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.


  1. okay, I've read this a few times, but can somebody tell me what it means?

  2. I don't get this comment. Unlike others Eoin actually is quite straight up with what he thinks. The problem is that he is wrong and deluded. We are not a "left republican party committed to ending partition, creating a national democracy and building a society based on social and economic justice and political and cultural equality". Few of our membership north of the border see us in Eoin's vein - it is a much more common projection in and around Dublin. We are an increasingly centre-right republican party committed to ending partition, creating a national democracy and pressing for political and cultural equality.
    Meanwhile the left-wing theorising goes out the window as reality crashes home - hence, PFIs/PPPs, closures of schools, hospitals, no money for rail transport and general cutbacks creep across the north. We don't oppose privatisation in Electricity instead we press for an 'all-Ireland market'.
    So long as our party views as indespensible to our strategy the enforced coalition in the north, so too will be the cutbacks we'll administer 'through clenched teeth'.
    Now one or two commentators wish to partition our party in the South from that pro-business agenda but you can't really do that. It seeps in through the cracks - just like it did when we went along with the bank bailout and when Arthur Morgan speaks.
    So maybe if left-republican is an amorphous concept and doesn't mean socialist as it is traditionally understood then maybe Eoin can go on living in a parallel universe where our party is pushing forward anti-market policies. Sinn Féin Keep Left - of Genghis Khan? - it is all relative. And if you can live with that then fine.
    To me it is sad to see how we delude ourselves and avoid making the harsh conclusions. It will be even worse as activists seek to justify (ignore?) the massive programme of cutbacks our party will be enforcing north of the border after 2011 while wishing to oppose the recommendations of An Bord Snip south of the border. Z.

  3. Bang Z, Exactly. He talks about
    "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."

    This is in many ways contaradictory. Build with reationary forces in the North, fight them in the South.

    I want somebody to tell me what our long term strategy in terms of Strormont. I fully support the peace process, but I wish to see us saying. Ok we have stabilised the situation and ended a war that no side was going to win. Now let's get down to the real issues and real politics. Let's end forced coalition with right wing parties and campaign on issues.

    We should begin to negotiate the end of power sharing in the North.


  4. AV and Z, you argue we should leave the northern institutions and end power sharing. Where the fuck would that leave us? It will leave us in a pre 1969 situation. Never again will Stormont be a Protestant parliament for a Protestant people. We are taming the unionists and by that protecting the nationalist people.

    What needs to happen now is to build the party in the South and create a real momentum for reunification. We need a 32 county movement pushing for reunification.

  5. Z,

    LOL about your opening paragraph. You are straight up as well. which is good.

    I think you point about what exactly left republican means is fair. Its a new term open to interpretation.

    On facing up to cuts you mention that this can cause difficulties.

    Cuts are a coming full stop. Irish people in the southern state are expecting cuts and frankly any party that argues there will be no cuts is going to be ignored as time wasters.

    However the possibility exists that elements of the McCarthy report can be challenged with a message that these cuts are counter-productive and will damage the economy and its ability to close the economic output gap.

    Cuts are needed but not those cuts.

    Over a full year the SF pre-budget proposals were to save 5 billion. Same as McCarthy. SF recognised that cuts were necessary but argued there was a different way to do this.

    SF wont face the difficulty of fighting McCarthy if it can detail where and how it make those cuts. Other left wing parties can get away with repeatedly shouting cliches of defend workers and no to any cuts but we are a serious party that wants to make changes and we have to be able to provide an alternative to McCarthy.

    Some of the elements in McCarthy are not bad. Look at the generic drugs proposal. We were arguing for that in March and it forms part of our cuts programme.

    The only hard part is that of sorting out a cohesive, multi-layered, stragtegy that promotes our cuts and savings as being the best economic option in the long run (i.e its cheaper in the long run not to kick the sh!t out of rural Ireland).

    SF have proposed cuts and they are opposing McCarthy as the wrong set of cuts.

    We are all interested in SF on this site. More interested than the average punter. We know this because we are here talking about it. We make an extra effort to learn and discuss SF policy.

    Yet its not clear to us how we are supposed to respond to the McCarthy cuts. It seems apparent that some people believe we may argue no to any cuts and some believe we will argue those cuts are the wrong cuts.

    If its not clear to us what the message should be around cuts then thats a more important than wondering why RTE/Irish Times ignore us.

    The fear is that we wont argue anything but instead just be a hanger on to any discussion

    I've noticed this on several issues, not just the issue of cuts. Even supporters and activists are confused as to what our position is. (we dont need spoon feeding the position but we need to understand the strategy behind them so we can see its part of something)

    If we dont know then the voters defintely wont know. Takes us back to the insightful Ferris article.

    On the issue of us being center right. Thats not where we are or where we should be. But as a left wing party we need to be able to focus on small things and small changes rather than all or nothing. Look at the SNP and the changes they are making in Scotland. Look at Die Linke in Germany whose proposals receive the backing of reputable economics institutes.

    Being a left wing party is not a bad thing. being radical is not a bad thing.

    Whats bad is not being professional enough to argue coherent policy positions.

    If Socialism could argue its points with solid economic policy documents every time rather than opinion pieces that read like they were written in 1925 then there would be no hang ups with socialism.

    its probably not socialism thats the problem but rather socialists.


  6. I wish people who post here would either use a pseudonym or their own name as it makes it doubly difficult to reply when a host of Anonymous post comments.

    A couple of points from an 'outsider,' the problem for SF as a pro business, centre right party is that space is already taken in the south by FF; and I can see no reason why anyone with center right politics would turn away from FF for SF. To expect them to do so is totally ignoring the type of people they are.

    If the comrade seriously believes SF has tamed the unionists then we must be living in parallel universes. It is SF which has changed, in the Stormont administration, like the unionist party’s, SF is pro market, globalization, privatization and police, need I go on. The fact is SF has been unable to gain unionist support for any of it main electoral platforms, (policing, education, Irish language, etc) whilst having bent over backwards to accommodate unionism. Can anyone confidently claim SF participation in the Stormont administration has improved economically and socially the majority of working class nationalist life styles? (Let alone the loyalist WC, which a left republican party could attempt to target politically)

    Refusing to face this reality or denying such problems even exists is the main reason SF is in such a confused State. If SF is to make progress the main game must be in the south, as in the north there is no democracy as most people would recognize it. What there is cannot be regarded as democratic government, but a sectarian mockney stitch up that does not have an opposition, the most important element within any democracy.

    This could be excused as a transitional administration, but ten years plus down the road it has become clear the British intend the current arrangement to be permanent. The sad fact of life is SF seem happy with this, it is perfectly understandable why the unionists love the current set up, it sets partition in stone, but for the life of me I cannot see what is in it for a progressive republican party, short term yes, but in perpetuity? To me it lacks ambition and the confidence to withstand democratically the fallout if Stormont were crashed or democratized.

    SF claims to be an all Ireland republican party, yet it does not even have a party platform that is the same in both jurisdictions. The seeds of failure are inbuilt within SF as it is impossible for southern SF MEP's TDs and councillors to go before the electorate on a progressive program, when their colleagues in the Stormont administration are doing the exact opposite. We dumb voters smell a rat when this occurs and are unlikely to trust our future to a party that smells and acts like a rodent.

    What would be best for SF? To carry on its disastrous course which has failed to put food on the table, let alone have a hope of uniting the nation by 2016. Or become a left Republican all Ireland party which targeted and became the party of choice for the Irish working classes of town and country. True SF’s leadership would have to scale down their ambitions, certainly in the medium term future, but it’s activists and rank and file would be able to move forward confident in knowing where the party stood and with the hope of better days to come.

    Spin and fluff will simply will not do the trick any more.

  7. Sad to say that I think Mick Hall is mostly right.
    Those who are writing and not taking into account our positions in the north are deluding themselves about where we are at. As for the SNP - if you think they're socialist then you've downgraded the latter term. As for our 5 meuro cuts - these have been rightfully criticised elsewhere as not viable, inadequate and overestimated.
    Don't ever make the mistake of believing your own propaganda - if Fianna Fáil could address the problem without massive cutbacks they probably would. They're not stupid. There are serious fiscal questions over what we suggest without much self-doubt. It would be quite comic if it weren't so terribly sad. To be a revolutionary you have to begin with honesty.
    If it were as simple as raising taxes - don't you think they would do that?
    Don't underestimate FF and their populist roots. It's not just simply greed. The reason why taxes are low is not that it allows their members or friends to pay less - it because it will attract FDI and create jobs and tax revenues. There's a whole field of study called developmental economics and there's a few models of how to do it. Well Ireland pursued the most right wing one - tax competition. Sadly, our own position isn't really significantly different to that and what's more - we're getting closer to it by the month. V.

  8. Hi V,

    Michael Taft gave the Sinn Fein job creation and retention strategy a very good thumbs up. said that we had raised the bar with it.

    Now while we dont live and die by Michael's word he is a Unite economist, and writes strong responses to against the myths being pushed by An bord snip and the Irish times etc. He is, in my mind, along with the folks in TASC one of the Irish Lefts best resources to fight cuts to the minimum wage, and other anti-working class measures.

    Who has criticised our economic proposals as unworkable?

    To be fair they were costed by the Dept. of Finance themselves so they must at least tie together somewhat.

    I have not seen any negative criticisms of them at all.

    Actually the only mention I have seen around our proposals was Michael Taft on the job creation strategy. Nobody else seems to have even considered our proposals good or bad.

    I'd like to know what folks found bad. If some part of them does not make sense then that rightfully needs to be pointed out. I agree that just cause they are ours dont mean they are perfect. We need to be able to evaluate and criticise our proposals and plans harder than anyone.

    But I'd still like to be pointed to what criticisms were made of the proposals.


  9. Mick Hall ,thank you for putting forward clearly and eloquentlywhat I and most other Republicans are thinking .
    Keep up your comments and maybe the SF leadership will read and for once listen .
    Sean Cahill

  10. So I suppose the reason why we campaigned against Lisbon and on the platform of reforming the EU in the recent EU elections was because we are for globalisation and privatisation.

    Mick as you said in your post - you are an outsider. The executive has very limited powers, over the next few years more and more powers will be demanded and used by republicans to mould the society we want. What state enterprises did Sinn Fein privatise in the North? Police stations? oh yeah we are pro-police now so voting to cut the number of stations fits into an agenda to build a police sate. Keep dreaming.

    My own prediction is that the DUP walks away either after the next GE or after the Assembly elections. The big question is what would Sinn Fein do then?


  11. S,

    I agree wih your comments, but we all must ensure that we remain rock solid that stormont is a stepping stone and we cannot get too comfortable within it.