Friday, July 31, 2009

Sinn Féin must support tax increases.

Below is a piece from this weeks An Phoblacht concerning why Sinn Féin needs to support increases in taxes, an issue Sinn Féin has kept way from in the past.


Tax rises will be necessary
by Eoin Ó Broin

THE Commission on Taxation is due to complete its work later this week. Established in February 2008, its remit was to “review the structure, efficiency and appropriateness of the Irish taxation system”. Its report was expected to help the government set the framework for tax reform for the coming decade.

Its terms of reference included a commitment to “keep the overall tax burden low” and a “guarantee that the 12.5% Corporation Tax rate will remain”. Sources close to the commission indicate that, while the report will go some way to simplifying the notoriously complex system currently in place, it will keep its word on keeping the tax-take low.

If this proves to be the case, should we welcome the report? Absolutely not!

One of the great myths of our time is that low-tax economies are more competitive. Of course, there is no evidence to support this claim.

A quick look at the World Competitiveness Scoreboard for any recent year demonstrates that there are more high-tax countries in the top ten than there are low-tax countries. In particular, Norway, Sweden and Finland always feature prominently as amongst the world most competitive economies despite their relatively high-tax-takes.

The real determinants of competitiveness are science, technology, education and affordable health and childcare, all of which require investment by the state. And where does the state get the cash to invest? It gets it from taxation, of course. And here’s our problem.

The 26 Counties has one of the lowest tax-takes of any the EU’s 27 member states. In 2007, the total tax revenue as a percentage of GDP was 31%. Only Latvia, Slovakia, Lithuania and Romania took less.

At the other end of the scale, world leaders in competitiveness (such as Sweden, Denmark and Finland) had tax revenues at 44% to 51% of GDP.

You don’t have to be an economist to conclude that if you have Latvian levels of taxation you cannot have Scandinavian levels of investment in job creation or public services.

In the same year, the 26 Counties has the third-lowest level of government expenditure as a percentage of GDP in the EU. Only Lithuania and Estonia fared worse. Again, at the top end of the spectrum, the Scandinavian countries ranged from 49% to 54%.

There is also a clear link between a country’s total tax-take and the levels of inequality. The larger a country’s tax-take, the more money it has to invest in various forms of social protection and wealth redistribution. In 2008, the 26 Counties spent 18% of GDP on social protections compared to Sweden’s 32%.

So what does all of this tell us?

If you want greater competitiveness and less inequality you need to have enough money to invest in research and development, education, job creation, public services and social protection.

If you don’t, then your economy will be weak and your society crippled with inequality.It is time to start making the argument to raise taxes, for the good of the economy and the good of society. If the report from the Commission on Taxation fails to do this then it should be thrown in the bin.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Eoin O Broin's article - a viewpoint from Galway East

This is a piece from Joe Des of Galway East Sinn Féin in response to the two articles I have posted concerning Eoin Ó Broin and in particular the article written by Eoin in the Irish News.

A seperate point Joe made in his e-mail was what he saw as the relatively poor use Sinn Féin activists are making of the internet. He made the point that he was disheartened that comrades seem to be using the internet for trivial matters rather than posting their thoughts or aspirations of Sinn Fein, the Republican Movement or the project at hand. I must say I agree with you Des.

Anyway, back to the article. Des' response to Eoin ÓBroin article


I was looking forward to someone getting these debates running so fair play to Eoin for grabbing the nettle. I’ve had a good read of the above , but the post just doesn’t do it for me. I suppose as a conversation starter it is good, but the debate will have to be much more challenging than this. The content is spot on, but it is bland, academic and unimaginative.

There are too many items that we’ve heard before. “We are in a period of transition and have yet to find our feet”. I’m really sick of hearing that one. It’s sometimes said “we’re on a learning curve”. If it is taking this long it is more of a roundabout than a curve!

We have been at this for some time and the Republican movement is full of intelligent and articulate people. It should not be taking this long to get the right people into the right places and working as unified movement. I think much of the talk of alliances’ and coalition strategies have distracted us and undermined our confidence in the ability of our local activists. It may have contributed in the publics’ perception that Sinn Fein is now “just the same as the rest of them”.

The fact that most of our Councilors (a majority of them in their first term) retained their seats in the last election shows that we are producing competent and capable public reps. That is encouraging. Cllr. Teresa Ferris points out that “we need to build the party around our community based councillors”. That makes sense and is practical. And in fairness this is very much in line with your analysis that “The key to our success is what we do locally – being embedded in our communities and empowering local people to take control over the decisions that affect their daily lives.”

But there are failings in the way we operate. This needs to be accepted and addressed.

When you say “We need to build alliances for change…” I don’t think that goes far enough. We need to 'up the ante' in the broader political arena. We need to be confident and display enough conviction to actually set our own agenda rather than mould ourselves to be more palatable to any existing or potential political alignments.

Again, referring to T. Ferris letter “Let’s get clear on who our potential supporters are and give them meaningful reasons to vote Sinn Fein” is a very clear and direct way to begin discussing the party’s position from a ‘solutions based’ approach. It should be employed by all activists and supporters as the starting point for future discussion.

As Republicans are we content with being ‘potentially influential’ in government policy decisions and administration? There may be merit in that. We have gained ground and perhaps should hold it until such a time that public opinion gives us the opportunity to express that influence to a greater degree.

Or do we need to look at our roots as a Revolutionary party, ally ourselves and engage on a deeper level with the social and economic influences that are forcing change within Ireland. I believe that the challenge for the Republican Movement is not to clarify our message, but to clarify our actions. Are we at the core or even openly engaging today’s popularist movements that might bring about dramatic change like education and students movements, employment, agriculture and the fishing industry? And more importantly, if we are, is that involvement serving that particular movement or is it serving Sinn Fein? Are we capable of setting up a de facto government on a 32 counties basis? Even if it means one council at a time. You mention the “progressive coalitions” that would be required to implement real alternatives. Are we courting them or should they be courting us?

Should we be thinking that way? The main government parties have all stated clearly that they do not want us in government. Perhaps we should make it clear that we do not want to be in their type of government. These are the questions of a Revolutionary Party.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Sinn Fein needs to make its republican message relevant

I was contacted by a comrade who pointed out this article in the Irish News.
Does this fit in with what you think? Join in the debate.

Sinn Fein needs to make its republican message relevant
By Eoin O Broin

In the immediate aftermath of this June’s local and European elections there has been much debate about the future of Sinn Fein. Unfortunately a good deal of the analysis has been widely off the mark.

In some cases, commentators have clearly lost the run of themselves, salivating over their own political fantasies, with talk of crisis, splits and meltdown.

So let’s deal with some hard facts.

Sinn Fein remains the third largest political party on the island of Ireland.

In the European elections we took 331,797 votes, 115,545 less than Fianna Fail.

Despite some high-profile losses, particularly in Dublin, the party broadly held its own in terms of votes and seats.

However, the party did have a poor election. The loss of Mary Lou McDonald as MEP for Dublin and the defection of a number of councillors post-election has forced the party to ask some hard questions.

Writing in An Phoblacht a few weeks ago, Sinn Fein Euro candidate for Munster Toiréasa Ferris struck a chord with many activists when she said: ‘Sinn Fein simply means nothing to the bulk of people in the south’.

Her prognosis that the ‘party is suffering an identity crisis’ may have been harsh but her call for Sinn Fein to clarify what ‘we are trying to achieve in the 26 counties’ was timely.

In the view of this writer Sinn Fein is not suffering an identity crisis. However, in the south we are in a period of transition and have yet to find our feet.

You could call it party political growing pains.

Toiréasa Ferris is right when she says that Sinn Fein means little to the bulk of people in the south. The challenge, therefore, is to clarify our left republican message and to ensure that it is relevant to people in their everyday lives.

So what does Sinn Fein stand for? We are a left republican political party committed to ending partition, creating a national democracy and building a society based on social and economic justice and political and cultural equality.

However, we have to constantly ask ourselves whether the tools we are employing are fit for the job and whether we are using those tools to their best effect.

The key to our success is what we do locally – being embedded in our communities and empowering local people to take control over the decisions that affect their daily lives.

Only through such local activism can we convince a growing section of the electorate that Sinn Fein is committed to delivering real political, social and economic change.

We also need to acknowledge that Sinn Fein alone does not have the political strength to achieve the degree of change Irish society requires. We need to build alliances for change with other political, social and civic forces locally and nationally.

In the north, this demands that we build a real and sustained working relationship with civic and political unionism. In the south it means ending the political dominance of both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.

In both jurisdictions it will eventually require progressive coalitions in local and regional government implementing real alternatives to the failed right-wing social and economic policies that are the cause of our current economic malaise.

It will also require a vibrant and independent civic society, bringing together the community and voluntary sector, trade unions and concerned citizens, acting as a social guarantee for any progressive coalition’s promise of change.

Irish society needs change.

The challenge for republicans is not only to build an alliance for change with others but to demonstrate that social and economic change goes hand in hand with political and constitutional change.

The challenge for republicans is not only to build an alliance for change with others but to demonstrate that social and economic change goes hand in hand with political and constitutional change.

Notwithstanding the poor election in the south this writer is optimistic about Sinn Féin’s immediate future. We have a lot of hard work to do and a lot of weaknesses to correct. But the strength and relevance of Sinn Féin’s left republican message of social, economic, political and constitutional change, north and south, is as relevant today as ever before.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Na Fianna Éireann - New Book - 100 Year Anniversary of Na Fianna Éireann

100 Year Anniversary of Na Fianna Éireann
Na Fianna Éireann- New Book

Eamon Ryan has contacted Sinn Féin Keep Left and asked that we publicise a new book on Na Fianna Éireann. I have not read the book, but I am happy to put it up. If anybody wishes to write a short review of the book then that would be great.

A new book on the history of Na Fianna Éireann entitled 'Na Fianna Éireann and the Irish Revolution- 1909 to 1923' written by Damian Lawlor has been published. At present it is available in a number of bookshops in Dublin, Belfast and the midlands.

If you can't get any of these shops you can get it from the author - just email It costs ten euro plus postage and packaging which costs four euro fifty cent in Ireland and five euro fifty for all other locations. Na Fianna Éireann was founded on August 16th 1909 in an old run down hall at 34 Lower Camden Street. A committee which included Countess Markievicz and Bulmer Hobson had called the meeting in order to recruit boys in Dublin to a new nationalist body. The hundred or so young Irish lads who attended determined to create an organisation which would offer a suitable alternative to the growing Baden-Powell ‘Boy Scout’ movement. What developed over the next fourteen years was a veritable boy’s army which played a crucial role in the Irish Revolution.

This book is unique in telling the history of Na Fianna Éireann. It charts its growth and development from 1909 to 1923, giving for the first time access to the stories of individual members. The book also analyses its expansion into a truly national organisation with over 30,000 members spread throughout Ireland’s 32 counties. Significantly the involvement of the Fianna Éireann in the following events is described in detail:

• The development of Na Fianna Éireann in its early years

• A history of the flag, badge, uniform and song of Na Fianna Éireann

• The launch and growth of the Irish Volunteers

• The Howth and Kilcoole gun running operations

• The Fianna circle of the IRB

• The Fianna involvement in 1916 Rising

• The reorganisation of the Fianna in the aftermath of 1916

• The Fianna participation in the ‘Tan War’

Monday, July 27, 2009

A view from 2007 about what was going to happen to Sinn Féin- Was it accurate?

Below is a comment and an article I received to the Post "Can Sinn Féin change from within?"  Once again I felt the contribution was too valuable to leave as a comment so I've posted it as an article.


I came across the article below and it was printed in the Socialist Voice in July 2007. This paper is the mouth piece of the Communist Party and I feel the article should be dusted down and looked at again today.

The article more or less predicted what was going to happen to Sinn Féin following the results of the 2007 election. It predicted that we would be squeezed out of the media and our strategy of over reliance on electoral success, and our elected representatives, would lead to decline or stagnation.

We are all aware of the debate going on at present within the party and personally I think we need to look at things in terms of what works and what doesn't. Radicalism reformism, it's all a load of bolox! The objective is a 32 county socialist republic and that essentially means the destruction of two corrupt states and helping to create a new Europe. Therefore our intent is clearly radical. The means of how we get to that object is however not clear at all.

However, the article below is written by somebody from outside the party and its analysis of what would happen to Sinn Féin should be looked at by all those people interested in advancing the ideals of Sinn Féin and helping us get to the creation of a 32 county socialist republic.

Remember this was written in 2007


Republicanism tripped up by the national question

The fall-out from the failure of Sinn Féin to make an electoral breakthrough and the loss of an important Dáil seat in the Dublin area continues to rumble on and to cause much debate within the republican movement.

Sinn Féin had hoped to capitalise on the momentum following its success in the Northern Assembly elections and the re-establishment of the Executive. The peace process provided Sinn Féin with great photo opportunities for leading individuals, particularly Southern personalities. They had easy access to the Taoiseach’s office, as well as to Downing Street and the White House.

They now find themselves in a situation where the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive continue to take root and are bedded down, leading to fewer political crises that could propel them into the limelight and give them the opportunity to appear to be central to any solution.

Their strength in Dáil Éireann is reduced, and the technical group that gave them a platform in the last Dáil is now obsolete. Fianna Fáil was clever enough to mop up the independents to make sure that minority parties will have little or no say.

Sinn Féin will now have to operate in a more hostile corporate media environment, with photo opportunities becoming few and far between and with less access to the Taoiseach’s office and Downing Street. There is the likelihood of becoming just another small party, receiving little publicity and with invitations to appear on television beginning to dry up.

As we have pointed out many times in Socialist Voice, the political establishment, both in Ireland and Britain, was not unduly concerned about republican weapons and their decommissioning but was more concerned about securing the decommissioning of radical republican politics.

The comment reportedly made by Pat Doherty, that there was “too much ideology” in Sinn Féin, will come as a surprise to many within that party. The leadership are clearly attempting to circumscribe the nature and the extent of the debate allowed and the conclusions and lessons to be learnt from the debate now under way.

Judging by some statements by leading republicans, they would have settled for a similar deal to that secured by the Green Party, with a “green paper” on Irish unity thrown in. In the majority of constituencies where Sinn Féin did badly, left-wing independents polled well. Many working people were not impressed by talk of being “ready for government.” They have had the experience of the Labour Party being ready for government for years, promising everything and delivering little.

People understand politics from their own immediate experience and demands. What may be a priority for one person or group or a particular section of the population may not automatically translate itself throughout the Irish countryside. Nor can one political strategy cross over where there is a different set of problems and demands that require a different political strategy. The national question is more than just partition, and progressive forces need to take a much broader approach to its resolution.

Simply having a strategy for getting into and staying in government, regardless of what you stand for or do while in government, will lead only to growing opportunism, demoralisation, and defeat. The left has to get back to radical street politics, with the mobilisation of working people, uniting them on clear demands and goals.

Republicanism is a limited ideology if it is not connected to the transforming of society and the empowering of working people. It is empty if it does not address both political and economic democracy. Fianna Fáil can call itself a “republican party,” but we know that there is little of republicanism within its ideology.

Republicans are faced with a dilemma. You can’t be in government in the Northern Executive implementing conservative policies while in the South be engaged in making radical demands and taking radical political actions. Is not the point of being in government fighting for and, more importantly, implementing people-centred policies, providing the means to broaden out the struggle and building the potential forces for progress? It is not less ideology that we need but a deeper understanding of the nature and course of the struggle.

The national question, as the CPI has argued for decades, requires a more sophisticated political strategy, centred on the interests of working people. This will require the unity of all progressive forces, united in joint action. It will take time and patient political coalition-building.

The over-emphasis on electoralism fosters a false sense of politics and in many instances disempowers people and reduces them to mere election fodder. Republicans need to address the nature of opportunism and what gives rise to it.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

No excuses - Dublin Sinn Féin has the chance to lead the way forward for Sinn Féin as a whole

Some good news this week for Sinn Féin in Dublin. Eoin O Broin has been elected as the new chairperson of the Dublin Sinn Féin Cuige. Now the man who has been one of the main voices for left republicanism within Sinn Féin has been given a position of real power and responsibility and has the chance to really show to everybody that Sinn Féin is a republican socialist party.

In my opinion all left wing republicans within Sinn Féin should redouble their activities over the coming period and give Eoin our full support. Let the left of the party show that the message we have for he people of Ireland is indeed the message the people wish to hear. Let us demonstrate that the republican socialist message has an audience and that the left in Irish politics has the answers to the problems that are faced by Dublin and Ireland as a whole.

Below is an article from An Phoblacht regarding Eoin's appointment.

Ó Broin new Dublin Sinn Féin Chairperson

THE Dublin Sinn Féin Cuige unanimously elected Eoin Ó Broin as their new chairperson last week. The election came following the decision of current chair, Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD, to stand down to focus on his constituency and the forthcoming general election.
The cuige also elected Daithí Doolan as the new education officer.Speaking after the meeting,

Eoin Ó Broin said:

"Dublin Sinn Féin faces big challenges in the time ahead. If we are to meet these challenges, we need to refocus on the core political objectives of our party and develop new strategic direction for the city. We also need to reinvigorate our party organisation.

"Sinn Féin is a republican socialist party. We want an end to partition and the creation of a national democracy based on principles of social and economic justice and political and cultural equality. We want to end poverty, inequality, discrimination and marginalisation in our communities and across the city, to effect change that improves the quality of people’s every day lives.

"To do this, we have to build our political strength organisationally and electorally in every community, ward and constituency in the city. We also need to build and drive an alliance for change, in communities and across the city, to advance our political objectives."
Sinn Féin must once again be embedded in our local communities, the new cuige chair said "empowering people through campaigning on the streets and in the media and through assertive representation in the councils and Leinster House".

He said that Sinn Féin must be the campaigning party, radical and credible, offering local communities a real alternative to the failed politics of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Sinn Féin are simply Catholic politicans - what do you think?

This week the Pensive Quill wrote a piece regarding his use of the term "Catholic Politicans" to describe Sinn Féin. This was in response to a comment I had left on his site in which I questioned the use of this term.

In the piece he wrote he has also mentioned this site and offered me the chance to respond, but as he rightly says I only manage the blog. This site is dedicated to debate within the party so I would ask people to read the piece and give their own opinion on how appropraite it is. Are Sinn Féin simply catholic politicans?


Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Catholic Politicians

In recent days a comment appeared on the Pensive Quill in response to the article ‘Wrong Tune’. The poster, ‘Starry Plough’, manages a promising blog, Sinn Fein Keep Left. While constructed from the perspective of someone who feels Sinn Fein can still deliver the goals that initially defined it, the blog has survived the howls of those who protest the washing of dirty linen in public. Soiled linen is anything that does not depict the leadership in halos. Keep Left is a brave attempt to swim against the tide of party orientation which would readily see the leadership lurch gleefully to the right if the Blueshirts of Fine Gael were in a position to extend an invitation to join them in government. The one downside of the blog, which is not a criticism of Starry Plough or any of those who take the time to run it, is that 15 years ago its value would have been greatly magnified. Regrettably, at a time when debate and probing may have salvaged something from the republican project, there was so little of it able to emerge in the face of concerted leadership attempts to discourage it. Few then were thinking of blogs. Most of us were unaware of the existence of the internet.

Part of the comment Starry Plough made to the Pensive Quill had this to say.

One point I am struggling with in your posts though is the term catholic politician. The church is dying, many if not most people who vote SF, or any party for that manner, are no longer church going. So why the use of this phrase? I simply find it grabs my attention and deflects from other things you write.

That it grabs the attention of the poster is an achievement in it itself. It may have done so because it had a certain shock or annoyance property or alternatively because – as it seems to be for Starry Plough – it rings so far off the mark that it distorts the wider argument being made.

There are a number of defensible reasons for describing Sinn Fein elected representatives as Catholic politicians, none of which have anything to do with the religious persuasion of the people involved or the church that they might attend. Primarily, in as far as they stand for something other than their own power, the political project of Sinn Fein politicians, regardless of the discourse, is strategically driven by the impulse to advance the position of the Northern Catholic populace in a communitarian as opposed to a religious sense. Sinn Fein demand better schools not better church run schools. While people like Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness openly admit their religious preferences Gerry Kelly seems never to express any religious sentiment whatsoever. So when the term ‘Catholic politician’ is employed it delineates a political community not a religious one. The terms Protestant and Catholic in the North are widely assumed to be interchangeable with Unionist and Nationalist. The concept ‘political Catholic’ is not to be misunderstood as, or confused with a religious Catholic.

Sinn Fein is essentially a Northern Catholic party. This results less from the ideological orientation of the leadership – vote chasers rather than ideology sponsors – than it does from the structural location within the political grid of that insurrectionary energy which brought Provisionalism into being and has played no small part in sustaining it since. Provisionalism is shaped more by constraints than opportunities. Brian Faulkner long ago made the observation that were it not for the Catholics of Belfast there would be no discussion of a united Ireland or a Provisional IRA to push it. Sinn Fein’s only consistent hardcore support base is located in the Catholic North. Elsewhere it tends to be more transient. This goes some way toward explaining its declining relevance in the South. Whether left or right, it is not viewed as a party that has answers to the problems that beset the South, just something up North that endlessly chatters in a strange Northern language called peace processery. Its abysmal failure to be recognised as a left alternative when cities like Dublin clearly moved to the left all militate against positioning it within a socialist framework. Its strategy of expansionism throughout Ireland has come off the rails and it is now being contained within the North where it plays second fiddle in a DUP led and dominated government. As unpalatable as it appears to those of us who saw comrades die and who spent long times in prison in pursuit of something vastly different from what Peter Robinson stands for, his pronouncements leave little room for confidence:

Nobody is boasting about Irish unification by 2016 anymore … on all fronts and at every level we have rolled back the nationalist agenda and are following our unionist agenda. We have re-moulded Government to our vision. Every impartial observer of the political scene agrees that the DUP is the driving force in Stormont.

This points to a Catholic minority and its political representatives accepting the balance of political forces and deferring to their outworking, not a republican constituency and its political representatives following a republican agenda that undermines that balance of forces and destabilises the concomitant political arrangement that it gives rise to.

Be that as it may, it does not follow that seeing Sinn Fein politicians as little other than political Catholics is self-evident. The case for that has to be demonstrated rather than assumed. Personally, there is a measure of discomfort in describing Sinn Fein as republican, socialist, revolutionary – all terms it would prefer over Catholic. The first three terms, once said leave a bad aftertaste in the mouth. There is a certain psychological comfort to be drawn from finding a term that intellectually and emotionally smoothes those jutting and jagged edges that come with employing another term that does not seem to fit quite as well. The term Catholic politician is not made to measure but one that is purchased straight from the rack. As such it is never a perfect fit, is a matter of taste and must at all times coexist alongside the view of others who think it does not fit at all.

For some time I have not felt comfortable in employing the term ‘republican politician.’ It bestows legitimacy on actions which are demonstrably anything other the republican. Apart from all the other republican sacred cows sacrificially offered up to the great god Peace Process, to equate republicanism with a strategy of touting to the British is so anathema to republican sentiment – on a par with terming someone who supports the Ku Klux Klan, a black civil rights activist– that it simply fails to compute. It sticks in the craw to confer the status of republican on anyone who would endorse touting, no matter how useless, self-referential, abhorrent or counterproductive the actions of physical force republicans.

‘Nationalist politicians’ would be a term more appropriate than ‘republican politicians’ but in many senses the SDLP got their first and were always termed nationalists by Sinn Fein. So the term Catholic politician allows for a convenient demarcation line between the two sets of politicians, Sinn Fein and the SDLP. And because Sinn Fein has been more inclined to beat the sectarian drum in terms of appealing to the instincts of its constituency the label political Catholic is more appropriate to it than to the SDLP. Moreover, ‘Catholic’ rather than ‘nationalist’ tugs at Sinn Fein’s sleeve each time it makes a claim to have advanced nationalism as a 32 county phenomenon. In that sense it is subversive of the party’s proclamations. Any sense that Sinn Fein is involved in a struggle for national liberation has long since evaporated. As Fionnuala O Connor, frequently quoted in recent articles on the Pensive Quill, tellingly asked:

Hijackings certainly would not advance the cause of Irish unity, said one youngish Belfast Sinn Féiner indignantly on Tuesday. Behind closed doors, does anyone in her party profess to believe that taking part in Stormont debates is bringing Irish unity a day closer?

The term Sinn Fein politician would be adequate but it is merely descriptive and not critically interpretive. Benign and neutral, it would hardly ‘grab the attention’ of any reader, apart from members of RSF who might demand that the Provisionals relinquish the title deeds to the name Sinn Fein. The term Catholic politician is interpretive in as much as it suggests what Sinn Fein is, by exclusion it also implies what it is not. In that sense the term ‘Catholic politician’ is a subversive term, aimed at challenging and eroding the view that Sinn Fein is a republican party.

Use of the term ‘Catholic’ also draws on the thinking of Peadar O’Donnell, a republican of substantial pedigree and firmly established left wing credentials, who pointedly made the observation of the IRA in Belfast that it was a battalion of armed Catholics. So there is historical precedent within the republican tradition for its usage.

Finally, the internal power-sharing solution that Sinn Fein has accepted is an answer to a problem that could only have its explanatory roots in the model of internal conflict that throughout the Northern political instability constituted the main definition of the conflict and which the Provisional republican narrative sought to challenge at all points before effectively succumbing to it. The internal conflict model allows the British state to stand back, benignly hold the ring in which Catholics and Protestants are instructed to solve their differences, and behave like a convenor or arbiter rather than a malign participant.

Sinn Fein, no longer armed with a serious republican, socialist, revolutionary or all-Ireland nationalist ideology has long since vacated the primal ground of republicanism. There is no ideological centre of gravity which acts to prevent it becoming a catch-all party. But the structural limitations that contain it both to the North and within the Catholic community within the North mean that its catch-all catchment area is the Catholic population of the six counties. Sinn Fein growth in the North is not the consequence of creating more republicans than ever before – that is like saying Tony Blair and New Labour created more socialists than ever before. It is a growth fuelled by greater numbers of Catholics not opposed to the British presence per se but who feel the British can be made to run the Northern state more fairly so that Catholics can improve their chances within a British political system.

Sinn Fein - a Catholic party for a Catholic people.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The problem with Sinn Féin in the South - It's not just about our presentation, it's about our vision!

Below is a piece received from Ban Sidhe and it was meant to be a comment in response to a piece from 17th July entitled "Establishing A Political Narrative".

However, when I read this piece I felt that it was too good to be left as a comment and deserved to be posted as a separate piece. For me it is the best analysis I have read concerning the failure of Sinn Féin to have grown in power and influences in the South, in the manner we would have hoped. It also covers what we need to do to move Sinn Féin forward to achieve the goals we have for the party.

This is quite a long piece, but I feel it is really worth reading.


Let me apologise in advance for the length of this post, but it is a complicated subject and I want to cover it all. I never get to talk about Irish politics due to my blog being about Palestine:)

The debate on Sinn Féin’s narrative and the counter-narrative is fascinating as we all try to deal with the fact that the only alternative to the current government parties that has any prospect of achieving electoral success was not embraced by an electorate facing a disastrous economic crisis.

That economic crisis is hitting us harder than many other countries because as we can see the money was salted away by corrupt bankers, property speculators and assorted scallywags who were the darling of a fawning media and establishment politicians who help them us as exemplars and denounced anyone who questions this as economic illiterates.

In these circumstances people did turn to alternatives but they did not turn to the only one that had any reasonable chance of exercising power so they elected Joe Higgins in Dublin, and an assortment of Trotskyites across Dublin. They did not turn to Sinn Féin and we are wondering why.

The answers tell us about honest Joe, about the lack of community work about the need to be relevant to the 26 etc etc etc but the first thing we need to recognise if we are to earn the votes of the electorate is to recognise that they had the chance to vote for us and they rejected us in favour of others.

The last thing we want to do is think of this as merely a presentational matter, or tinker with our message, retreat from serious political work or retreat into clientelism. That is not to say that we should not consider our presentation, that we should not tinker with our message, question the type of serious political work we are engaged in or work hard for our local communities and constituents. We need to do all of these things but doing these alone or more importantly doing all of these in the absence of a diagnosis of our recent electoral malaise will not help and could even make things worse.

Joe Higgins was not elected because he had an army of community based councillors behind him delivering constituency services. He was not seen as less economically illiterate as Mary Lou – he was much more vulnerable to that criticism than Sinn Fein. His rhetoric was not some sophisticated newspeak that hid the socialist message behind clever choices of words. Yet he won – he attracted the votes that Sinn Féin failed to and we need to wonder why – more than that we need to find out why!

The reason I am so hostile to seeking to deal with this at the level of message and image (and I repeat these things are important and do need to be worked on) but the reason I do not want to start from these points is that I think they avoid the major problem we have.

In the previous election when Sinn Féin failed to break through at Leinster House. This was pre economic crisis and pre the bail out of the bakers so we could understand that the electorate would find the status quo relatively attractive but we all heard the media pundits and some Republicans muttering about Sinn Féin’s irrelevance and our “economic illiteracy”.

Then we had a range of people telling us that we had to move with the times- the 6 counties is either sorted, or stable, or stagnant and Sinn Féin as a party of the North was irrelevant to the south and we needed to place ourselves in the centre in the south, with realistic policies and southern leaders.

The recession led a to a half-hearted fightback as we old fashioned Rebels with our Che t-shirts laughed at the cheek of the thieving bankers who got us into this mess turning to the governing parties to bail them out by cutting our social welfare budgets while foreclosing on small businesses and driving us out of work. The revolution was still on – we were right all along and could smugly puff on our best havanas.

But there was no analysis of what type of country we actually sought to build and how we intended to get into a position to do so. This election would be our election – the big parties had let everyone down and we had tidied ourselves up and would not throw any hostages to fortune and we were keeping everyone strictly on message.

After this election we scratch our heads and wonder what we have to do to win elections in the 26 counties – and we again look at our image and our message and we do not examine our basic and economic paradigm.

The basic problem for Sinn Féin is that we need to have a clear vision right now for this country. The war in the north is over and we are moving into a period of nation building – where we are seeking to reconcile with unionists and bring them into our nation. In the south we have a partitioned economy that has squandered one of the fastest periods of growth that any country has experienced in many decades and is now in the depths of recession. We are trying to become relevant and electable by being “leaderly”, by being “respectable”, by being a “safe pair of hands to mind the shop” at the same time as talking about workers rights and an Ireland of equals.

Why should people vote for Sinn Féin if we are just like the big parties only with a social conscience? They already have the Labour Party for that. And now they have the Greens. There are other parties that will crawl into coalition with the big parties for a seat at the big table and then abandon everything that made them distinct when they sat in opposition. What makes Sinn Féin any different – why should people believe that we would do any different?

Clearly whilst we do not want to appear to be looney lefties, and we do want to place ourselves in the political mainstream so that we can influence politics and government, that does not mean we have to abandon left wing positions. The electorate in the past elected Tony Gregory, and in this election elected his successor and then Joe Higgins, as well as an assortment of “People Before Profits” SWP’ers. They have voted for Sinn Féin in significant numbers at various times and in this election in other parts of the country, so they are willing to vote for change but they need to believe that they will get change or at least someone who will fight for change. I do not think they believe that Sinn Féin is sufficiently different from the other parties or that we will deliver change if we are elected.

We have had an MEP in Dublin and the socialist paradise did not arrive. Joe Higgins will not deliver it either, but if he plays the left maverick, the people’s champion he may well hold onto the seat. We can’t just set ourselves the goal of being the leftist mavericks, a party of Irish Dennis Skinners, Sinn Féin is more ambitious than the Joe Higgins’ of this world – and we need to be.

Sinn Féin is not seeking to be a good opposition – we are seeking to be in government and that is much harder and requires clear thinking and clear strategies.

This is where our debate needs to concentrate – what do we want to do with the electoral strength that we are seeking? If we are seeking electoral strength to be in government but have no clear vision of what we intend to do in government then we are worse than useless. We would be better being a solid opposition than a weak and dithering government – or junior partner in a coalition with a right wing party.

One difficulty we face (that our competitors on the left can evade) is that we are a party of government in part of this country already. We are the second largest party in the Northern Assembly and that means that we are in government there – along with the DUP.

So we can be tested on our achievements or lack of them in the north. Allegations that the north is stagnant damage us in the 26 counties. The fact that the northern assembly has only limited powers and is still within the UK economic system limits the choices that we can make and the fact that we are in coalition with a right wing party (the DUP) limits them even more. We are vulnerable to accusations that we are merely in government for the sake of being in government for the “mercs and percs” as its called in the south.

In the north it is vital that Sinn Féin continues to lead from the front in government. It is vital that we exercise power to benefit our communities and seek more power to benefit our communities even more. But in doing this we face serious challenges.

The British Government economic policies and the insistence on Public Private Partnerships create major problems for us. We have to deliver investment to our communities and have to work within certain realities. But we have to ensure that we don’t start to believe that when we do the best we can that that means we are doing the best there is. We need to be good in government whilst challenging the restrictions that bind us.

We could look at the devolved parliament in Scotland and see how the SNP under Salmond is succeeding in exercising power within the UK imposed restrictions whilst at the same time pointing out what could be achieved if the restrictions were not there. The SNP seem to manage the trick of taking credit for every positive action and at the same time blaming Westminster for every failing.

Sinn Féin is seeking to develop a clear view of where we want to take things in the North. MLA’s like Martina Anderson are challenging the old ways of doing things, stretching the Civil Service and forcing them to act in new ways. Whilst we have also been outflanked on occasions but we are getting better at it and this has translated into continued electoral growth.

Our problem in the south is that we need a clear vision. We are seeking to be in government but that will not happen in the same way as in the north. The coalition in the north is based on proportional representation. Despite its limitations our vote gave us access to limited power in the first Assembly election and greater power with our result in the last elections. It has its downsides and the dual vetoes that were necessary to prevent DUP sabotage can create problems for us too. It allows them to hold us back on occasions – most obviously in the case of the abolition of the 11+. But our access to power and the benefits we have been able to deliver have allowed us to continue to build our support.

In the south we are a small party and even if we grow to 15% or 20% we will at best be eligible to entry into a coalition government and up until now these coalitions have been with one or other of the two major parties. We will not have access to government as of right, like in the north, and so we will have to look at such coalitions very differently.

This means that we have to decide why we want to be elected, and how we intend to achieve that if elected, and then we need to set about selling that to the electorate.

So what we need to do is to develop a set of strategic objectives – for the whole country taking into account the different set ups north and south. We will be in government in the north and in partnership with the government in the south, whilst in opposition to that government within the 26 counties.

We are a left-wing Republican party and we are seeking to change the nature of this country’s relationship with Britain and the internal politics and economics of Ireland. That means people need to have a real say in how their communities are governed and how their economies are developed and that bankers and other vested interests are never again allowed to distort development to suit their short-term and self-centred aims.

That to me is socialism, but if that word is a problem then ditch it. Bring on the imaging consultants and the message manipulators to get our message across but first of all let’s decide on the message.

Can change in Sinn Féin come from within?

As I stated in my first ever post on this site I am simply an ordinary Sinn Féin member in the South and I just want to know why some people seem to feel we are so undemocratic and that it is impossible to change the party from within?

From my experience of my cumann I am allowed to say what I want and at the Ard Fheis I have attended people line up to speak and are allowed to voice their opinion as they wish. So, given this why is it said that Sinn Féin cannot be changed from within?

We all know there have been a number of councillors who have left the party recently. One of the reasons given by Cllr Louise Melihan for leaving the party were:

"Sinn Féin is taking the wrong position on a whole range of national, social and economic issues, resulting in that party becoming largely irrelevant to working class Irish people.For years I voiced my disquiet within Sinn Féin about the direction that party was headed, in the vain hope that radical politics might triumph over reformism. Like thousands of other republicans before me, I have come to the conclusion that the battle for the heart of Sinn Féin is lost. While wishing those many genuine activists who remain within Sinn Féin well in the future, I believe that many of them will sooner or later come to the same conclusion that I now have."

Now I am not aware of Louise making any great attempt to change party policy and neither does Mick Carthy, her long term friend and Sinn Féin councillor in Maonaghan. To see his take on her resignation go to

However, if this defection was in isolation then it could possibly be ignored. The problem is though that we have also lost Christy Burke and John Dwyer all in a very small time period.

Now I know John and Louise have both said they left because they felt that the party had moved to the right politically, so why did they do this.

One person that left the party recently contacted this site and said "the leadership is prepared to abandon its stated left objective so as to hasten the arrival of a united Ireland. They genuinely believe that they can achieve that objective if they move towards populist politics as espoused by FF. Be all things to all men has become the mantra."

This statement may well be true and this may well be the approach the leadership have tried to follow. However, given our results at the last southern election, such an approach is coming increasingly into question. Recent articles in An Phoblacht from Ferris and Ó Broin are talking about the need for us to define what we are and to target our message.

My take on this debate is that we need to clearly define ourselves as a socialist/left wing party who recognise and commit to fight against the unequal distribution of power, wealth and opportunities within society. We also recognise the injustices created on this Ireland by the British presence in the North and the continued existence of the Border and we must commit to reuniting Ireland.
In terms of us targeting our message I feel that will come once we clearly define who we are. Namely we will target it at meeting the needs of the weakest members of society.

So where do we go from here?

An e-mailI received from Bryan stated the following:

"We need to organise the Left within Sinn Fein in light of these recent resignations so that we can actually stop what I see as the parties move towards the Centre and reactionary politics.I think we can both agree that there is no room within the Irish political landscape for "Fianna Fail Lite" which is what Sinn Fein seems to be becoming. Leftists within the party need to organise and to influence party policy. Even a loose organisation, through a mailing list or online forum would allow ideas to be exhanged and could allow for motions to be put down on various structures across the 32 Counties on the same day."

So will people on the left of the party try and do this? Or will we allow good people leave without trying something like this first.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Establishing a political narrative

This is an article i have recently received from a Sinn Féin supporter. It is clearly part of the ongoing debate that is going on in the party at the present time. For me this debate is crucial and will decide what the future holds for Sinn Féin.


There has been much discussion about the political direction Sinn Fein should follow. Those discussions have been renewed following the recent elections. This site is itself a forum for such debate and there have been posts on the need to be more left wing, to remove ourselves from centrist govt. etc. Over on other sites more hostile posters have questioned whether the party has lost its connection with the working class to more radical left groupings.

How do we answer such a question. One possible answer is we tack left to meet the challenge from that quarter. However to my mind there is also different aspect to the question. Its an aspect that would remain the same whether we were to tack left of PBP/SWP and the SP; it would remain the same even if we went straight to the center. I am talking about the word connection. The connection with the voters is that set of beliefs, assumptions, that sense of trust they have for and awareness of our party.

Connection might as easily be described as whats our message, whats our story or narrative, what are we communicating to the voters and whats their set of assumptions about us. That’s not a left wing right wing thing. It cant be answered with we need to be more left wing or more right wing but its a question of how successful are we in making voters understand our political vision and representing their wishes.

I believe that the recent elections have demonstrated that we have not yet communicated our vision to the voters successfully but rather have allowed others to instead paint a picture in the mind of voters of who Sinn Fein are. I believe that as a party we have not yet challenged that perception aggressively enough.

Before I focus on Sinn Fein’s narrative I’d like to briefly discuss other narratives which might give an idea of what I am concentrating on.

Obama - His campaign was built about the narrative of change and captured the desires of Americans for a step change in society. It also neutered his critics who tried to paint him as inexperienced. Similar to

Gordon Brown - he tried to position himself as the man who was orchestrating the global response to the depression.

The Tories say they are change, willing to make the cuts and do what needs doing

The Liberal Democrats counter that narrative by saying that Labour and the Tories are the same and only the Liberals are free of the political corruption scandals. Only they can reform westminister.

Here in the south of Ireland each party has a narrative or story its trying to communicate to voters and a counter story being told by its opponents or just something that’s associated with the party. Sometimes a counter story is told by the party against its own interests- think of John Gormley standing fastly with Fianna Fail in photo ops but then saying the greens are doing their own thing. Think of Fianna Fail’s message in 2007 that they were the only safe pair of hands and how successful that message was. Also think of how the opposition failed to counter that story and lost (luckily)

Stories and counter-stories.

No matter how just, right or good a message is it generally wont sell itself. It might do if it were the only show in town but its not. There are alternative viewpoints that its competing with and everyone else is explaining why your viewpoint is wrong and theirs is right. Some people even misread your view point and label you incorrectly. So having a clear message or political narrative with which can explain who you are and what you are about is important.

A voter needs to be able to sum your party up in a few words and you need to ensure those few words are positive, actually true, and really speak to a segment in society that has a genuine need. I think its necessary to stress this is not talking about spin - the art of lying. Its rather about ensuring you get to tell people who you are and what you are about and what your opponents are about rather than having them do it for you.

At this point in time the party is pretty much painted into a box in the mind of the southern electorate as a pre-dominantly northern ran and orientated republican party that's pro-workers but that has no decent economic policy or understanding of economic policy and who are electorally stalled and irrelevant to the debate. All the points I marked as counter-stories put out about Sinn Fein in the above table are the most commonly held beliefs about the party. Although about 7-8% of the electorate is hearing our message and connecting with it etc we are seeing, again unfortunately, that we are failing to connect with the next 7-8% of the voters that we need to be at 15% (which is not at all beyond possibility in the medium term).

Making that connection

So why aren’t we at 15% at the moment. Well surely several reasons but I believe that a key one is Sinn Fein’s inability to phrase, or word, its message so that a larger segment of regular people associate with the Sinn Fein message and feel that it represents them and their concerns in a way that they themselves might express it ie it makes a connection with them in the words of ordinary people.

No party can entirely control its message because of the prevalence of others pushing counter stories. To that end the behaviour of certain media outlets etc. who attack Sinn Fein has to be accepted as a fact and cannot be used as a reason for our loss of momentum.

We have been strongly focussed on refuting the counter stories about us by proving our economic/policy credentials via proposals and submissions and via thoughtful and weighted contributions on the Lisbon debate . We have established our southern relevance with a strong cadre of southern based party figures. We have demonstrated our ability to do the real work in govt. by constructively working in the Dail.

However such was the weight of negative propaganda that all we have succeeded in doing is standing still. Now we need to reevaluate the message so that we can grow to 15%.

I believe that Sinn Fein needs to:

(a) go back to basics as Toireasa Ferris said re community work.

(b) Continue to prove our economic/policy credibility with good work but push the message in a more insistant fashion, and in a more passionate manner. I have noted that some SF reps doing TV work are very sober and serious, getting across the message that we are a serious party with a firm grasp of the issue. That’s good but does that mean we don’t make any emotional connection with the voters.

c) We need to start taking some harder, more controversial positions. I don’t mean populist or jam for everybody positions but rather lets push the boat out a bit with costed and economically proofed proposals. People don’t know what our positions are on issues. Lets change that. The Fgers have the health reform, labour their no vote last sept etc. Whats our angle? Dail reform became a big theme for a few days. Can we be the party of reform - god knows people want institutional reform in this state.

(d) What ever words or ideas become central to our message lets not develop that message for our own consumption. This is 2009 and if our way of expressing ourselves is not the way ordinary working class people are expressing themselves then lets stop trying to change the people and instead change how we express ourselves. Our principles remain the same but we instead talk using the language of the office and the factory and the dole queue, not in language drawn from books and journals.

(e) People who are members, or like myself, only supporters, should be conscious that we can play a key part in advancing the SF message. We, with the leadership, are the key players in convincing a broader segment of society that we are capable, competent and relevant to their needs.

f) Finally once we establish a message we should not deviate from it over the short term. Don’t side track but repeat it and keep on it and then repeat it until it’s established.

In the Spirit of James Connolly / In the Spirit of Malcolm X

Over the past weeks and months the leadership of Sinn Féin have been launching a campaign to bring the debate on a United Ireland to an international audience. There have been forums in New York, San Francisco, London and Liverpool. More have been planned and it is part of a programme to gain support from all around the world for Sinn Féin's strategy to achieve a United Ireland.

Below is a piece submitted by Tom Shelly who is a socialist supporter of Sinn Féin in the US in which he discusses how Sinn Féin should build support for Irish Unity within America. I would like to thank Tom for his contribution and I would encourage anybody else who wishes to write a piece to just send it to me in a comment and I will post it.
In the Spirit of James Connolly

This will be a summary of an article on my blog which is called "In The Spirit Of Malcolm X." I decided to go with Connolly for this since he spent several years organizing unions in America. Going back to Malcolm X, what prompted me to name the article that way was the following quote:

"I believe that there will ultimately be a clash between the oppressed and those that do the oppressing. I believe that there will be a clash between those who want freedom, justice and equality for everyone and those who want to continue the systems of exploitation... It is incorrect to classify the revolt of the Negro as simply a racial conflict of Black against white, or as a purely American problem. Rather we are today seeing a global rebellion of the oppressed against the oppressor, the exploited against the exploiter."(Malcolm X Speaks, pp. 232-233) January, 1965.
The article is about how SF and its American allies try to generate support for SF’s agenda in America. I feel that they are making a mistake by focusing so much on Irish-America. They should focus more on generating support from people of all ethnic backgrounds who are interested in.

**Anti-imperialism (the situation that nationalists have experienced needs to be frequently and consistently portrayed as part of a global rebellion which in recent decades has included the Palestinians, East Timor, Apartheid S. Africa, Chiapas, Native America, etc.)

**Social justice (it makes sense to explain to people that sectarianism is similar to racism and anti-semitism and kind of similar to homophobia, and people who are against those forms of bigotry should show some interest in helping to combat sectarianism in the North)

**economic justice (explaining where the political centers of the nationalist and unionist communities are (center-left and center-right respectively) and the working-class nature of the nationalist community and explaining that uniting Ireland will strengthen liberal, progressive, left and working-class movements should attract support)

There’s a lot more people of all ethnicities that feel passionately about those issues from a liberal-left perspective than there are Irish-Americans already involved or likely to get involved and SF is going generate almost zero support from non-Irish-Americans to the right of center. SF can probably quadruple the amount of support their cause in America has, and all of that growth will go to SF, although a small percentage of old supporters might start supporting some other group in protest.

For this to happen SF will need to start behaving in America the way they do in Ireland. We should see Adams and other figures in the leadership being invited to speak at more events with a progressive audience- for example, pro-Palestinian events, pro-labor events. Wherever possible, SF should make this happen (they probably have some allies who could get them invited) and then it will just grow from there. They’ll have to make it very clear where their politics actually are, especially at the beginning of this process, and that should involve changing the way they talk about generating support in America, adding the appropriate links to Irish Northern Aid web-sites (that will affect what visitors think of INA and might involve some link exchanges and will encourage INA members to reach out on an individual level to liberal-progressive-left groups), attending the alternative, inclusive St. Patrick’s Day event in Queens, NY, that sort of thing (the Queens parade is a good way for SF to get it’s foot in the door, it will signal that they want a different relationship with America, and LGBT groups will respond positively and members of those groups have connections with other liberal-progressive-left groups).

This will have an effect on present and future generations of a segment of Irish-America and would see that group become more liberal-progressive-left, which will mean fewer people voting for the GOP and more people voting for the Democrats, and SF and their agenda will do better with more Democrats elected to federal office.I think that’s about it for a summary.

Two points about how this is relevant to this blog:

1) When people in Dublin went with Higgins instead of McDonald, that’s because they wanted the solid socialist in these bad economic times. Part of people thinking SF might not be solid socialists is their record in America. The SP, about 10 years ago, said that SF is left-wing in the South, right-wing in America, and in between in the North. The North’s a separate discussion, but SF could respond to that by being left-wing in America.

2) The approach I’m recommending might firm up the left-wing commitment of some people in SF who are a little too flexible, and nudge other members towards the left.

So, in summary of the summary, SF and it’s agenda will benefit greatly by focusing on people in America with the right politics instead of the right genealogy.

The article is at

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The really hard stuff

Over the course of the past while I've posted a piece about racist attacks within the loyalist working class and I asked how can Sinn féin reach out to the unionist working class and attempt to get our message over in person.

I was asked to followed that up with the editorial from An phoblacht on the issue of the racist attacks. I personally found the views in that editorial as very weak as they seemed to see no role for Sinn Féin in dealing with the problem and seemed to suggest that unionism must deal with the issue of racist violence.
My post on Sunday was highlighting the main points Gerry Adams made in his report ‘Israel, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, April 2009" following his recent visit to the area.

In reading this report I cannot help but be fully aware that the situation in the North is not truley one of real peace, and the events that occur at this time of year highlight that very clearly. There exists massive underlying tensions and hostilities and these are at there most obvious in working class areas.

This raises an age old question, is there any way to bridge the divides within the working class and can Sinn Féin play a role in that.

In reading the Adams report a number of points stand out for me;

1. Dialogue has to be a central tenet of any attempt to make peace; to achieve justice, stability, security and peace.

2. There are two ways to end conflict. Either one side convincingly beats the other or all of those involved engage in the more difficult and challenging process of peace making.

3. Peace making is conducted by and between enemies not between friends.
4. This required a serious, good faith effort to engage between political opponents.
5. But in the end it is for Palestinians and Israelis to make the peace.

These three posts I mentioned earlier are to me central in looking at how Sinn Féin needs to move forward in the North. For me if we in Sinn Féin are serious about trying to break out of the sectarian divide that exists in the north then we really have to follow the ideas laid out above. Sinn Féin must reach out to the loyalist working class and continuously try to show that republicanism respects them and offers them something of value. Clearly reaching out to the loyalist working class is not going to be an easy thing to do, but it must be done.
It will be very easy for Sinn Féin to accept its role as being that of "Defenders and representatives of the Catholic community". Indeed some people say that is what Sinn Féin has become. However, there are people within the party who show that this is not the case.
Below is a section of a piece written by Niall Ó Donnghaile, the Sinn Féin representative for East Belfast, and it is this type of action and leadership that Sinn Fein must be involved in if we are to attempt to bridge the gap to the loyalist working class.

I return to the issue of leadership; a number of months back I received a phone call very like the one I got yesterday. On that occasion it was from Joe O'Donnell, a friend and comrade, himself a former Sinn féin rep for this area. Joe has been involved in sterling cross community work with countless representatives throughout East Belfast but particularly with the East Belfast Mission.

Joe informed me that morning that the memorial garden on the Newtonards Road in rememberance of the men killed on 27th June 1970 had been attacked and vandalised with paint. There and then Joe and I took the decision that we needed to stand with the people at the bottom of the Newtonards Road, understanding completely we probably wouldn't be very welcome, and tell them very clearly that those attacking the memorial were not Republican, they weren't motivated by Republicanism and they certainly weren't representative of the Short Strand Community.

So we headed off, now joined by well known community stalwart and activist Bernie McCrory of the Short Strand Community Forum. As we headed to the junction of Bryson Street and the Newtonards Road we collectively took a very deep breath; this was unprecedented, no one had ever crossed this particular line in such an open and public way.

I recall seeing the scores of people, many understandably upset, some relatives of the victims openly weeping, I saw numerous TV crews and photographers who immediately began snapping our pictures. I noticed a number of senior political and church representative who I had met with on numerous occasions before, head away from us as opposed to meeting us in the same fashion they had on other occasions; that was particularly disappointing.

I was approach by a young woman and told to 'get the f**k back over to your own side of the road'. I informed her I was here to condemn what had happened and that we needed to maintain the links so tentatively built up over a difficult period, that that was best for everyone.

A number of ordinary residents understood this, they didn't hide their anger though, and to be fair we didn't expect them to. Many of the relatives told us what was on their minds but again, we understood they needed an outlet, and here we were, three faces from the Short Strand right beside the damaged memorial.

The fact remains that the people who carried that attack out have no political, social or even cultural motivation; they most certainly aren't representative of the people in the Short Strand who know very well the pain and suffering that comes with loss and therefore the respect which must be shown to the dead.

Another sad fact which remains is that during that difficult Sunday morning, those same leaders I mentioned earlier disappeared; they faded into the background or they weren't even present. They allowed us to stand alone to explain the process that we have collectively engaged in to try and bring some sort of peace to the people living along the 'interface' in that part of Belfast.
Once again when I took a walk round to Saint Matthews yesterday morning I did so alone, while a very clear opportunity existed for the leaders within Unionism and Loyalism to take the chance and stand against this attack, that chance was missed, for whatever reason I am not sure.
What remains certain throughout is that the work and engagement will continue, we will continue to meet and address our shared issues, we will continue to sit down and secure a better standard of living for the people who live in what is classed as the 9th most socio-economically deprived ward in the north of Ireland.

However we must also lead and stand up to those who would attempt to tarnish our respective communities, stand up to those so called 'leaders' whose word and deed create the space and the mentality for attacks on Catholic Churches.

I look forward to quieter times ahead, as I write I am aware that the day isn't over yet.
Wherever sectarianism or anti community activity rears its ugly head we must all, collectively have the courage to face it down.

Posted by Niall Ó Donnghaile at 05:23

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Gerry Adams view of the way forward for the Isrealie Palestine conflict.

In April Gerry Adams led a Sinn Féin delegation to Palestine/Isreal and in late June they released their report ‘Israel, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, April 2009 – A Report’. Below are some of the main points in the report.

Whilst I do not wish to deflect from the Palestinian cause, I find it impossible to read without thinking of the steps taken to bring about the current settlement in the north and I ask myself where would we be now if Sinn Féin had not gone down the path it did and Adams had not led the process in the way he did.



It is obvious that the political conditions for ongoing violence and poverty and instability still dominate the situation.

These must be tackled effectively if a peace settlement is to have any potential for success.

It was also clear from the scores of Israeli and Palestinian citizens that the Sinn Féin delegation met that there is a deep desire for peace.
This desire must be turned into reality.

I believe that dialogue is key to this.
The Sinn Féin peace strategy helped create the conditions for the Irish peace process, which has transformed political conditions in Ireland.

While no two conflicts are the same there are nonetheless broad principles which can be helpful in all conflict resolution processes.

Sinn Féin's position is that the integrity of all democratic mandates should be respected and accepted. And, clearly, any attempt to achieve peace must involve dialogue between opponents and enemies.

Sinn Féin's view of the situation.

In brief this included the following opinions:
_ The situation had deteriorated since my first visit in September 2006.
_ Israelis and Palestinians are destined to share the same piece of ground and to live side by side.
_ Everyone deserves and requires justice, stability, security and peace.
_ A two-state solution holds out the best prospect to secure these objectives.
_ Dialogue is central to this.
_ There should be a complete cessation of all hostilities and freedom of
movement for everyone.

What is needed:
_ The firing of rockets should cease.
_ The building of Separation Wall should stop as a first step towards its demolition.
_ The building of Settlements should stop.


Over a three week period from 27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009 it is reported that:
_ Over 1400 people were killed including more than 400 children and over a hundred women.
_ Casualties were in the region of 5,000 including 1,800 children and almost 800 women.

The resultant suffering past and present, especially within a population of which 60% are under 18 years of age, can only store up a festering resentment which will fuel further conflict in the absence of a political settlement.

What is needed:
_ The siege of the Gaza strip should end.
_ International aid on an appropriately large scale should immediately be injected into the area to relieve suffering, restore essential services and kick start the reconstruction of the area.
_ All armed actions or threats of armed action should cease.

Several Palestinians, supporters of the peace process route, mature in both age and political experience told me that they feel as angry now as they did when they were teenagers.

They find, in themselves and their contemporaries, a hardening of attitudes.
Others voice the opinion that generations coming up, unless there is a peace settlement, will make Al Qaeda, in retrospect, looking like moderates.
During my two brief visits to the region and in my conversations with all of those I met I believe that there is a widespread desire for peace among Israelis and Palestinians.

The opinion polls consistently reflect this.

Dialogue has to be a central tenet of any attempt to make peace; to achieve justice, stability, security and peace.

Refusing to engage in dialogue; demonising opponents; treating them as non citizens; stripping them of their rights and entitlements, of their self esteem and integrity as human beings; engaging in censorship and vilification, makes war easier and peace harder.

It is a policy that guarantees a perpetuation of the cycle of conflict.

The international experience is clear.

There are two ways to end conflict. Either one side convincingly beats the other or all of those involved engage in the more difficult and challenging process of peace making.
61 years after the emergence of the Israeli state and the partition of Palestine, and with the increasing sophistication of the weapons of war on all sides, it is clear that no wall - however high -can provide permanent peace or security.

A political settlement is required and this is only possible if there is a recognition and acceptance of democratic mandates of all of the participants.

Peace making is conducted by and between enemies not between friends.

That means that a necessary element of a conflict resolution process in the Middle East, which hopes to achieve a successful outcome, must be an acceptance of inclusive dialogue based on equality and respect.

This required a serious, good faith effort to engage between political opponents.

And this will require determination and commitment to stick with it through all of the inevitable arguments and differences and crises that will emerge.

For Palestinians this means uniting in the national interest by agreeing a truly national political platform involving all of the Palestinian parties.
Fail to do this and the age old tactic of divide and rule will weaken the Palestinian ability to achieve their rights through negotiation.

Party political interests need to be subsumed in the national and democratic cause.

For the Israelis the challenge is equally daunting.

Israel is a major regional and world power.

It has the ability to continue to pursue and implement policies which foster division and conflict, or it can take dramatic decisions for peace.

For both a two-State solution appears to hold out the greatest prospect for an acceptable and durable solution.

Such a settlement would also greatly enhance Israel's standing with its neighbours.

The Arab League peace, which includes a proposal to normalise relationships with Israel, could be a watershed moment in the effort to bring stability to that region.

The recent positions set out by President Obama, and the appointment of Senator George Mitchell, are welcome developments. The United States of America has a particular role to play and is certainly the most influential international player on the Israeli authorities.

The wider international community also has an important role to play also, especially Egypt, Jordan and Syria, Saudi Arabia, the wider Arab world, the Government of Iran and the European Union, Turkey, China and the United Nations and Russia.

All can and must provide encouragement, incentives, persuasions, economic and other aid as appropriate and the application without fear or favour of internationally agreed laws and standards.

But in the end it is for Palestinians and Israelis to make the peace.

And that means the renewed commitment to agreements and understandings already reached as the basis to resume timetabled negotiations, for an overall settlement, which includes a timetable for Implementation.

_ All armed actions and acts of violence should cease.
_ An inclusive process of negotiations should commence in which all democratic mandates are respected, clear objectives are set, and there is a fixed timeframe.
_ The building of the Separation Wall should stop as a first step which would see its demolition.
_ The siege of the Gaza Strip should end.
_ An immediate and intensive programme of reconstruction and economic development must commence.
_ The ongoing Israeli colonisation of the West Bank and the building of settlements should stop.
_ The occupation of the West Bank and the denial of freedom of movement to Palestinians in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, and between the West Bank and Gaza, should end as part of the process to decolonise the West Bank.
_ Mutual and expeditious co-operation between Palestinians and Israelis to enhance public safety and security should commence.
_ United Nations Resolutions and International Law should be enforced.