[News] Since When Did the Irish Words “Sinn Féin” Mean Pro-Empire?

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Dec 27 12:10:03 EST 2018


  Since When Did the Irish Words “Sinn Féin” Mean Pro-Empire?

by Aidan O'Brien <https://www.counterpunch.org/author/aidobr9087/>

Brexit has exposed Ireland as much as it has exposed Britain. In the on 
and off deal between the UK and the EU, the future of the Irish border, 
and therefore the future of Ireland, is being decided by faceless 
bureaucrats in Britain and Brussels. This is yet more proof – if any 
more proof was needed – of Ireland’s dependent status. After the Irish 
banking disaster, this is the latest ignominy “Independent Ireland” must 

While the subjugation of Ireland by its powerful neighbors is nothing 
new – the almost cheerful acceptance of this current state of affairs by 
“rebel Ireland” is something new.

For decades now the Sinn Féin party has been the face of “rebel 
Ireland”. It fought British rule in the north. And openly defied the 
comprador capitalists in the south. But today it cheers on Brussels as 
the latter decides the fate of Ireland. Today Sinn Féin criticizes 
anyone who wishes to exit the European Union. Today – irony of ironies – 
Sinn Féin is the Unionist Party par excellence. In the most smug way, it 
is now loyal to the prevailing Empire.

The Irish words “sinn féin” mean “ourselves”, or in political terms, 
“ourselves alone” – as opposed to “ourselves following the orders of 
others”. So in contemporary terms, the words “sinn féin” best describe 
those arguing for Brexit. While those wishing to remain in the EU are 
anything but “sinn féin”. Following this semantic line, Ireland’s Sinn 
Féin party, by defending the EU and mocking Brexit, has turned the 
meaning of “sinn féin” on its head.

What explains this un-sinn féin like politics within Sinn Fèin? In a few 
words: out of date Irish nationalism. Rebel Ireland has always been 
blinded by Britain. It could never see around Britain. For much of 
history this blindness was logical. For centuries Britain was the rising 
Empire. And up until recently, it was the greatest Empire the world had 
ever seen.

Over the centuries, in its struggle against this British behemoth, rebel 
Ireland has sought the assistance of imperial Spain (1601), imperial 
France (1798) and imperial Germany (1916). All this was justifiable back 
then because the British juggernaut was mercilessly crushing Ireland. 
And right up until the fall of Margaret Thatcher (1990) Britain 
continued to crush Ireland.

This crushing narrative, however, changed dramatically around the year 
2000 and caught the rebel Irish off guard. As imperial Britain faded 
away and became “America’s poodle” – imperial Europe started to flex its 
muscles. The crush then was originating in the EU rather than in the UK. 
Regardless, the Irish rebels continued to focus their ire on Britain. 
They completely ignored the sinister nature of imperial Europe. The 
rebel Irish love of Europe was about to become a love of pain – a pain 
they embrace today.

If the Sinn Féin party could’ve taken its eyes off Britain around 2000 – 
if it looked at the big European picture – it would’ve seen the writing 
on the EU Wall. The Single European Act (1987), the Maastricht Treaty 
(1992), the European Central Bank (1998), the Euro (1999) and the Lisbon 
Treaty (2007) all pointed to a Europe hostile towards social and 
international justice.

Considering the fact that the “EU” was, from the get go, a right wing 
unification of Germany and France – the imperialist nature of 
contemporary Europe should not be news to anyone. But unfortunately it 
is – even to left wing Irish rebels. The thought that the EU represents 
a more menacing threat to Ireland than the UK, seems to be a thought too 
far for Sinn Féin.

Facts, such as the following, don’t seem to register in the Sinn Féin 
view of Europe: the EU is a neoliberal nightmare (the primacy of the 
market is written into the EU constitution), the EU is a bank robber 
(the bailout of Germany), the EU is a wage robber (the austerity), the 
EU hates Africa (fortress Europe), the EU is anti-Venezuela, 
anti-Palestine, and anti-Russia (pro CIA/Zionist/Latin fascism), the 
EU’s military industrial complex is determined by EUCOM, etc..

But does Sinn Féin know the meaning of EUCOM? Does anyone in Europe know 
the meaning of EUCOM? The United States European Command and its attack 
dogs -NATO and AFRICOM – are embedded deep within the EU.

Its time Irish nationalism updated its understanding of Europe. Ireland 
is no longer living in the 17th, 18th or 19th centuries: Europe isn’t 
automatically the gateway to freedom. Although the EU is trying to turn 
the clock back to the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Radical inequality 
is bolstering Europe’s monarchies, aristocracies and crusading armies. 
Does 21st century Sinn Féin really think that this retrograde monster is 

Just when Britain is redefining itself for the better, “rebel” Ireland 
has the gall to lecture the British on the goodness of EU backwardness. 
It is blind to the fact that Brexit plus Jeremy Corbyn equals the best 
chance for “socialism” right now in Europe. Corbyn will thrive in an 
independent Britain, whereas in the EU he will be in a free market 
straitjacket. All of which begs the question: does Ireland’s “rebels” 
really want anything to do with socialism?

Brexit is exposing the poverty of the rebel Irish vision. Knee jerk 
worship of Europe, and knee jerk hatred of Britain, has today turned the 
great Irish rebellion on its head. The Empire has changed its position. 
A more sophisticated vision would see that the imperialism south of 
today’s Irish border is more virulent than the traditional kind north of 
the border.

The Irish border must go. First and foremost, however, the Irish fight 
is against foreign rule. And that comes in many guises. If Brussels gets 
its way, Ireland is facing another century or two of foreign rule or 
just simply foreign annihilation. On the other hand, if Brexit gets its 
way, there’s a real chance that foreign rule in Ireland may unravel. A 
weaker EU and a more inward looking Britain (not forgetting the real 
possibility of a more socialist Britain) would give most meaning to the 
Irish words “sinn féin”.

/*Aidan O’Brien* lives in Dublin, Ireland./

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