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Opinion: Why are Mary Lou and Sinn Féin running away from Syriza?

Yesterday, on this website, Mary Lou McDonald launched the process of distancing her party from the Greek ruling coalition Syriza, writes Fianna Fáil TD Timmy Dooley.

Timmy Dooley

IN THE WORLD of political journalism, there is a manoeuvre known as the ‘reverse ferret’. According to urban legend, the colourful phrase originates from a pursuit in northern England where folk put a ferret in their sealed trousers and compete to see who can endure what must be a very uncomfortable experience the longest.

According to the same urban legend, Kelvin MacKenzie, the one time controversial editor of The Sun newspaper in Britain would instruct journalists to ‘put a ferret up the trousers’ of public figures when he was seeking to make them uncomfortable. When it was judged that he had got it badly wrong and was on the wrong side of public opinion, he would scream ‘reverse ferret’ and the paper would go in full reverse.

Yesterday, on this website, we read a classic of the reverse ferret genre, as Mary Lou McDonald launched the process of distancing her party from the Greek ruling coalition Syriza. For those who watch these things it came as a surprise.

As recently as last weekend, Sinn Féin leader Deputy Gerry Adams had been rushing out a half baked statement praising the political masterstroke of Syriza, when they walked away from negotiations and defaulted on payment to the IMF.

In fairness to Adams, he was at least consistent. His statement was along the same lines as his contribution in November when, pressed about Ireland’s relationship with its creditors, he advised that the European Union should be told to ‘bugger off’.

We remember the Syriza representative paraded at the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis and we remember that when the Syriza coalition was first elected, the procession of Sinn Féin representatives queueing to claim comradeship with the new government and herald a revolutionary dawn, was long.

But now of course this queue has been replaced with the images of citizens queueing at often empty ATMs in Athens as they try to withdraw their Government approved allowance of €60 per day. And the tune coming from Sinn Féin begins to change.

No longer does Mary Lou praise her comrades in Syriza, and gone are the photos of SF reps embracing Tsipras on the plinth. In fact, amazingly, McDonald manages to write a 900 word article for TheJournal.ie about what is happening in Greece without using the word ‘Syriza’ a single time.

Revision, reinvention and attack

Those who have the temerity to remind Sinn Féin that they supported the Syriza approach until it went disastrously wrong are labelled by Mary Lou as cynical, lazy and guilty of political smear. But for anyone who has spent any time analysing Sinn Féin, the process of revision, reinvention and attacking those who remind, is a familiar and well worn path.

The reason why Deputy McDonald has been dispatched to try and reframe what is happening in Greece is straightforward. While there is absolutely no denying that the behaviour of the creditors has been just wrong at many key stages of Greece’s journey, the bad politics of Syriza has compounded the problems and turned a simmering crisis into a full scale catastrophe with Greece now sitting on the edge of possible exit from the Eurozone and on the verge of being a failed state.

While that vista may appeal to some of the old revolutionaries in Provisional Sinn Féin, it leaves anyone with a stake in this society or a family to rear very cold indeed. And Mary Lou McDonald knows it.

So how does Sinn Féin deal with the problem? Simple. Call ‘Reverse Ferret’ and hope that a mixture of attacking your opponents, empathy with the Greek people and the use of a few reliable old phrases like ‘big boys in the Troika’ ‘bankers and developers’ and ‘big boys club’ will fool those who are still listening.

It won’t. It is true that the Irish people look on at what is happening to the Greek people with a mixture of sympathy and fear. It is true that many of us are appalled at the tactics of the troika and many are depressed by the posturing of our own Government.

But those same also people see and understand the role of bad politics in what has unfolded over the course of the last week. They see and understand that it is the same bad politics championed by Sinn Féin right up until last Saturday lunchtime.

And while Mary Lou McDonald is a skilled political operator, the attempt to now wipe that recent history clean, is one manoeuvre too far even for her.

Timmy Dooley is a Fianna Fáil TD for Clare and the party’s spokesperson on transport, tourism and sport

Read: ‘Using Greece as an argument not to vote Sinn Féin is a political smear’

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