I don’t vote Sinn Féin and I imagine I never will, but I shouldn’t need to post that disclaimer before pointing out how utterly ridiculous it is to compare the public rallies the party is hosting to the Nazi marches in Nuremberg.
Making that comparison, and warning darkly about public gatherings amounting to “a campaign of intimidation and bullying” as Leo Varadkar did, is not only ludicrous, it’s foolish and ill-advised.
It only emphasises how out of touch Fine Gael are with voters, and smacks of the sort of elitism that lost the party swathes of votes to Sinn Féin.
Former Fine Gael TD Alan Shatter was first into the foray, saying the rallies represented “a militant SF replicating the tactics in 1932 of National Socialist German Workers.”
Paul Gogarty, the Independent Councillor for Dublin Mid-West tweeted that reports of Sinn Féin “planning street rallies” worried him. He described it as a “stunt” that reminded him of “early Nuremberg”, and helpfully linked to video footage of a Nazi rally in Germany.
Asked about the rallies, Leo Varadkar said they were “an unwelcome development” and were designed to be the “next phase in Sinn Féin’s campaign of intimidation and bullying”. He added that he “wouldn’t be surprised if the next step was that they take to the streets”.
This is absurd. Holding a meeting – of whatever size – in a public venue does not amount to bullying. And describing your political opponents as Nazis because they want to hold a rally smacks of desperation.
Instead of challenging Sinn Féin’s promises to give everyone more while charging everyone less, or asking valid questions about who is pulling strings in the party, Fine Gael looks as if they want to take away the right to hold public meetings and demonstrations.
At a time when the people have voted in protest at the mess made of the country by the two previously bigger parties, that’s not a good look.
It’s a free country. If people want to ‘take to the streets’ they are perfectly entitled to do so. It won’t overturn the election result, it most likely won’t make a whit of a difference to anything really, but in a democracy people are free to protest on any issue, on the streets or otherwise.
It shouldn’t seem extraordinary to any politician that voters would exercise their right to protest, but there’s always been a whiff of entitlement and privilege from Fine Gael, as if they secretly look on most voters as a basket of deplorables, a motley crowd who need to be deterred from demanding more than what their political betters feel fit to grant them.
Voters may overlook this unspoken contempt when the country is doing well, but the elitist attitude rankled when the chaos in housing and healthy spiralled out of control and ordinary people suffered while the ‘Posh Boys’ in cabinet told voters they were “proud” of their record.
On everything from Irish Water to local hospital closures, ordinary people have always taken to the streets to protest – and plenty of them used to also vote for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. It’s part of making your voice heard.
Leo Varadkar’s palpable alarm at the notion that the plebs might be on the march is a reminder to voters that the dismal election results may not have dented that sense of elitism in Fine Gael.
(Of course, Sinn Féin, is well capable of seeking to curtail the right to protest when it wants to – the party’s health spokeswoman, Louise O’Reilly, is a radical advocate for shutting down peaceful and prayerful protests at abortion centres, and the party supports criminalising peaceful pro-life events on the grounds of unproven ‘intimidation’. What goes around, comes around )
In this instance, Fine Gael’s comparisons between Sinn Féin and Germany in the 1930s leads to the inevitable and well-worn retort that during that period the Blueshirts were marching in support of Hitler. Instead of talking about any important issues, this is the nonsense taking up the time of our elected representatives.
Watching the three main political parties knocking lumps out of each other on twitter and in the Dáil has become almost like a spectator sport – MMA for political nerds, without the huge payouts, but with even more hot air.
Clearly to the average voter, none of this squabbling and point-scoring really matters. The electorate’s support is so divided at this juncture neither Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael nor Sinn Féin seem able to form a government that might last more than a few months.
But while Sinn Féin’s monster meetings are perfectly legitimate they are also absolutely pointless, except as some form of love-in for the party and its supporters.
Sinn Féin won almost 25% of the vote in the election, an impressive result which no-one, least of all the party itself, foresaw three weeks out – but they are very far from an overall majority.
A rally, no matter how well attended, doesn’t change the numbers. And the numbers don’t seem to be stacking up for anyone. It’s looking more and more like another election.