Bearing in mind the torrid time Fianna Fáil are having in the polls south of the border, it must raise Biffo Cowen’s spirits a little that FF has now acquired its first representative in the northern assembly, and it’s even better that it has managed to do so without actually having to fight an election. This is Enniskillen man Gerry McHugh, a PSF veteran who resigned from his former party a couple of years back making various noises about the undemocratic regime in the Provos. Whether he will find FF more free and easy remains to be seen.
The odd thing is when you look at Gerry’s stated reasons for going independent. As a staunch peace process man for many years, he obviously wasn’t all that much of a hardline republican – there is, I know, something of an RSF subculture in Fermanagh, and those guys always regarded him as a backslider. But he did allow himself to sound slightly dissident:
At the time he said the direction Sinn Fein was taking was “more about appeasement of the British government and administrating British rule in Ireland rather than working towards the end of British occupation”.
Now, you can say those things and not be a militarist, because such a political stance doesn’t necessarily imply support for armed struggle. But it doesn’t sound very much like constitutional nationalism to me. If anything, such a position minus the physical force element would put you in the Blaney-Boland tradition which has almost died out within FF. And what is Gerry’s rationale for his latest move?
The 52-year-old, who represents the Fermanagh/South Tyrone constituency, told the BBC he believed the nationalist parties in Northern Ireland were “quite confined” in their ability to deliver a united Ireland.
In comparison he said Fianna Fail had “the strength and political ability” to create a united Ireland.
That’s assuming they even want to. It’s odd that, while Fine Gael and Labour started out as all-Ireland parties and shrank back to the Saorstát, FF was formed precisely as a 26-county party. Their recent move north is somewhat puzzling, and I still can’t quite grasp the logic. As a vote of no confidence in the long-term future of the South Down and Londonderry Party, yes. As a low-cost bone to throw whatever elements of sentimental republicanism remain within FF, possibly. As a gambit to deal with a possible electoral threat from the Provos down south, I suppose. It still looks very quixotic though, even more so than the Tory-Unionist lash-up.
But that’s just me not getting what Biffo Cowen is at. Gerry McHugh I can understand. He’s a desperate man, and has nowhere else to go (though I note he still intends to sit as an Independent MLA). But he’ll find some interesting company in his new party, what with Harvey Bicker and all…