Hezbollah and Sinn Féin
It remains to be seen in which direction both these pro-Syrian movements will evolve, now that their Damascan sponsors are gone. Continue as subversives? Devolve into gangsterism? Become run-of-the-mill political parties? The SLA collapsed once the IDF was gone, but they were to a very large extent a puppet of the Israelis (in a manner much like the Americans and the ARVN of decades earlier). RTÉ's anonymous reporter further writes:
"Many in the Shi'ite Muslim heartland see a vote for Hizbollah as a vote for the group to retain its arms as a defence against neighbouring Israel, which occupied the south for 22 years until its 2000 pullout."
I am not sure that this is entirely the case. Hezbollah have (as any UNIFIL vet will tell you) established a peerless network of charity and services among the Shi'ite community in South Lebanon, undoubtedly mostly from Iranian money. Absent the war as a lever to power within their own community, it is hard to escape the conclusion that (as with the Shinners in the ROI, at least away from the Border areas) it is their community work, not their armed revolutionary credentials, which cause their continued appeal.
This brings us to a useful insight into SF's electoral gains south of the Border. The likes of Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Mary Lou McDonald don't give off the "whiff of sulphur" so blithely ascribed to Sinn Féin's successes in the South: to paraphrase Bill Clinton, "It's the constituency work, stupid". Rather, like Hezbollah it is the exhaustive community work, well-funded and carried out by committed, disciplined activists.
Who could stop SF? Not the Progressive Democrats or the Greens or even poor Fine Gael. Their constituencies are the elites within the business, professional, legal and land-owning classes. They are not populists in the real sense, and arguably never truly were. Their electoral bases are not SF hunting grounds south of the Border.
That leaves Fianna Fáil and Labour. But Labour have become a latté-drinking, big-business friendly mirror of how British Labour was gutted (how many of their recent leaders could reasonably still be termed Socialists? how many could be said to really give a damn about blue-collar workers?) Fianna Fáil may still have the populist touch from their revolutionary beginnings, but the corruption which has bedevilled sections of the party from the late-60s onward has made a mockery of any remaining pretensions to Republican idealism.
If Sinn Féin are to be combatted on the ground, in the hearts and minds of the non-Irish Times readership of this State, then Labour and Fianna Fáil need to rediscover their ideals, the very things they were created to pursue. One place to start would be in a bold reaching across the Border to merge with and strengthen the floundering SDLP. Labour are hampered in taking such a step by the ideologies of their new Stickie masters, that "most useful" of parties to the British; will FF grasp the nettle, as De Valera and his fellow Republican Party founders might once have done?