Do Sinn Féin deserve to wear “The Crown”?

Image Credit: Sinn Féin, Laoise Tarrant

With Fianna Fáil throwing some shade onto the past of Sinn Féin recently, Brianna Walsh wonders whether Fianna Fáil should pay more attention to their own history

“Young people of Ireland” were addressed squarely last week by Fianna Fáil councillor Deirdre Conroy. A fan of the new series of The Crown released on Netflix, she urged Irish youths to tune into episode two, in which the 1979 IRA assassination of Lord Mountbatten was grimly depicted. The planted bombing of the beloved British royal’s boat resulted in the death of three others, including two adolescent boys. The Provisional IRA claimed responsibility for the attack, dubbing the operation as one of the "ways we can bring to the attention of the English people the continuing occupation of our country”. Making a second strike in Warrenpoint later that day which resulted in the murder of 18 British soldiers and one civilian, the terrorist group continued; “The death of Mountbatten and the tributes paid to him will be seen in sharp contrast to the apathy of the British Government and the English people to the deaths of over three hundred British soldiers, and the deaths of Irish men, women, and children at the hands of their forces.”

Cllr. Conroy, in recognition of this atrocity and the outrage it sparked in Ireland at the time, turned to Twitter, where her frustrations were aired across her keyboard and the youngest of us were beseeched to “try and learn where Sinn Féin comes from instead of emailing other councillors with your demands”. This is evidently in response to the growing popularity of the left-wing party among Irish millennials, a marked shift in political thinking compared to the post-Troubles context of years before. Her accusatory manner sparked debate online, where the “young people of Ireland” stood their ground. The question left in their wake? Have we forgotten our violent past, or is the rise of the “new” Sinn Féin set firmly in the knowledge of such history?  

Social media swept this discourse into allegations of hypocrisy; a vicious, perpetual circle. The obscenity of Mountbatten’s murder was countered by the force of the British side from years prior. The use of children and their tragedy to slander Sinn Féin was criticised in the face of the Arms Crisis of 1970, where senior Ministers of the leading Fianna Fáil party attempted to smuggle ammunition to nationalists in the North from Belgium. Further Fianna Fáil figures were brought to the fore, such as Dan Breen and Martin Corry, both prominent IRA members who each have blood on their hands. Others turned to the fact that the Sinn Féin party as it stands today is distinct from that of the late 1900s; Mary Lou McDonald was only 10 in 1979. Additionally, assertions have been made to doubt Mountbatten’s character, with speculation mounting for years around his “perversion for young boys.” Claims of paedophilia and abuse could credibly tinge perceptions of the murder a different, more sinister shade.

If you go back far, or near enough, you begin to lose track of which came first, the chicken or the egg. One thing is certain; the events that took place in Mullaghmore, Co. Sligo 41 years ago stand as a devastating emblem of IRA cruelty. Nonetheless, the incident occurred in the height of tension in Northern Ireland, hailing from a different time and a climate in which these tit-for-tat declarations can become incessant and aimless. All this rhetoric does is distract.

The enormity of the Troubles is not underestimated, nor is it forgotten that the conflict only ended around the time many of us were born. This may render our understanding of the true ferocity of the clash void. However, we are not indifferent. We are not ignorant. In fact, it could be contended that young people’s political will and increased social awareness is borne out of events of injustice. The human cost displayed across the pages of our history books. The tribulation spelled out along the creases on our parent’s foreheads, stories of the past before bed. 

George Santayana noted in the aftermath of the Holocaust; “those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. The youth of Ireland have observed the experiences of our ancestors and in their support for Sinn Féin, are attempting to learn from them. Perhaps we don’t understand the true violence of the past, but we see a version of the same monstrosity on our streets. We see the homeless losing their lives in cold, Dublin nights, tents that are homes swept away by litter-clearing vehicles. Meanwhile, private properties across the city lie empty.

We see the impacts of climate change alongside the ever-growing emphasis on consumption, a planet struggling to breathe as CO2 emissions hit new records despite Covid-19 lockdowns. We see a health system set to crumble amid it all. We see discrimination in direct provision, the crippling mental health of our friends and family, the lack of legislation to protect young women in our country. It may not be as brutal as a bomb, but it is a slow murder. A lingering loss. 

Irish Times columnist Kitty Holland went door to door in Clondalkin during the election period earlier this year to examine the working-class suburb, which showed strong support for Sinn Féin. It was swiftly revealed that it is not just the “liberal youth” who see these things. It is those who are on the margins of our society, who feel most affected and furthest away from Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil elitism. In her column she spoke to 47 year old Jackie Colgan; “Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, they have destroyed our country… I have a grown son aged 30 living with me in the box room. My daughter has a degree in social care and shares a bed in my house with her five-year-old daughter. My other son, who has a great job, could never afford a house – even to rent. He rents a room in a house”.

Despite holding no prior interest in politics, 27 year old Anthony Rochford, told Holland he started to doubt his ability to ever own a home; “I realised how important it was to vote to get change”. “We’re not all traditional Sinn Féin voters at all” 61 year old Grace Wills explained “but we’ve had to say to the old guard, they are not fit to govern. People felt by voting Sinn Féin things might change… It wasn’t a protest vote. It was a hope vote. Please give us some hope.”

Whether things will change under a Sinn Féin majority remains untold. What we do know for sure is that the current regime has a dark history too. The legacy of the IRA has not slipped our minds either. Much of our precedent stands in the shadows. However, from that, I believe that younger and older generations of Ireland alike are attempting to emerge. Their vision is clear and their drive for justice is powerful. They see the past and they see the present and they see the same patterns of inequality. It is quite easy, especially late at night scouring Twitter, to get caught up in cyclical disputes and cancel culture. But eventually, the wheel must stop turning. We must look to our past while working towards our future. In doing so, perhaps it is finally time for a break away from the administration of the past 20 years and believe that something new and something better is brewing.