It’s not that Sinn Féin lacks a coherent set of ideas for an alternative political and economic system. Certainly not! According to the party blurb, the SF objective is a united Ireland, the end of partition and the establishment of a democratic socialist republic. What’s more, the party is justifiably proud of the Herculean efforts by generations of republicans to fulfil Sinn Féin aspirations – many suffering imprisonment, and even death for the cause.
But now, ominously, there exists a nagging suspicion that Sinn Féin has embarked on a process that will lead to a different type of change, despite the unwanted advice offered by pompous scribes, like ourselves!
Rumour has it that Sinn Féin and a ‘Free State’ party will coalesce to form a government after the next general election, and for that to happen SF must be prepared to dump any traditional rhetoric that might frighten the horses.
Within such a context, the recent comments regarding Poppy Day by Sinn Féin MEP and aspirant to the Presidency of Ireland, Liadh Ní Riada, are significant. They raise the possibility that her party already has embarked on a path towards Establishment respectability – a route that some critics sniffily describe as identical to the one taken by the Stickies many years ago.
Asked by the ‘meeja’ if she would be prepared to wear a Remembrance poppy on Armistice Day, Liadh Ní Riada answered in the affirmative, and the SF party agreed with her.
That was earth-shattering! The Royal British Legion’s declared reason for selling the poppy badges in Britain and Ireland is to raise funds and to honour the achievements of British fighting men and women during the 20thand 21stcenturies. The poppy commemorates ‘the sacrifice of British Armed Forces and shows support to those still serving today ….’
And because the poppy symbolically honours members of the British Army since the First World War, Poppy Day has been perceived as a celebration of imperialism. Wearing a poppy was an affront to everything that Republicanism stood for.
Worse still, it also celebrates the memory of those who put down the 1916 Rising, those who did their damndest to defeat the IRA in the 1919-21 War of Independence and those who burned Cork city.
Included, too, is the Parachute Regiment that shot 28 unarmed civilians during a peaceful protest on a 1972 Sunday in Derry, as well as internment, Long Kesh torture, the Ballymurphy massacres, and British military collusion with loyalist death squads. The list is endless. (By the way, the poppy also honours the Black and Tan loony who put a revolver to the head of this scribe’s granny and threatened to kill her).
And let’s not forget Vlad, our esteemed Taoiseach, and his run-in with a poppy! In a consciously fashionable gesture – not too unlike Liadh Ní Riada’s defence of the poppy – he wore an enamel version of the plant in Dáil Éireann. Eventually, public ridicule at the fact that he was honouring soldiers of a country that had imprisoned and murdered his parliamentary predecessors obliged him to drop it down the toilet.
In the meantime, Liadh Ní Riada’s reasons for sporting the poppy will be remembered as classic in the annals of political expediency. ‘If we’re talking about a modern, progressive Ireland that we want to move towards, if we want to reach out to our unionist brothers and sisters, then I don’t see why not?’ she said.
‘Moving forward’… ‘reaching out’ … Profound language, indeed, and most apt for ushering in a new political dispensation. What’s more, we admit to being gobsmacked at Sinn Fein’s linguistic multi-culturalism, and of the party being ‘on the ball’ when having to explain a technical political development.
Clearly the party is ‘thinking outside the box’ and we await, with tingling anticipation, other announcements regarding its changed political direction. We hope also that the party will not hesitate to employ ‘all the rage’ buzzwords, such as ‘dynamic’, ‘synergy’, ‘paradigm’, ‘retrospective’, ‘proactive’, ‘political spectrum’, and that lovely, lovely expression: ‘justice for all’.
But back to Liadh Ní Riada. She went on: ‘To wear such an emblem like that, it’s not about diminishing that sense of republicanism, I think it’s about being comfortable in your own republicanism to be okay with that … I do, however, think that it’s about being bigger than me, being bigger than all of us, in one sense of trying to be inclusive.’
Let’s analyse that. Wearing the poppy, she suggested, was not a problem for those who were ‘comfortable in their republicanism’! Nor, presumably, would it be a problem for those wearing a comfortable pair of old boots or a well-worn geansaí.
What a pity she didn’t mention the fascistic bullying by media organisations such as Sky News and the BBC, which demand that broadcasters sport the poppy in the run-up to Remembrance Day – or else!
Or the bullying that Derry footballer, James McClean, was subjected to after he refused to wear a poppy on his shirt during matches.
Interesting, too, that after efforts were made to compel the entire English football team to wear poppies on their shirts, FIFA shot down the proposal, arguing it would ‘jeopardise the neutrality of football’.
Nor are all ex-British soldiers poppy-wearing fanatics. A few years ago, a group of army veterans complained that the Poppy Appeal was being used to raise support for British military campaigns, and that people were pressurised into wearing poppies. They marched to the Cenotaph under a banner that said ‘War is Organised Murder’ and, similar to the war correspondent, Robert Fisk, they asked a very simple question: ‘Do those who flaunt the poppy know that they mock the war dead?’
In its defence of the poppy, Sinn Féin seems to have forgotten that the thousands of Irishmen who fought in the British Army in both World Wars are honoured every year in Ireland. The Royal British Legion holds a yearly wreath-laying ceremony in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, which the President of Ireland attends, and there is also the National Day of Commemoration in July for all Irish people killed in war. Poppies do not form part of that ceremony.
Perhaps the best comment about Poppy Day was made way back in the 1930s by socialist and founder of the Irish Housewives Association, Hanna Sheehy Skeffington. She wisely said that republicans ‘grudged no honour to the dead but they objected to the dead being used to carry on the traditions of imperialism.’
Sinn Féin should bear that in mind!