The over whelming majority of the UK and RoI media pundits, plus web sites like Slugger O’Toole have proclaimed to the high heavens that SF suffered a major defeat in the recent general election in the south of Ireland. Whilst undoubtedly the SF leaderships electoral strategy suffered a major setback, it would be a mistake to see what occurred as a major ‘defeat’ for SF the party.
True SF lost a single TD and a pretty good one at that with Sean Crowe’s failure to be reelected in Dublin south west. But over all their vote held up, indeed it increased slightly, with SF coming out of the count with 6.9%, unfortunately for SF, what one newspaper called prior to the poll, ‘the agile and effective SF vote getting machine’ failed to manage their vote, the leadership having decided to tilt at windmills. If one looks at the fact that the Greens managed to attain six seats in the Dáil on a vote of 4.7% this failure becomes clear.. Never the less the fact is that SF’s core electoral support held up and thus in no way can it be said that they deserted the party in great numbers.
As far as SF are concerned, the real story of the election was that the electoral strategy of Gerry Adams failed to produce what he promised to the party and its supporters. This was made worse by his boastful behavior in the media when he, and other SF leaders claimed the party was on course to double their number of TD’s. Something which Mr Adams predicted would make FF’s Bertie Ahearn beat a path to his door, to offer SF ministerial positions in a FF led coalition. There can be little doubt that Mr Adams believed such nonsense, and failed to see that the barrage of media hype that SF were treated to by their political opponents in the media, was designed to lull them into complacency. It has to be said given the enormous hostility he and his party has suffered from the media in the past, it was startling that Mr Adams never seemed to wonder why he and SF had suddenly become media darlings.
Mr Adams and his immediate coterie were unwilling to listen to the warnings
from history that friends of the SF party whispered in their ears, let alone those Dissident republicans who had forwarded about the perilous road that SF had embarked upon. Perhaps Gerry Adams will revisit the experiences of Yasser Arafat and the PLO when they agreed to sign up to the Oslo Peace Accords. Yasser Arafat was lauded in the media, welcomed on the White House lawn and to the worlds political Chancellories; only to end his career a short while after holed up in his Presidential office in the West Bank city of Ramallah, a large part of which has already been destroyed by the Israeli army who had been green lighted by the US administration to do so. Arafat, deserted by the powerful who such a short time before had courted him and his movement the PLO, cut a very lonely and helpless figure.
Having said the above all is still to play for as far as SF and the southern electorate is concerned. The fact is SF if they are to maintain their support and grow electorally in the RoI, they must go back to basics and once again build from the bottom up. This will mean showing their core support base far more respect; by all means continue to groom bright ambitious young activists for national leadership, but do so from the Cumann and constituency up and cease trying to ape the capitalist parties by parachuting favored middle class individuals into constituencies against the wishes of local activists.
It also is imperative that SF move its leadership apparatus, lock stock and Gerry Adams back into the southern State, the leadership move north proved to be the Achilles Heal for the PIRA; and unless changes are made will also prove so for SF. If Mr Adams wishes to continue as leader of SF, it is nonsensical for him to continue to abstain from the electoral fray in the largest political jurisdiction on the island of Ireland. For him to hold a seat in the Westminister Parliament and not in the Dáil speaks volumes about his lack of commitment to the people who live in the southern State. Admittedly this may be unfair to Mr Adams, but I have no doubt that is how many potential SF voters see the situation and it also increasingly gives ammunition to the Party’s enemies. Besides, it is not the north where SF has a shortage of able and experienced political activists.
Finally SF need to draw up in fine detail a progressive left of center political platform that all party members agree upon and to which the SF leadership gives total loyalty. The fact that certain SF leaders attempted during the 2007 RoI General Election campaign to pick and mix the SF manifesto was a disgrace and played a major part in SFs failure to increase their vote. For SF, like all successful Republican organizations, is a Party of the men and women of no property. In no way would this exclude home owners as they do not own ‘property’ in the capitalist sense, but a home to live in. People who own more than one home are another matter and perhaps it is time SF decided whether such people should be party candidates, especially given the difficulties many young people face in gaining a decent home these days.
The failure of SF to grow in the 2007 General Election may prove to be a blessing for the party, it has shown the rank and file that Mr Adams is not infallible and he alone cannot bring about a united socialist republic. In the future the parties ambition must be realistic and attainable and the party leaders must learn to get on top of their briefs before they enter a TV studio and stick to the fine detail of manifesto commitments.
There is a core southern support base from which to build on, but they must be shown respect. There is already a centre right democratic republican party in the south in FF, whether SF members take FF’s claim to be republican with a pinch of salt is not the point, as many within the electorate do not. There is a space in the south for a left wing republican party if they are prepared to work in tandem with other sections of the left. For SF the current slogan should be Lutta continua, as their struggle undoubtedly continues.