The selection of Martin McGuinness as Sinn Féin candidate for the Presidency tells a lot about how the party works. It just happened. The party membership was not consulted, and there was no vote. Or, at least, perhaps the executive, the Ard Chomhairle, did vote in camera to endorse McGuinness, but the significance of that was undermined by the result being known in advance.
I have hopes for Sinn Féin. They’ve come a long way from violent, sectarian roots, and they talk a good policy. But democracy is something the party still needs to learn. Some day, there will be a vote in Ard Fheis which overturns the leaders’ guidance; or which gives a result different to the one the press tell us is “expected”. Like in a real political party. Then I’ll take Sinn Féin seriously.
I joke sometimes that the party represents “Nationalist Socialism”, a reference to the origin of the term “Nazi”. Well, I say “joke”, but in spite of some right-on rhetoric, there seems to me to be a core fascist tendency in Sinn Féin. A glorification of violence and blood sacrifice; a rigidly heirarchical organization; a chatechism of approved phraseology that replaces actual debate; xenophobia and clique-ism (Sinn Féin means “Ourselves Alone”); and a menacing street-level presence.
Straight out of the Fascist’s Handbook comes the technique of the Big Lie. It’s been part of Sinn Féin’s armoury for years, but it’s really being brought into action in Martin McGuinness’s presidential campaign. Deny, deny, deny. OK, Martin was in the IRA, but he never killed anyone. No, he never ordered anyone killed. No, what people say about Murder A or Murder B is politically-motivated untruth. There was a “conflict”. It was unfortunate.
The idea of the Big Lie is to repeat and repeat the lie, to ignore evidence to the contrary, or call it bias, until the lie becomes an official truth. The concept of a “conflict” is one that Republicans have been hammering away at for years and isn’t often challenged. But it’s a big lie. When a tiny minority of armed extremists decide to start murdering people, rather than try to fix political problems via politics, that’s not a conflict.
Now that Sinn Féin have renounced violence (although nobody ever said that they were sorry, or that it was wrong) Martin McGuinness is perfectly entitled to stand for election. But it’s a high-risk strategy, because of the intense scrutiny that it brings, making the Big Lie harder to pull off. My guess is that there will be no amazing revelations which can break through the Big Lie armour of denial, but that there’s enough suspicion and doubt to do the job anyway. I don’t envisage Martin moving in to Áras an Uachtaráin, this time round anyway.