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


  1. Good points. I think it has had its day and we should switch to a fully internet based paper.

  2. Paper sales are down because the content is rubbish. I buy it every now and again and find that very seldomly there is something worthwhile reading.Saoirse is a much better read in my opinion. Great historical features and so on.

    I think the authors idea about a debating paper is a good idea. Once it is open to all who will debate the republican movement in a genuine manner. From my time in Sinn Féin debate was always stifled.

  3. While recognising the value of a very open debate I have to point out that a party's newspaper also cannot become a free for all.

    I am playing Devil's advocate a bit here but I think the point is fair to make.

    A certain level of direction is always required and understandable.


  4. Completely agree Jer,

    It should have more than one function. It still can be the voice of the party, but it should also used to encourge debate in a progressive manner as well.

    A free for all is not something i wish to see either, but I do wish to see an acceptance of the need to address different viewpoints, and an acceptance that comrades can be united but have honest disagreements with one another.

  5. Not many people wish to buy the paper anymore, so a revamp and move to the web is what is required, but it must remain a mouth piece for the party, because we have so little access to the media