Monday, July 20, 2009

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.


  1. the process is already happening imo people like eoin your self it's all part of the same trend. louise was a friend of mine knew her about a decade but in terms of economics she was never part of that debate. a few structural debates yes a few years ago but not this left debate.

    don't let a well written press statemnet deflait you. last week i was agreeing with ferris on the need to tone rethoric down this week i might be disagreeing with her. this broad concept of left. what does it mean esposing which view holding which principles makes you left. what degree of left are we does it matter. when louise could use socialism in a catch all way to make a sweeping statement then yes it does, prove her right, prove her wrong, as someone who was around her for the last few years i had one reaction to it, but stoping for a moment and looking at it though an outsides eyes it's relitive. defineing our self as socialist republican is not enough. it all ready says that in the constitution. think we need to teese that out more.

  2. I agree anon (could you give yourself an initial or something next time as a lot of people areposting anon)

    Part of the upcoming dena=bate has to be whatis meant by left/socialist etc. It would be an idea to have some form of agreed principles about what we are talking about. But as you say that will come as the debate progresses. What people need to consider is how to best contribute to the deabte and can/should liked minded people come together to give their voice more force within the party.

  3. me again

    good place to think is to brake left down. liberal opinion, social justice, economics.

    are they all a package. can we take one leave another. is the liberal agenda our stuggle, what is the liberal agenda? social juctice, i think every republican has that nawing at them, do people concider it a part of the left? economics. how do we want society structured. yes we want a fair distribution of wealth or do we if we do how do we want to do it.

    the abstract term left socialist etc have been used by people argueing for a left approch for a long time, most of this decade any way. but people are useing language with out having an agreed contxt for the words imo.

    bring the debate down to the nuts and bolts.


  4. Hi SP,
    There is no other niche for SF but the left. Now how left we should be is the question. I think that answers itself as you write your policies - as long as your policies are coherent, practical and capable of making genuine and lasting changes then you are on the correct road.Once the policies are no longer economically plausible, possible to implement then your wandering.

    I'll give an example. The Socialist Party would be left of us. Interstingly they think we are centrist but thats a different story.

    When they finally commented on An Bord Snip Nua their suggestiion for rebuilding the economy was "The Socialist Party calls for a massive state-funded programme of socially useful public works – building schools, hospitals and other necessary infrastructure, to get people back to work."

    I searched through the SP site and Joe's site but could find no details. Thats it. Thats the entire economic programme. In order to get a state thats collapsing financially due to over reliance on building activity and an over reliance on the resulting taxes out of that mess the SP proposes that we increase the % amount of building activity. Now they are right that it will be useful, but its no where close to even beginning to provide a solution to the problems we find ourselves. As a result its effectively useless to workers.

    You could hardly write a budget from it is what I am trying to say i guess. Contrast that to the SF, FF, FG, PD, Labour,Greens, DUP, SDLP, UUP etc who have detailed proposals on how to get us out of this mess. Those parties all have different philosophies and views on how to get out of the mess. Their solutions also include hard figures and proposals ready to go.
    The SP have no such details readied. only broad outlines. Thats just not good enough.

    I know that reads like a broadside against the SP. thats not my intention. I want to instead argue that SF can go further left of our current position but we need to do so with solid solid proposals that can be costed and demonstrated in detail.

    I dont believe the SP have met that challenge beyond the mere outlines and hints of proposals. If SF moves to the left, even if we move to the left of the SP, then we need to be operating at a level of detail much higher and much more grounded than many other left-wing parties. Otherwise we end up as another left wing party regarded as economic crack-pots.

    As I said I am not trying to nail the SP. Rather I think these are some home truths that need to be told about the SP. Harsh maybe but fair criticism as well I think and frankly things are too serious to be messing around with back of envelope style proposals to save the economy.

    If we move left then we had better not make the same mistakes as they do - having watery proposals. Its rigorous detailed policies or its nothing. Thats the no1 rule.

    This post may not be well received but does that matter. It needs to be said I believe if the left is to develop into something meaningful rather than a talk shop

    With that in mind now we can move lef with some chance of delivering, rather than talking about, change.

  5. This last comment is interesting. I think it is fairly typical of many in our party.

    The problem is that our proposals are entirely inadequate to the challenge. Do we think that the proposals for what, about €3 billion, put forward a few months ago will really turn the economy around? That's truly idiotic.

    "Contrast that to the SF, FF, FG, PD, Labour,Greens, DUP, SDLP, UUP etc who have detailed proposals on how to get us out of this mess."

    This is the sort of deluded thinking that is part of the problem. Everybody has produced the answers.

    Let me let you into a big secret (not to economists though); nobody, but nobody, within the mainstream economic thinking has a firm idea of how to get out of the current global economic crisis. That goes for those in the US. You have world-class neoliberal economists like Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz criticising what's being done but very clearly unsure of a pathway. The Chicago school are keeping stumm reckoning that they'll make a come-back when inflation hits the rafters in five years time. But they're all unsure. Only an idiot could be certain that they have anything near an appropriate answer to this question. Are you sure? And what does that suggest?

    That's because there's a gaping hole in the middle of neoliberalist theory. To some extent Keynes advanced it (he recognised the possibility of a crisis of overproduction - unlike the monetarists!). His solution was for government spending to make up the difference at the cost of higher inflation and devaluation. But Keynes rejected socialism. By comparison our 'detailed proposals' were completely inadequate, naive and inappropriate.

    Meanwhile, even ignoring this, our Ministers are making excuses for closing down schools (including Irish language ones), negotiating the future introduction of water charges and not advancing one iota the construction of rail networks (or even public transport). Global warming - what's that?

    It is sickening that we have come to this. As for the suggestion of being to the left of the SP - where would that be but the 'ultraleft'? If you think that there are simple, sticky plaster solutions to the current crisis then you don't understand it. The solutions are certainly not amenable to small scale rises in taxation here and there like we foolishly suggested. Do you wonder why people think we're not serious?

    In essence, the problem is that there are few in the party who actually know anything about economics. Most people talk about stuff they've read without having a firm grasp of what neo-liberal theory is, let alone what socialism is. The problem is most people think socialism is tax increases and public spending or even nationalisation! These people have clearly not even read Connolly's criticisms of nationalisation let alone read Marx's analysis of capital or what Guevara wrote on socialist planning (how many people who wear his t-shirts know what he thought about economics??) To talk about socialism in Ireland and not even understand or have a command of the socialism of Connolly is pretty much to open your mouth with babble coming out instead of words. Sorry if that sounds elitist, but it's a fact. You're messing with the big boys now and this is not a game.

    I don't know the SP's politics but I guess they're pushing what is traditionally known as the minimum programme or as Trotsky refered to it 'the Transitional Programme'. That's possibly the right way right now much as I've disagreed with them for years over the national question.

    It's not about blueprints (which never survive contact with reality) or social reformist (centrist) tax-and-spend policies (outmoded by globalisation) but its about mobilising the creative capacity of people.

    It is amusing that the SP themselves seem to been radicalised. It used to be that they believed that socialism could be enacted through an act of the British parliament - they have moved too!

  6. Last Anon,

    You say that:
    The problem is that our proposals are entirely inadequate to the challenge. Do we think that the proposals for what, about €3 billion, put forward a few months ago will really turn the economy around? That's truly idiotic.

    I say the proposals, and most recent SF proposals, are solid and well thought out. I dont see why the proposals are idiotic. Can you elaborate on why they are idiotic exactly with clear examples.

    Re my line on DUP/FF/FG having proposals to get us out of the mess. The point was that while we mihjt disagree with them at least they had a set of proposals out there. Something with detail. We also have detailed proposals out there but not every left wing party has. Some have one page of economic policies.My point was thats not a credible economic proposal thats a internet economics.

    Re Being left of the Socialist party. I personally believe that the Socialist party have very few credible positions - certainly not a credible position on this economic crisis. They mean to do right by workers but because their policies are weak and detail-less they wont.Where ever SF chooses to be on the political spectrum my point was that we should not make the same mistake as the SP and think believing your own theories to be true means you can can get away with having no real policies.

    Finally, you comment that:

    To talk about socialism in Ireland and not even understand or have a command of the socialism of Connolly is pretty much to open your mouth with babble coming out instead of words. Sorry if that sounds elitist, but it's a fact. You're messing with the big boys now and this is not a game.

    That is elitist you are right. Who does it eclude - the voters, it excludes working class people, it excludes the unemployed. Playing with the big boys know. Well if thats the game thats being played then throw away the books and the theory and the dialectics. Because thats not the game being played by ordinary working people.

  7. Re: Our proposals.

    This blog doesn't allow very long comments so it is difficult to explain but just giving some reasons:

    (a) Revenue estimated is massively overestimated. The figures are based on those pre-collapse. Check this with what's up on irish left review where they gave a 60% figure relating proposals to what actually accrues in savings (and that's on minor changes in comparison).
    (b) Overall size of savings is too small to redress collapse - it might marginally address the fiscal shortfall but not the wider economic crisis.
    (c) We provided no estimate of stimulative discount from displacement of public funding. This was our stimulus was it not??
    (d) Lack of any prospect of success e.g. securing consultants agreements to their pay cut.
    (e) Likelihood that prsi etc tax increases on business/rich will result in massive capital flight, more job losses and ever greater pressures on our fiscal balances (both sides).

    All these are significant charges and virtually everything in the package is open to very serious challenge. Why do we insist on offering opponents these opportunities to sink us? If we are serious about taking on capital flight - which is pretty much what I think we need to do (afterall what have we to lose) -why did we just back the bailout which just mortgaged our nation's future. My argument is that the money we just paid out to keep rich investors in pocket could have been better used in diversifying our economy on more productive basis.

    Re: detailed policies
    I think you are overconfident of the ability of anyone to see how the Republic can get out of this position without the most hideous of cutbacks or else really just moving away from capitalism. There is simply no-one on this island who is certain of their proposals. Anyone who is, well let us say, they are poorly informed of the extent of the challenge.

    Re: SP's lack of credible position on this economic crisis

    Who has - certainly not us? Don't be overconfident.

    Re: SP's lack of policies.

    And will we? We are busy closing schools and pushing pfi/ppps up north? Down here we're agreeing to the bank bailout - what does that represent? Our commitment to workers?

    Re: Elitism - i.e. demanding Economic Literacy.

    Unlucky but that's life. We have got to get real.

    "Who does it eclude - the voters, it excludes working class people, it excludes the unemployed. Playing with the big boys know. Well if thats the game thats being played then throw away the books and the theory and the dialectics. Because thats not the game being played by ordinary working people."

    You make a decapitated straw man argument here. I never made this argument. It is of your own invention. Whether it is a useful activity to defeat arguments no-one is presenting is up to yourself. But people can make their own minds up.

    As for the substance. Well, it is people like yourself in our party who seems absolutely driven to the point of distraction to offer detailed proposals to show that we know what to do (without noticing that the opposition aren't exactly very economically literate themselves). So what do we do? We offer tax and spend proposals which are *always* fatally flawed by a degree of economic ineptitude that is hard to fathom and, worse still, they are always predicated on simply *reforming* the capitalist system. If we are serious about our ultimate objective and if socialism means to us what it has meant to every preceding generation of socialists (including Connolly) then we need to recognise that we can't get to that objective save barring some serious change. If we're not up for that - well then somebody should warn those of us who believe in socialism and take it out of our constitution. But I'm still a socialist republican.

  8. thanks for the response.

    A good response though I have some disagreements.

    Re your claim of me making a straw man - certainly not my intention but you wrote in your previous post that unless someone was able to quote Connolly intimately then they were only babbling. My point was that is was indeed elitist and excludes pretty much all workers and unemployed people. Thats not a straw man argument. Thats me disagreeing, humbly, that someone who cant quote Connolly is only babbling. As I said the dole queues aren't quoting Connolly but they aren't babbling either.

    On policies you say no one has the answer to the crisis. I agree, what we are looking for here is the answer that provides for the fewest mistakes.

    I dont have an over confidence in our arguments. However as regards the SP I have no confidence in theirs. If ours are not thought through fully, as u suggest, then thats more than theres.

    The proposal to solve the economic crisis is a massive programme of public works - hospitals, schools, etc. Yet no mention of how many hospitals; no mention of how many schools. build the schools where? Build the hospitals where?
    Why is all this detail left out. Why cant they provide the numbers and the details. Are working class people supposed to take it on trust? Same for every other policy they have. They provide no details but just insist on serious change. Well okay but how are they going to do that?

    I am not against Soclialism. I just think that its poorly served by not coming up with hard facts and figures; concrete proposals to seriously change society.

    You charge that I am typical of a section of the party that demands hard policies. Above you noted my thinking was typical of some in the party.

    How can coming up with solid proposals be a bad thing.
    I dont believe we need to jump through hoops to prove our literacy but we do need to prove our competency. If only to the voters who decide to trust us