Saturday, April 25, 2009

Where now for An Phoblacht?

Where now for An Phoblacht?

Since the publication of the Northern Star over 200 years ago newspapers have played an important part in the history of the Irish republican movement. Over the generations the name of the paper may have changed, but the intention was always the same. Namely to help build and sustain the support base for republicanism.

The generation of republicans to which we belong has An Phoblacht (for a history of the paper see here.

In its about section it describes itself as follows:

An Phoblacht is Ireland’s biggest selling political weekly newspaper, with average sales of up to 15,000 and over 100,000 website hits each week. With offices in Dublin and Belfast, the paper offers a radical weekly commentary on the major news stories of the day and a republican analysis of all aspects of Irish politics, most notably the ongoing peace process.

We are a campaigning newspaper.
Our republican goal is to build an Irish nation based on the principles of equality and justice for all.

An Phobhlacht has clearly played an important part in our history, but has the time come for us to rethink its role and consider how it can develop in the future?

During the stage of armed struggle it clearly filled a number of important roles;

1) It was the main place where supporters could read about the military actions being carried out.

2) It was the main place you could read analysis or rationale for why that struggle was taking place.

3) It was the main avenue for pointing out the injustices being carried out by the British army, RUC etc.

4) It was an avenue for SF to get their message out to their supporters at a time when their views were being censored by the mainstream media.

5) It was place for SF to put across its views on various issues.

6) It was a strong campaigning platform for republican/Sinn Féin issues.

All the above factors led to An phoblacht playing an important part within Sinn Féin and the republican movement, with weekly sales being as high as 40,000 copies per week. As a result of all of the above factors there were plenty of people willing to put a great deal of time and effort into producing, distributing and selling the paper.

However, times have changed and many of the factors that led to the growth of An Phoblacht have altered. The military campaign has ended, official censorship of Sf has ended, the ending of abstentionism means that SF members are in positions of influence and power in parliaments and councils across the country, and are therefore in positions whereby the local media will publish what they have to say. As a result of all of this the importance of the An Phoblacht to simply getting the SF message across has clearly lessened and people now receive more information concerning SF from other sources.

What therefore are the implications for all of this for An Phoblacht? Should it carry on as it is or are changes required to meet the realities of this stage of the struggle?

It is clear that there have been attempts to move forward. The publishing of the paper for free on the internet is positive and has resulted in the site receiving over 100,000 hits per week. However, has the paper fundamentally altered?

In my opinion not enough.

As stated it sees its role as "...radical weekly commentary on the major news stories of the day and a republican analysis of all aspects of Irish politics, most notably the ongoing peace process."

I think it you read the paper you will see that it generally meets the above goals.

However, as I said to me this is not enough. In my opinion we need to create a paper/internet site that not only comments and gives analysis, but we also require one that promotes debate within the party and wider readership, on areas of vital interest to Irish Republicanism.

I would support contributions being included from those who are not our supporters. I feel the recent article by Dawn Purvis from the Progressive Unionist Party was an example of what is required. I would also welcome articles regarding the positions other parties have in relation to Sinn Féin, republicanism, economic systems, Europe etc. This can range from the Labour and Greens in the south, to anti -gfa republicans, to unionists etc.

For me it is only by hearing what these people have to say, that will enable us to fully develop our own analysis of modern Ireland, and thereby help us to identify the best way forward for creating a 32 county republic. We must hear what our opponents have to say, we must question it and move forward. We must see what reasons those who are close to us have for not joining with us. Why are the labour party and some unions unhappy to work with us? What can we do about it?

In addition, and perhaps most importantly, we need to open up avenues for discussion and debate within the party. I find it hard to believe we cannot have more than an average of 3 letters from readers in each addition!

Surely we have more supporters and members with opinions than that. Why don't we encourage more people to submit letters and articles? So what if the grammar or word play may not be the best, what it will be is real, and what it will be is relevant.

A new era in the struggle is taking place and new thinking is required. An Phoblacht should move from being simply a mouth piece for the Sinn Féin leadership, into being an opportunity for members and supporters to express their views, develop their analysis and help create a vibrant, relevant, republican, mass party for positive change in Ireland

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Blowing the Budget

Eoin ó Broin writes every two weeks in an phoblacht so I'll post his articles here because I like them. If 44 want to stop me, well bring it on.

Blowing the Budget

I DON’T understand the proposed National Asset Management Agency. I have listened carefully to Finance Minister Brian Lenihan and his chief adviser, Peter Bacon. I have read all the news reports. I have gone online to read background information on the theory and practice of bad banks and toxic debts.

And still I just don’t get it.I understand that we have a problem with our economy. I understand that 100,000 small and medium-sized enterprises, employing 400,000 people, can’t get credit from our banks. I understand that the reason that they can’t get the credit is that our banks have huge liabilities (risky loans) on their books and international banks won’t lend Irish banks their money because of these liabilities. I understand that if our banks can’t lend to our small and medium-sized enterprises then some will go out of business, others will reduce output, and in both cases more jobs will be lost.

But I thought that the bank guarantee scheme agreed last October was going to provide the necessary support to our banks to enable them to borrow on the international financial markets.

I thought that the recapitalisation scheme announced in December would provide our banks with the necessary capital to lend to Irish business.

Yet, since the start of 2009, one thousand jobs have been lost every single day. Unemployment is now at 11 per cent and rising. That’s less people earning wages, less people spending money, less people paying taxes (PAYE and VAT) and more people claiming social welfare.

All of this means less money for the Government to spend on providing public services and growing the economy. This is why, in his Budget speech last week, Brian Lenihan announced €4.5 billion of spending cuts and tax hikes.

But then, after outlining who was to pay more tax and who was to get less benefits the minister announces a National Asset Management Agency.

Minister Lenihan said that the Government is going to set up a new bank (NAMA) and that, using taxpayers money, they will buy all of the risky loans from Irish banks. In turn, international banks will start lending to our banks again, who will start lending to small and medium-size businesses.

While he’s not completely sure, he estimates that there may be as much as €90 billion worth of these risky loans to be bought up. He tells us that NAMA will buy these loans at a discount and either attempt to make the loans good or sell them on to financial speculators at a further reduced rate.

And this is what I don’t understand. Encouraged by Fianna Fáil tax incentives, reckless developers borrow huge sums of money from reckless bankers. Their collective behaviour is one of the causes of our recession. Thousands of people lose their jobs. And the Government announces a scheme that lets the developers and the bankers off the hook while asking the taxpayer to foot the bill.

And the worst thing is that there is no guarantee that Minister Lenihan’s new plan will work. In fact, some economists think it may bankrupt the state. Can this government really get any worse?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

An Alliance for change - What's that?

Eoin ó Broin, somebody I have a lot of time for, wrote the following piece in An Phoblacht recently.

It is time for a politics of hope and purpose. It is time for a politics of change.

For today people need concrete proposals for economic and social recovery; for tomorrow, they need a vision for political and economic transformation.

In his Ard Fheis speech, Gerry Adams set out Sinn Féin's stall. He said, "Our society needs core values based on social justice, fairness, equality and decency." He said, "There can be an egalitarian alternative to the politics of greed, inefficiency, waste and corruption.

"Crucially, he said, "I believe the time is right for a new alliance of all people and parties that want real and fundamental change.

"In the South, this new alliance should involve Sinn Féin, Labour, the Greens, progressive independents, the trade union movement, the community and voluntary sector and all those individuals and organisations who believe that a better Ireland is possible.

However, such an alliance will not happen unless people take the decision to make it happen and invest the resources to match. Political will and effort - from Sinn Féin and others - will determine whether Gerry's Ard Fheis words are to become reality.
The Ard Fheis speech - Alternative politics in Ireland

All very hopeful words from Gerry and from Eoin about how we can build our influence in the South, but to me the meat lies in the final paragraph, " such an alliance will not happen unless people take the decision to make it happen .

"The question we must ask ourselves is do we really wish to make it happen? Are we prepared to go out and work with others? Are we ready to move away from election politics and towards working on a daily basis for real social change?

Since the Ard Fheis I have not seen any major evidence of SF working with other groups on major issues. So, why are we not holding meetings throughout the country and inviting others to join with us in creating an alliance for change.

Is it because we don't want to give me our splendid isolation? Is it because we fear nobody else will turn up? Is it because we don't know how to do it? Is it because the leadership has not shown us how?

I believe all the above answers are correct, but fxck it let's give it a go. In our local cumman we should go out and try and build something in the local area. Invite Labour, the greens, community groups, independents and most radically of all LOCAL PEOPLE. Have the meeting around jobs, local cuts, anything. Go out with the intention of forming some form of alliance for change and let's see where it takes us.

Let's not be afraid to fail, but let's dare to succeed


I am delighted here to have the first article written by a reader of this website. As I said in my first ever article I have hoped this site would become a place to share opinions and pose questions relating to the development of Sinn Féin. Thank you Jer for taking me up on this.

This article is Jer's initial impressions on Eoin Ó Broin's book "Sinn Féin and Left Republicanism" Title: Sinn Fein and the politics of left Republicanism.

I'd like to explore some of the ideas that I have encountered in o'Broin's book. Specifically the requirement it places on the Republican movement being self-aware and self-critical and then I'd like to extend Eoin's approach into reviewing what it means to be socialist. I'd like to extend the debate on what Irish Republicanism means based on what Eoin has written.

Now to the book. I am still reading it at the moment. Good book, well written, can be a bit academic but not overly so. Quite a rigorous approach. Whether you are for or against SF, pro or anti-republican or any other creed its a worthwhile read even for people who are politically opposed to the Republican project because it demonstrates why constant critical evaluation of your political project, its origins, beliefs and direction is the only way to progress.

I could not help thinking that both FG and FF could usefully apply the same logic to their parties, as could Unionists and just about any party that has built up a type of institutional memory. Critical assessment is key.

Can I also add in reference to a point I saw on the Irish times review by Richard English that o’Broin acknowledges that Republicans misunderstood the role of the British state in the north. I’m only about 1/3 of the way in but so far my reading of that for him the British presence in this country over the last century were symptomatic of societal and political upheavals and changes in attitudes that were happening in Britian. In that sense the British presence resulted from a type of political battleground for interests in Britain more so than a point of view than that Ireland itself was integral to the union. I have not done his point justice but it is nicely built up by Eoin. This point is I think very central to determining the future of the 6 counties and how republicans shape their strategy. I think its fair to say that Republicans have accepted the basic correctness of that idea and have shaped their policy according.

Not having reached the later chapters I am reluctant to comment on the strategy going forward aspect of the book. I wonder how much of a watershed the book is, as some have claimed or sought to portray it, rather than an eloquent setting out of one view of republicanism or a particular strategy that republicanism can employ. Some have claimed the book represents a return to the left for Sinn Fein. Indeed it probably does but its a very rigorous return demanding that Republicans figure out exactly where the project went wrong previously so as not to repeat the same mistakes going forward. He blankly points out that in most instances Republicanism has been a failure. Its an uncomfortable thought but its hard to dispute. While we should praise the strength of those who kept the tradition alive we have to examine why their projects shone brilliantly briefly but ultimately failed. That's not to knock them but to avoid the mistakes that brought them low. That will be an interesting debate worth having. Actually I think it would be fair to say that the book would stress that it has to happen. I look forward to seeing if it determines whether that debate is something that's being ongoing for a number of years, maybe even since 1980. I would regard the development of the dual strategy in the 80's - Army & Politics - was recognition that we need to be flexible if we are to harness the disparate forces in Irish society, who often seek apparently conflicting ends, to the end of building an Irish Republic.

Eoin o’Broin makes some very good points about the need to reevaluate ideas or notions of the past because often they assume their own persona independent of the actual events. Having your own narrative is not a bad thing but it must be constantly referenced to the past in an independent manner to ensure that it does not mislead. Republicanism is fairly old philosophy in Ireland now and while we look back on a single unbroken tradition where each generation renewed their vows to free Ireland its not necessarily the case. The strands that formed each Irish rebellion and local insurrection are different and if we ascribe the same motivations to them then we fail to understand why they rebelled and subsequently why they failed. Its a point worth considering deeply. Recently I saw a statement from a supporter of a dissident group which claimed that while the numbers may be small now they will grow. Republicanism had been here before he claimed and they knew the drill; he remembered the lean 40s. The question is surely obvious - Are we striving to build a Republic or just to hold the course.

Critical assessment quickly yields an answer.While Eoin o'Broin does not mention it, so far anyway, I wonder did he consider that such an approach should also be considered when looking at gender politics, internationalism and socialism itself.For me the language of socialism has become so debased by over 100 years of existence and variation that it is almost impossible to say you are socialist without inviting a whole load of pre-conceptions upon yourself.

To pose some questions following on from that:

What does a worker's Republic mean. Are HSE consultants on a quarter of a million not workers?

While we all have rights as citizens. How must we weight those against our responsibilities as citizens?Are the small rural Farmers struggling to make money with their 40 acres or the Small business with 3 people employed in them on the other side of the fence to workers?

How do we react to the fact the language of socialism was developed in a urban-factory divide while Ireland was until recently a predominantly rural country.

Indeed that last question is one Eoin touches on when he highlights the application of Socialist ideology was never going to take hold in an Ireland that was predominantly rural. Not because of greed on but because it was not built to deal with the particular issues of Irish society and hence it failed.

If SF is to reaffirm its left orientation then it must separately evaluate its socialist policies and notions in a similar manner because while the two elements of the national struggle may be complimentary, a la Connolly, they are both subject to long traditions based on notions of fealty to a certain path and dare I say doctrine.

Hernando deSoto, the man who effectively defeated the shining path and lifted many Peruvians out of poverty, said (and I paraphrase) that people don't want to be socialists they want to be capitalists but they are not being left do so. Despite his use of such language what he achieved in Peru was the equivalent of a full scale socialist revolution. He just did not see the point in calling it that and becoming bogged down in a debate on semantics.

Am I suggesting some type of policy dissimilitude, no, certainly not, only warning that as Republicans the language we use and how we describe our policies has the danger of forcing us to explain the terms away rather than the policies. In the end do we want to build a Republic based on equality which is truly radical in its vision or do we want to be the old men in the corner who came close.

Eoin's book is highly recommended for those interested in history, politics and Republicanism. It makes for uncomfortable reading in places but that's the purpose of the book. Never again should Republicanism fade away just as its about to succeed.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Not my Kids! Not this time!

Not my Kids! Not this time!

On the 19th March Sinn Féin held a meeting at Wynns Hotel in Dublin. This meeting was hosted by Mary-Lou McDonald and put forward the Sinn Féin argument that NOW is the time to alter the economic debate in the 26 counties and force the government to take action on Irish unemployment.

The importance of this message can in my opinion not be overestimated. It is the biggest single issue that will impact on the lives on ordinary working people on this island and Sinn Féin must be at the forefront of demanding a republic and a government that puts job creation strategies and job retention at the top of the political agenda.

Too much time lately has been spent on analysing the banking crisis and budget deficit (yes I know these are important), but in the meantime unemployment has grown at a frightening rate, with little or no action being taken to address it. This must now change.

I have many relatives who are living in England and other countries around the world because they, or their parents, like millions before them, were both forced out of Ireland by the fact that there were no jobs here. I heard many stories growing up of how my family’s friends and relatives would one day return home. They had never wished to live in another country, but they had felt they had no other choice. Needless to say most of these family friends and relatives never returned home and many are now buried under foreign soil.

But surely things have changed? The Celtic Tiger was good for me and my family and I, like many many others, believed the south was no longer the poor man of western Europe. We were joining on equal terms with France, Germany, Denmark, Holland etc. and the days of forced emigration were over. The one comment I kept on making was “Isn’t it great that our kids will never have to leave Ireland to find work. Thank god those days are gone!”

Yet, it appears I may have spoken too soon.

In my class yesterday, I asked anybody who knew somebody who had lost their job to raise their hand. Over two thirds of the class did and it ranged from family friends, to uncles, to brothers, sisters and parents. I looked at these kids and I wondered what chance will you have? I think everyday about my own kids and ask the same question. Will my own kids feel they have no choice, but to leave this country? Will I, like millions of parents before me watch my own children leave and end up seeing them and my grandchildren a couple of times a year, if I am lucky.

Well, the answer to that is NO, not if I can do anything about it. The title of the Sinn Féin meeting at Wynns hotel was right. Now is the TIME FOR ACTION.

The proposals put forward at the meeting were correct. We must work with the trade unions, community groups and other like-minded political parties in order to mobilise the people of Ireland to create an ALIANCE FOR JOBS. We must demand that job creation and retention is the government’s first priority. We must demand that the mistakes and wrongs of the past are not repeated. We must demand a future for our kids, which means they will not have to leave their home, their family and their friends because this country has failed them.

But for me I have one thing to say to this government,




Yes, this is just another fecking blog.


Well, I support the idea of a united Ireland that at its core has a belief in justice for all. This justice is not only justice in a legal sense, but also economic and social justice. I believe that this section of the 1916 Proclamation is the key to my beliefs and what kind of united Ireland I wish to see.

The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and all of its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally……


Yes, but I no longer believe in a revolutionary road to socialism in any country where people have the right to vote and a parliamentary democracy is in place. In such countries alternative avenues for pushing social and economic reforms exist and I feel that socialists should pursue those avenues.

Yes, I am aware of who controls the media and economic power in such societies, but to me the price of a socialist revolution is too high and unlikely to gain the support of the people.


I don’t really know the difference. If social democrat means that I support parliamentary democracy and advocate that working people organise parliamentary parties to push for change, then yes I am a social democrat. If by socialist you mean the same thing, then yes I am a socialist. My future posts on policies will help you to make up your own mind.


Before answering that I need to say:
I am a member of Sinn Féin and I live in the south of Ireland.
I support the ending of the war in the North and feel that a return to the days of the war should be avoided, if possible.
Republicanism in Ireland has in my opinion been overly focused on issues in the 6 counties and as a result has failed to gain/develop support in the 26 counties.
The failure to gain a significant support base down here is one of the main failures of the entire republican movement and must be addressed, as a priority, by any republican group that wishes to see a united Ireland.

This blog is intended by me to be aimed at three main groups:

Members of Sinn Féin. I would like to see ordinary members come on here and discuss their opinions on developments in the party, areas of concern they may have, where they feel the party should be heading etc. Also I would be happy to post any articles they wish to write.

Supporters of Sinn Féin. To look at debates that are happening in the party and put forward any ideas/concerns they may have.

Undecided people. To see what discussions are happening within the party.


It is not intended to be an avenue for people to simply attack current Sinn Féin policy, without putting forward a considered alternative. There are plenty of other places to do that and if you feel strongly on the matter then write your own blog.


And finally, I am not a leading party figure and I don’t have any amazing insight into the operation of the leadership of this party, but I believe that a party is made up of its members and its supporters and their voice must be listened to. I hope that this blog will create an opportunity for such people to share their views on Sinn Féin and help build Sinn Féin into a mass 32 counties wide party of the people of Ireland. If we do this then we will be on the way to building the all Ireland Republic that the people of this island deserve