Shock Heard Around the World (on The BBC)
Everyone around the world collectively spit out their coffee this morning while listening to the BBC. That was certainly the case for me and probably every other regular-BBC listener in the greater British Commonwealth. As someone who has been a staffer for the parliament of Ireland (called the Dale Eirean) and as someone who has been all over the British Commonwealth, I could not have ever reasonably expected the BBC’s broadcast.
This morning the BBC concluded their news bulletin by announcing that Mary Lou McDonald had apologised for the assassination of Lord Mountbatten.
Who is Lord Mountbatten?
Lord Mountbatten was a high profile member of the British Royal Family. Commonly referred to as “Uncle Dickie” by members of the Royal Family, Lord Mountbatten was (the late) Prince Phillip’s de facto father-figure and a role-model/close confidant of Prince Charles. Aside from serving the British military honourably for most of his life and serving The Crown as the last Viceroy of India, Lord Mountbatten is commonly credited with helping set up Prince Phillip and Queen Elizabeth.
Lord Mountbatten was assassinated by the IRA during a period of escalating violence in Ireland called “The Troubles” that lasted from the mid 1970s through the late 1990s. Mountbatten was killed when his fishing boat was bombed, killing the former Viceroy and his nephews.
Who is Mary Lou McDonald?
McDonald is relatively unknown outside of Ireland, but within Eire, she is someone you either HATE or LOVE.
As a member of the Dale Eirean (referred to as a “deputy”), Deputy McDonald leads a political party called Sinn Fein.
While officially a Marxist party, the singular focus of Sinn Fein has nothing to do with seizing the means of production or establishing a Paris Commune in Temple-Bar District. Sinn Fein’s one and singular goal is to assert Ireland’s independence from Great Britain. Sinn Fein’s sees Ireland’s independence being asserted most fully through the reunification of the entire island of Ireland, the extension of the voting franchise to Irish-America, and an emphasis on using the Irish language (among other bold policies prescriptions).
What is Sinn Fein’s relationship with the IRA?
This depends on who you ask in Ireland-, but for all intents and purposes, Sinn Fein is the most connected party to the IRA. When the IRA gets in trouble, it’s usually Sinn Fein that has to do the talking for the IRA.
For most of recent Irish political history, Sinn Fein’s association with the IRA has dogged the party. Sinn Fein has suffered many bruising losses and electoral let-downs since its re-formation in the 1970s… that is, until last year.
What happened last year?
For year’s Ireland has been dominated by a flaccid two-party duopoly. Fine Gael and Finna Fail (Ireland’s equivalent of the Republicans and Democrats) have ruled the country almost exclusively since Ireland’s independence.
Every regular person you meet in Ireland will tell you that they really can’t tell you the difference between the parties. Fine Gael and Finna Fail essentially agree on everything. The disagreements between the parties are so minor that even their deputies seem to not know what the differences are. As most Irish academics and politically savvy pundits will tell you, the only (real) reason the two parties don’t merge is that there would be less prestigious roles to go around; a lot of political elites would have to give up their jobs.
During the 2020 Irish elections, Sinn Fein rocked the political establishment in Ireland. Sinn Fein captured a record number of seats in the Dael Eirean and shattered every pundit’s expectations. Mary Lou McDonald was lauded for her political savvy, and the political establishment found itself on its’ back.
In a series of turns that can only be described as dirty tricks and back-room collusion, Finna Fail and Fine Gale (the two parties that swore they would never merge) found themselves coordinating in order to stop Sinn Fein from forming government.
The current coalition governing Ireland has been nationally and internationally mocked. Irish television shows and political podcasts regularly lampoon the coalition government for its ineffectiveness, inefficiency and general feebleness.
What’s happening now?
People I speak to on the ground in Dublin say that Sinn Fein is fired up. Sinn Fein sees last years election as a stolen election. Sinn Fein rightfully won the election and, by most accounts, should have been allowed to form government.
The governing coalition, on top of their general perception of incompetence- is widely seen as having botched the Corona-Virus pandemic response. Ireland has been through round after round of lockdown without much long-term improvement with the nation’s infection numbers.
What happens next?
Ireland is set up for another election (perhaps as soon as) later this year. Sinn Fein is fired up while the coalition is demoralised. By all accounts, the country is itching for change.
So why did that apology matter?
While Sinn Fein is technically represented in Westminster, as well as the Dale Eirean(because Sinn Fein stands for elections on both sides of the border in Ireland), Sinn Fein’s role in Westminster has always been abstentionist. In protest, Sinn Fein MPs never take their seats in Westminster. Consequently, Sinn Fein has never had to craft a sophisticated relationship with the British. Sinn Fein has never had to think about how to handle the nation they detest most. So long as Sinn Fein remains locked out of government in Ireland, they’ve never had to think about a diplomatic way to handle relationships between Ireland and Great Britain.
But now- Sinn Fein stands on the precipice of becoming Ireland’s majority party. The confidence of the party leader usually speaks volumes about the party’s future performance and Mary Lou McDonald appears to be a confident woman. An apology by a Sinn Fein leader is a bold and confident move. When I was a child, the IRA apologizing for anything would have been unheard of. In recent memory, the IRA has only apologized once and that was in 2002. In that case, the IRA (through Sinn Fein) apologized for the killing of fellow Irishmen by a splinter-cell that had pursued a bombing attack.
In the instant case, Mary Lou McDonald has not apologized to her fellow Irishmen but she has apologized to The Crown- the very embodiment of what the IRA and Sinn Fein detest most.
A move like this can only tell an observer two things;
- Mary Lou McDonald is sure of her support within her party.
- McDonald is confident she is about to have to deal with Great Britain diplomatically, as a head of government and as the Taoiseach of Ireland.
Rarely does this editorial board choose to step into the realm of political endorsements. However, in this case- a exception is in order.
For too many years Ireland has been stuck with a false binary. Irish voters have been told that their only respectable choices are Finna Fail and Fine Gael. When Irish voters want an alternative, they often turn to Labour (which has never formed government without a coalition with either Finna Fail or Fine Gael). Condescension and derision has been unjustly directed at those who would chose Sinn Fein.
The leadership of Fine Gael and Finna Fail has failed Ireland for years. Fine Gael Taoiseachs like Leo Varadkar have been content to manage a quiet Ireland that exists only in Britain’s shadow. Finna Fail Taoiseachs like Michael Martin have been happy to fail to implement the bold reforms a modern Ireland requires. Combined, these two parties do nothing more than hold back Ireland from asserting her full independence, true identity and tremendous potential.
Although the date of the next Irish election to the Dael Eirean is not yet known, one is expected soon. It is almost universally understood that the current coalition can not continue to govern with its dwindling public support. Smart money would bet that elections will be called after Ireland’s population is vaccinated to the point of herd immunity (which is expected in mid fall or early winter of this year). When that point is reached, one thing is clear; Sinn Fein- under Mary Lou McDonald’s leadership- should be the choice for every Irishmen looking for leadership in a post-covid, post-Finna Fail/Fine Gael hegemonic Ireland.