Saturday, June 13, 2009

Do actions speak louder than words? Selling northern coalition ploicies to left wing voters.

Following the election I have not posted anything because I wished to let the dust settle and recharge my batteries.

Below are two articles I received concerning Sinn Fein’s role in the Northern Government. The first article is from a Sinn Féin member in the South who was/is struggling to justify to others, and himself, the parties differing attitude to Public Finance Initiatives in the north and in the South.

This to me is very valid viewpoint. When Sinn Féin supporters in the South go around promoting our left wing policies it is hard to respond to left wing criticism of certain actions taken by our ministers in the North. In the case of the first article it is Public Private Financing of projects.

The second article asks what can be done about this contradiction and proposes how we can possibly move forward.

Policy must apply on an all-Ireland basis by Slán Abhaile

Over the past number of months I have noticed some inconsistencies in the way in which the party is applying policy North and South of the border.One recent instance of this is the signing of a contract, oversaw by Education Minister Catriona Ruane, for the construction of four schools in the Co. Down area. The contract for £4.45million is to be completed by Public Private Partnership (PPP), yet Sinn Féin policy is explicit in its opposition to Public Private Partnerships and it features prominently in our Local Government Election Manifesto 2009.

In the past these Public Private Partnerships have been bad value for taxpayer’s money and several examples litter the island such as the farce that is the toll bridge on Dublin’s M50 motorway. Ms. Ruane must be questioned regarding her support for a Public Private Partnership and the actual cost of this Partnership must be made public, as has been demanded by Sinn Féin of similar Fianna Fail-backed PPPs in the 26 Counties.

Second Article 

The UUP have entered into an alliance with the English conservative party. The English Conservative Party looks set to win the next election on the island of Britain. The Conservative Party NI spokesperson has echoed UUP sentiment that they view the involuntary nature of coalition in the six counties as a temporary arrangement and that they view majority rule as the favourable solution. After years of work there are major problems in this for SF but for the sake of argument and the sake of this blog looking at things in a left perspective hypothetically could there be a positive?

If after a fight/negotiations etc there were guaranteed legal rights for the minority in the northern statelet, a greater role for the south to secure them, an Irish language act, finance raising powers, transfer of police and justice powers etc. What if in such circumstances SF did take up a position of the largest opposition party, would it be all bad?

At the moment one of the negatives of our involvement in the executive is having to implement economics that we feel uncomfortable with. Water charges, teacher assistants cuts, public private partnerships etc. this is inconsistent with our position in the south and has opened us up for criticism on such issues. After an election where we were the only left wing party not to benefit from a swing do such weaknesses matter? I think they might. Some people think we’re right wing others left. It’s a major problem that there’s a doubt.

If we were in a role of opposition in the six counties we would have a consistent message across Ireland. The issues are the same, government cuts, privatisation, marginalisation etc the boarder doesn’t distinguish. As Seamus Costello said, "I believe in guerrilla tactics inside and outside of parliaments."

What if we changed tactic in the north? Obviously there are losses but we have proved able to turn weakness into strength before. Hypothetically is there a case for it here?


  1. Is there a case for withdrawing from the executive and becoming the de facto opposition in the 6 counties. There surely is but i am not convinced by it. We would have secured our position on the opposition benches all across Ireland and would be able to challenge everything without having responsibility for anything. But would that change the Ireland we live in or would it just solve some difficult issues for us.

    we've had the fight and negotiations and self-same negotiations are ongoing. Justice min. is coming and financial powers will follow inevitably as per our Scottish cousins' route. Having secured enough tools to steer the course of the northern statelet irreversibly away from london and back towards its natural berth then why would we be content to stand in opposition everytime First Minister Robinson and deputy First Minister Durkan appeared in public with a measure that went against our project.

    So would choosing opposition work.I believe it would just make things easer for us as it is of course easier to hurl from the ditch than on the pitch.

    Ultimately thats what we have to face up to.

    Being in govt. means things are done slowly sometimes and often you are constrained by reality. In contrast if we are in opposition everywhere then we could proceed without having to face reality and our politics would reflect that. Short term success assured but long term failure guaranteed

    Costello said "I believe in guerrilla tactics inside and outside of parliaments."

    Surely he meant only one phase of a struggle though. Guerrillas seek to form the next govt. and to become the ones making the hard decisions. They dont seek the fight solely for the sake of the fight or opposition solely for opposition's sake.

    The Dublin results were instructive in one unmentioned way - parties and groups whose only policy is continuous opposition and who will, realistically speaking, not bring about any changes in Irish society did well at SF's expense. But for how long will they do well and with what results for Irish society. In my opinion for a few years only and with no changes made. Thats not good enough in my books.

    Its a question we do need to resolve - do we always oppose and never achieve or do we accept that being in govt. means tough choices and slowly work towards our vision with all the ups and downs that politics entails.

    The guerrilla analogy is the correct one - we can oppose and harry just like we can govern and implement changes.


  2. dia duit

    i wrote the whats comeing down the tracks argument. i accept j's critism to a point. the people who grew at our expence down here have as much chance of capitaliseing as we did five years ago. i wouldn't write them of. again some people did that five years ago and where wrong.

    from a publicity point of view we are incosistent north and south. the feeling down here is anti establishment. it is the biggest irony that SF with all its baggage all it's history didn't get a bounce on it. this should be our time. i accept going into opposition has an element of huler on the ditch about it but that might be what people want.

    the peace process is/was great but its old news. if we want to be relevent we need to move to where the people are at now or if possible just ahead. no use telling them where they should be at. if there not impressed by what were doing in stormont then there not impressed. if we don't get them then this stratagy of ours stalls if thats not happening all ready.

    i ment the costello quote in that gurrillias need to be adapt to change. it dosent suit to settle or dig in. it may be in or interests to change in stormont. it may not. but like i said in the original post, what ever we think, it is comeing down the tracks. worth thinking about.


  3. It's worth remembering that at the time the GFA was being negotiated republicans did not want a return to Stormont. This was made part of the agreement on the demands of unionists. Republicans recognised it as at best a sideshow to our struggle, at worst a hindrance.

    Ten years on and we seem to have completely lost that critical engagement approach. Instead the northern institutions have become almost an end in themselves. I think we need to re-evaluate them and really look at what we are getting out of them, in terms of how they actually work to advance our objective i.e. a 32 county socialist republic.

    It is clear to me that in certain respects our fear that Stormont would be a hindrance was justified. The weight we put on the restoration of the institutions allowed the DUP to make demands out of us for which we got very little return (apart from the restoration - as I said now seen as an end in itself). The use of PPP/PFI as well as the classroom assistants debacle have seriously damaged our credibility as a left-wing party in the south and those voters are now turning to the far left or independents instead. The expectation that our performance in the Executive would demonstrate to the southern voters that we're capable of governance doesn't seem to have been met at all.

    It's not at all clear to me how these very serious problems are being counterbalanced by anything we're achieving in the northern institutions. Vague justifications such as J's above about "slow change" and "tough choices" are no more convincing than the ones coming from the Green Party in terms of their own participation in government.

    While I'm speaking only for myself here I know that my views are shared by a number of other party activists and supporters as well as being a significant contributing factor in the departure of several key activists in recent years.

  4. J

    The problem is SF is not in 'government' as any democrat understands the word, you are, and I do not say this to be offensive, clinging to the British governments apron as they hold the purse strings.

    There may have been an argument for this after the second ceasefire, and if SF continued to get business done to the benefit of its core support base. But is that the case, sadly one only has to look at those policies that SF have helped implement when in a coalition with the DUP to understand this has not happened that often. Water charges, teacher assistants cuts, public private partnerships etc, all of which are part of the labour government in London's program and are not part of SFs election platform when they were elected in the north.

    You say you can achieve much by being in government, pray tell me what major part of the SF election manifesto has been implemented in the North, not ending selective Education, nor an Irish language act worthy of the name, not even the contentious issue of policing has been resolved and not for the want of trying by SF.

    In return for very little, SF members in the north have found themselves neutered, for fear of upsetting their coalition partners, the Brits and Unionists. If as the writer above claims membership of the Stormont administration is holding up SF’s progress in the south, and it looks very much like it, as the Greens were also [severely] punished for entering a coalition with reactionaries. Then the SF leadership needs to consider its position and act before the Tories pull the plug and leaves them with egg on their faces.

    Once out of the Stormont government, SF in the north may re-invigorate itself and return to a parliamentary and extra parliamentary political struggle. (not armed) In the south SF can then move forward with building a coalition of all progressive and left forces without the taint of just up the road their comrades being embedded with the forces of reaction.

  5. S,Wednesday, Mick,
    Thanks for your responses. Certainly there was no desire to return just to Stormont but then a functioning Stormont is an essential in withdrawing the north from London. Of course you can say as its funded by London then its hardly withdrawn but look at Scotland. Funded by London, but today the Calman report came out recommending more power for Scottish devolution. Stormont can and will become more in my opinion and that will naturally pull it away from London. Is Stormon required yes. Is it perfect no. But it is a stepping stone because it forces unionists to work together with republicans. As imperfect as it is then at least its got us to a stage where unionists can see a SF MEP top the poll. When I discussed subtle changes previously that’s what I meant. Because without heading to that type of normalcy there will be no united Ireland and and there will be no possibility of a left - right political system. That’s what I meant by slow change and its certainly a bit vague a phrase W but it’s the drift to normalcy which is so essential yet so un-dramatic. Certainly the compromise to achieve that normalcy may drift too far. I, like you, would like to see more of the agenda being implemented than it would appear to be at the moment. The DUP need to start delivering on their commitments more and maybe there is a timeline for that. Considering how SF held its ground last year by refusing to attend the executive meetings then I think there is still a commitment to engaging critically with the executive. There does now need to be a return on our investment.
    On the effect our role in the North’s govt. has on the southern electorate I think rather than undermine our credibility as a left wing party it had no effect. Our role in govt. has not made a contribution for good or for bad in the south. It had the opportunity to sell our party as being serious enough to be in govt. and it should have been a bonus. Whether it undermines our credibility with the southern electorate as a left party is an important question because I think its might lead us to wonder about the PBP vote, the SP vote etc. I dont believe any PBP or SP candidate was elected on the back of voters reviewing SF’s role in the north and saying no thats not for me I’ll vote for the further left. There candidates were, IMHO, elected on the strength of community work and Joe Higgins reputation for being a straight talker for the ordinary person. Something certainly went wrong in Dublin and those parties benefited at SF’s expense but I don’t believe they did so on the back of our northern role. I never once saw a reference to SF suffering in the south due to being govt. in the north in the media.
    All that said I do see that organizationally the need to balance our message may have neutered our delivery a bit but I still believe that the message is okay but that the delivery needs to be more forceful.
    Mick rightfully points out that much needs to be implemented in the north and the need to work in a coalition has led to a kind of stasis . But can we achieve more from the opposition benches. I wonder whether we can. The Greens entered into Govt. and generally are regarded as good ministers but they are being hammered not because they are in govt. with reactionaries but because they are seen as being FFs support. Its govt. with Fianna Fail that’s toxic fore them.

  6. If Sinn Fein were to pull out of govt. then everytime we criticized a position the other parties might answer “If you have all the answers then why did you run to the benches to preach easy solutions you wont need to implement.”
    I find it hard to see what can be achieved by joining the opposition. Surely the purpose of the opposition is to challenge the govt. , suggest better ways which they would duly implement . The very purpose of being in opposition is to one day be in power. Not power for power’s sake but power for the sake of bringing about a change.
    A strong political project cannot be created by a mass movement in opposition unless that mass movement is denied the opportunity to rule and is in opposition not by choice but because of a unequal power balance in society; an unequal power balance which is very evident in all societies that tip into revolution just as it did in Ireland. While imbalances exist today there is no mechanism to stop Sinn Fein from being in govt. If Sinn Fein decides it can artificially create the semblance of a revolutionary environment by staying out of power not because it was denied the opportunity but because it chooses to then it will fail spectacularly as the electorate question why it refuses to govern and the then govt. neutralizes its electoral appeal by implementing changes to its advantage.
    Constant opposition is a luxury that other smaller left parties can afford but we cannot afford it though we need to deliver on our aims more and more, certainly. J

  7. J. The whole problem in the north is that we are not really exercising real power. We are a left wing republican party in an enforced coalition in an administration with limited powers with right wing unionsit parties. This makes us unable to introduce the radical left wing policies we support.

    I appreciate the logic of going down this road following the ceasefires in order to bring a degree of normaility to a war situation. However, to me that has been achieved and we shoud be looking to the next stage of the process.

    To me that stage is moving out of enforced coalition and putting forward our case for a socialist republican agenda to all the people of Ireland.

    I agree with S in the original piece and I also feel that we can only go down that road once we have ensured ceratin things. Namely a legally binding Bill of Rights guaranteed by London/ Dublin and or the EU. Also an Irish language Act guaranteed in the same manner. Also voting rights for northern citizens in certain elections eg presidental Also seats for some northern politicans in the Seanad.

    Once we have made these gains I feel we can agree to the disolution of the enforced coaliton of Stormont. In such a situation we would have far more credibility in arguing our case for left republican policies. One reason would be that the contradcitions spoken about in the original piece would no longer be taking place and Sf would not be supporting policies in the North and attacking them in the South.

    I also feel such a move would also show that we remain a party of vision and principle who are prepared to give up the trappings of political power in order to push for real change in this country.

  8. j

    dublin SF lost its mep to a trot we lost about 20,000 votes. crumlin lost a seat blanch etc.

    the greens compromised on rossport tara etc. they lost one of there most recogniseable faces patrica mckenna who polled more than the green candidate in the euros and who has been attacking the green party because they went against there own promises. where those mnisters where elected .

    so i think your analises of the greens melt down and the increasse of the trot vote at SF expence is wrong.

    mick talked about a left allience in the south. hypotheticly why not all ireland. look at how the protestant working class failed to turn out in the euros. they have no one to go to. if SF were attacking the DUP on bread and butter issues could it be used at an opportunity at unionist out reach to find areas of common concern with the protestant working class, maybe a bit far fetched but it's never been tried before so why not, probably most people reading that will cringe but still, not imossible.

    again its not simply a matter of pulling out of government. its pulling out of involuntary coalition that tyes us to policys that don't sit.

    from my point of view all of this is in the coxtext that a future brit government wants it, any effect on support to us will imo happen in that context. instead of diving on a granade to prevent it, for arguments sake it may not be a bad thing.
    if we where lagest opposition if its what people wanted and the opportunity presented we could go back in on our terms as a majority. or if the thinking is different, that stormount is stagnent. the powers of the executive are limited simply use it as a platform to build argueing on left wing politics.
    with wednesday some evaluation in needed. i agree with her that what we are effectively doing in stormount is potentialy dammageing us with politicly minded people. from there point of view it's not an unreasonable argument or objection.


  9. J, to take you up on a couple points:

    a functioning Stormont is an essential in withdrawing the north from London

    When did this become part of our viewpoint? It certainly wasn't at the time the GFA was agreed. Were we wrong then? If so, what changed?

    On the effect our role in the North's govt. has on the southern electorate I think rather than undermine our credibility as a left wing party it had no effect...I never once saw a reference to SF suffering in the south due to being govt. in the north in the media.

    Well, of course a right-wing media isn't going to say that we're suffering for not being left enough. But it absolutely is the case that our performance in the executive is being used against us by other left parties at local level. If you talk to other leftists, even those who aren't affiliated to another party, it's very clear that they see our record in the executive as evidence that we aren't really left. It's impossible to be certain how much this trickles down to the ordinary left voter but it can't possibly help.

    The Greens entered into Govt. and generally are regarded as good ministers but they are being hammered not because they are in govt. with reactionaries but because they are seen as being FF's support.

    I'm not sure who regards them as "good ministers" but anyway the reason they're being hammered is because they're seen as having rolled over for FF while achieving very little of their own agenda. We'd be foolish to ignore the parallels.

  10. Hi S,

    take on baord much of what you said there.

    Yeah I think your analysis on the Greens is right. I left out the whole tara thing etc which is a big gap :)

    I had been looking at the greens need to secure transfers to win their seats and I think I focused too much on those transfer votes from fgers, ffers, labour and of course Sinn Fein. I still think those type of voters would, very broadly speaking, be more likely to turn away from the greens on account of them backing FF in govt.

    I forgot about the whole tara thing etc and consdering the greens hit 7% for a while in the polls I think maybe other folks did as well. Or maybe its better to say it faded into the background considering the economic mess.

    But for the core green votes they would be very aware of how the greens back-pedalled on rossport and tara and that would explain the drop in their first preference vote as even their core turned away from them.

    is that a plausible idea - that two different issues, being with FF, and abandoning their principles, caused the green vote to collapse in different ways - they lost the valuable transfers from say fg types but they also lost the 1s and 2s from their own voters and SF voters who migh have backed them on rossport.

    On the idea of attracting the working class loyalist vote in the north. I think its something that needs to be done alright. You say its not been done before but I think it has been a bit. Didnt the workers party try to focus on this angle back in the early 70s. I think there mistake was to let the theory of working class unity blind them to reality. i am not sure how much outreach they did with protestant workers as opposed to talking about it. But its certainly a possibility now that the poison of the conflict is being drawn.

    Thats part of the problem as well. SF need to build its vote in working class protestant areas but to do that it needs to stop working class protestants from automatically rejecting SF which means they have to work hand in hand with unionists so as to stop being the bogey men.

    Which leads us back to the problem of where do our policies get lost in all this.

    A fine line to walk it seems.

    (if anyone can set me straight on the WP and its efforts on cross community suport i'd appreciate it.)

    On Joe Higgins - probably worth an article on its own. Joe got what 15-16% 1st pref. I am certain thats not a vote for Trotskyist policies. Does anyone outside political circles know what a trot is as opposed to a marxist etc. I know the SP are trot but I haven't a clue what that means exactly and I am fairly interested in politics and in a progressive social programme.


  11. on the whole working class protestant thing i think the only group to activly try to engage with working class protestants in the last 100 years, despite all the pontification about it was republican congress only a blip but co - incidently organised in similar recessionary times.

    the important thing i think is that we work with them not excusivley some politician there getting disillusioned with.

    as you said before in the executive some consistencies are maintained by praticular arguments. works both ways though. any way ment it as a possible spin of of the down the tracks argument. probably derailing here. on its own probably worth a theises.

    on way the greens had a melt down. look at FG after every election where they have just come out of government. as a smaller party the greens where more suseptable to the same prosses of backlash. it's the same process over and over again. look at the mick o reilly thread.

    maybe people did or didn't vote for higgans on the finner points of who stuck an ice pick in whos back but one thing is sure pbp and SP anr occupying ground SF were occuping five years ago and good look to them. but for our own sake we have to ask our self why. one basic is that in our drift to the centre space has opened up on our left flank. there ably to hold this position with a certin mindset of people by exposeing weeknesses in what we say and do as articulated by wednesday above.

    not the end of the world life goes on. be we need to think about the process all ireland and how everything effects everything else.

  12. A "Trot" or Trotskyist is a variety of Marxist. Their politics are descended from the split in the Communist Parties between the Left Opposition and the Stalinists. By this stage, many decades later, a whole range of different political views and positions are descended from Trotskyism.

    What they have in common is hostility to the Stalinist regimes and affiliation to Marxism in its revolutionary form.

  13. What exactly is a Stalinist regime and Marxism in its revolutionary form? ;)

    Would happen to be those who help anti-imperialists most during the 20th Century and led a number of the National Liberation struggles?


  14. Unfortunately I'm a bit out of the loop. the last 4 years I've only been reading about 55 articles a week in relation tgo the North from irish and british sources, and that continues today. But I have some thoughts on this that you can all judge with your higher levels of knowledge.

    1. On northern coalition. I heard that Adams proclaimed the Gaelic workers republic- a member of NORAID told me so when I told him I was a socialist. : ) Actually I'm not very familiar with the details, although I know that Langhammer of the ILP A: doesn't like their budget and B: doesn't seem to blame SF.

    I've got mixed feelings on the question of opposition. As someone pointed out, it does demonstrate that SF can get along with the Protestants which makes it more likely that the Unionist working-class will listen to SF when SF goes all Workers Party on them (I like saying that sort of thing but seriosuly, FUCK the WP and SF should try getting support with working-class unionists- I was happy to see in, I think 2001, you ran a candidate in the Court DEA (AKA the Shankhill). (on a similar note, there were the 1932 riots of the unemployed in Belfast)

    withdrawing from coalition might be spun by opponents of SF as sectarian and some idiots will listen to that. I can also see a majority of SF's nationalist and Other consituents not liking SF pulling out, although I could be wrong about that.

    On the other hand, the unionist workers you're more likely to get probably know that the Executive doesn't care about them (as workers) and you combine that with their moderate unionism, why would they like SF? Making Sf attractive to them in class terms might work better. So I can see both sides and have mixed feelings about it.

    On the related question of people in the South thinking SF aren't solid socialists, even without reading hardly anything, I figured that out as soon as I saw who got elected and who didn't in dublin. About 10 years ago Higgins, or someone else at the SP, wrote that SF is left in the south, right in America, and in-between in the North.

    Although I'm less familiar with this today than I was 97-04, SF needs to adjust it's approach to America. That's what I talk about in the post (yes I mentioned it before, and no, you're not going to love every word, but for the most part you'll like it).

    Which brings me to my last point. If SF gets stronger in terms domestic and international support, you can push for my idea of how to use a northern assembly to resolve the conflict. I've been wanting to get this out to SFers for a while. It's at
    Right now theres' no way SF has the strength to push for that, but hopefully soon.

    trots are known to loathe compromise, I think that might be what unites them more than anything else. As far as i CAN TELL, SOME OF THEM ARE OKAY-GOOD (Solidarity in America for example) many are very sectarian.