a phrase much used at the Sinn Fein meeting, but that’s where the similarities end.

Peg’s Irish republicanism was straightforward, easily recognizable and followed a well-worn path. She did not recognize Northern Ireland as a state; she didn’t even use the words, “Northern Ireland.” She talked of “the North” or “the Province.”

She referred to the Irish Republican Army as “the boys” — as if they were some local boy scout troop — and it was the boys who would sort out the “unfinished business” in the North.

For her, Irish republicanism wasn’t a political idea but the simple duty of every Irish person, and nothing on earth could make her believe that the spirit of the true Gael could ever be overcome by a bunch of British imperialist bean counters. So she wouldn’t have understood the vote in Dublin; it was everything she was against.

Sinn Fein were not only thinking the unthinkable, they were voting for it as well. Delegates voted in favor of supporting the Police Service of Northern Ireland overwhelmingly, and Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams expressed the wish that Irish republicans joining a British police force should be given support from every quarter. It was like watching pigs fly.

One of those delegates, Sinn Fein counselor Sandra McKinnon, explained to The Washington Times what has happened and why she voted in favor of the motion.

“However much I sympathize with the aims of members of the IRA, it’s not the way forward. I joined a party committed to peace. I joined a party that was forward-looking and not backward-looking,” she said.

She is aware, however, that some Irish republicans will be shocked by the vote.

“I know that at a local level, some Irish republicans will criticize the vote,” Ms. McKinnon said. “People will tell me how they feel about it, but we can’t complain about collusion [between loyalist terrorists and British security forces] but say that we won’t get involved.

“Everyone needs a police force, every community needs policing,” she said, “and if there is to be a police force which reflects the community in Northern Ireland, then Catholics and nationalists need to join the police, and we have to support that.”

But if Sinn Fein supports a British police force in Northern Ireland, then Irish republicans are not only recognizing Northern Ireland as a state, but they are also legitimizing a British presence on the island of Ireland.

Surely this is the end of Irish republicanism as it has stood since 1921, when the Republic of Ireland became a free state and Northern Ireland remained part of the United Kingdom, and a line was drawn across the country.

“We haven’t given up on a united Ireland,” said Ms. McKinnon, “but now, I think the way to achieve it is through political means, and I think I’ll live to see the day when the border [between the Republic and the North] becomes an irrelevance.”

So the historic struggle for a united Ireland is all but over?

“No,” said Ms. McKinnon, “the struggle just got smarter.”

David W. jones is the foreign editor of The Washington Times. His e-mail address is [email protected]


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