Photo credit: Sinn Féin via Flickr (CC BY 2.0 https://bit.ly/3CVLCA6)

Sinn Féin sees which way the wind is blowing on immigration 

Two-faced?

Back in 2004, a referendum was held in Ireland as the government wanted to restrict citizenship rights to people who were born in this country. Evidently most voters thought it a sensible measure as 79% voted ‘Yes’.

Sinn Féín made a big show in the Dáil of calling for a ‘No’ vote at the time. Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD described it as a “dangerous, divisive and reactionary referendum” which he said should not go ahead.

Further, he accused the government of “stirring the pot of ignorance, fear and bigotry”. It was strong stuff.

Sinn Féin promised they would campaign vigorously against what they described as a ‘racist referendum’. But was it all for the cameras? Party members later told me that the ‘Vote No’ leaflets that had been printed for the campaign were being dumped wholescale.

The party knew from the doorsteps which way the wind was blowing. Immigration is a thorny subject, and even 18 years ago people understood that they would be labelled ‘racist’ or ‘bigoted’ by the same media who now try to demonise people in Kildare or Killarney for raising perfectly legitimate concerns about the hames the goverment is making of the crisis – piling in thousands of economic migrants on top of 60,000 Ukraininan refugees, all in the middle of a housing shortage.

So, at the doors, Sinn Féin canvassers would nod and agree and say that immigration was out of control, and quietly ditch the party’s leaflets which might make them look soft on the issue. And, at the same time, party leaders won NGO and media brownie points by talking about racism and bigotry for the cameras.

I have no idea if the left-hand of the party knew what the right was doing in that instance, though Sinn Féin is notorious for the degree of control they exercise in the organisation.

Whether Sinn Féin were being a ‘Tadhg a’ dá thaobh’ – playing a double game – or not in 2004 is not within my purview. But now, as public sentiment is clearly turning against the out-of-control immigration policies of this out-of-control government, it’s obvious that Sinn Féin can see which way the wind is blowing.

So we have Mary Lou, reading from a script in the Dáil, using a phrase that the establishment and their NGO watchdogs have generally considered to be verboten – along with other observations like ‘Ireland is full’.

“Not content with denying our own people the right to an affordable, secure roof over their heads, the government now extends its catastrophic failure to those coming to Ireland seeking humanitarian assistance,” the Sinn Féín leader said.

Micheál Martin was apoplectic. He knew well what McDonald meant by using the phrase ‘our own’, he said. She was sending a signal to those awful people, the voters, and he wasn’t going to stand for it.

In a way, he was right. Mary Lou knew exactly what she was doing, and she also knew what the Fianna Fáil leader’s reaction would be.

By making a huge fuss, he guaranteed that the whole country, who generally pay no attention to the exchanges in the Dáil, would believe that Sinn Féin were the ones who were willing to stand up for ‘our own’ – for the Irish people struggling with housing and soaring costs, who increasingly feel like second-class citizens in their own country.

Sinn Féin’s new-found interest in ‘our own’ is being publicly stated because they have their ear to the ground and, just as in 2004, they are hearing anger and frustration at the doors.

People whose kids can’t afford accommodation for college, after working like dogs to get the points they need, are angry. People who are saving for years, only to see yet another prospect of a home slip away, are angry. People whose cafés are facing closure – because the government is arrogantly deciding that a tourist town should become a destination for thousands of migrants and asylum seekers – are angry.

The government’s response is to ignore them, or to chastise them, or to have a NGO representative earning a six figure salary scold them for being ungenerous.

There is a genuine sense that we need to dig deep and find more to help those fleeing war, but people also aren’t stupid. They know that the numbers of migrants coming here – from countries like Georgia or Nigeria, which are not war-torn – have also soared.

So Sinn Féin are increasingly hearing from ordinary people that “we need to look after our own”. And they know an opportunity when they see one.

A Sinn Féin TD in Kildare recently wrote to constituents warning of “conflict” between refugees and locals if the government didn’t do more.  And last week, hot on the heels of McDonald’s carefully chosen Dáil remarks, we had a Sinn Féin Councillor in Roscommon claim that the town of Ballaghaderreen had become a ‘dumping ground for refugees’ – and that ‘illegal refugees’ should go home.

His points were perfectly valid, and perhaps Cllr Mulligan is simply a man who says things as he sees them, but its significant that Sinn Féin – who opposed a cap on refugees – are now building a profile as the party who will put the Irish people first, who will ‘look after our own’ – even though Mary Lou previously stated that there should be ‘no limit’ on numbers coming here.

It’s a sneaky move, especially coming from a party which has long abandoned sovereignty, but they understand that these matters are painted in the mind of voters in  broad strokes. So it’s Micheál Martin, the Fianna Fáíler who keeps bringing in people we can’t house or support versus Mary Lou who wants to care for ‘our own’ first.

In truth, most of the political voices who pointed out the folly of this government’s immigration and asylum policy were Independent and have been consistent on the issue from the beginning.

Carol Nolan TD was verbally attacked by Fianna Fáil’s Darragh O’Brien when she asked if the government had assessed the impact of so many refugees arriving. She was “undermining social cohesion”, he blustered. Time has revealed that his crazy policies, not Deputy Nolan’s legitimate question, has undermined a great many things.

The Shinners were very quiet during that exchange. They didn’t come to the defence of Independent TD Mattie McGrath either when he said back in June that our asylum policy was ‘blundering down a cul de sac’. He was also bashed by both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael for stating the obvious.

In fact, Sinn Féin, with their eyes firmly fixed on the next election and on seats of power, may well have seen that Independent Councillors and TDs might be stealing a march on them in reflecting what constituents genuinely feel about the chaos that has descended on the country from the folly of pretending that we can house the world.

Fianna Fáíl TD, John McGuiness, is now saying that people in his constituency are complaining that they have been on the housing list for years yet homes are being built in jig time for migrants and refugees. Yet his party leader, Micheál Martin, continues to insist that we cannot have a cap on the numbers who come here.

Unlike Mary Lou, he either cannot see the way the wind is blowing or refuses to accept that he has made an enormous mess of things. So, to voters, his party will be ones who caused the chaos, and Sinn Féin will be the party that wants to care for our own.

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