Monday, October 12, 2009

Matt Carthy - On how and why Sinn Féin must get stronger.

Below is part of a piece taken from Matt Carthy's blog (Sinn Féin member of Carrickmacross Town Council and Monaghan County Council. Chairperson of County Monaghan Sinn Féin.) and was written following the Lisbon defeat. To me this section is the most important in terms of how Sinn Féin moves forward in the coming years.

We clearly are not making the progress we wished to see in the 26 counties and the party needs to look at what we can do about it. It would be great if people could read the piece below and comment as to how they feel the party should tackle the issues raised by Matt.


For Sinn Féin’s part it is clear that we simply do not have credibility among a sufficient proportion of the electorate. Clearly the anti-Sinn Féin bias in the media holds a massive sway. Similarly, other than Lisbon itself, nothing unites the establishment political parties more than their hatred for republicans. But we can’t just keep whinging about these things. We have to accept them as a given and move on. The experience in Monaghan, for example, is that when Sinn Féin get a substantial mandate the other parties are less likely to spend their time attacking us for fear of missing out on transfers.

We have to get off our high horse; the reason Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour can direct so much venom towards Sinn Féin isn’t just because we go against the cosy cartel that has existed in this state since its foundation. It’s also because they know they can. We simply aren’t strong enough to combat it.

So, we need to get stronger. That means building a better organisation. It means that some of those people who have left our party in recent years must be encouraged to come back. We also need to attract thousands of new members and accept the fact that not all members will feel comfortable in the traditional cumann structure that the party operates. We need to alter the definition of what a Sinn Féin member is and agree that it will not always be necessary for someone to attend three meetings a week and go leafleting, campaigning etc for the other four evenings to meet the criteria.

We also need to build and support an alternative media. The failure of the Daily Ireland initiative was disappointing. I sincerely hope that somebody, or a collection of individuals, will at some point in the future launch an alternative progressive national daily newspaper. In the mean-time there is a need to increase the level of other means of media such as newsletters and on-line methods such as social networking sites and you-tube.

It is only by building a strong Republican party delivering a strong Republican message can we hope to win the battle for Irish hearts and minds. This is a historic project that will take many years to achieve. It certainly cannot be measured in election cycles or election results although these will always be useful indicators as to the success, or otherwise, of our efforts.

As a first step we need all progressive political groupings and parties, whether coming primarily from a socialist or republican perspective, to work together on issues of mutual concern. They/ We should each start concentrating their/ our energies on the conservative forces in our society, of which there are many. It is draining to see progressive parties and organisations attacking Sinn Féin rather than joining us in tackling the greatest challenges facing our nation i.e. partition, poverty and inequality.

There is a large amount of work to do in the struggle for a United Democratic Irish Republic. A battle was lost last weekend; and the hard work has only started.


  1. Credibility is something that takes a while to build and sustained work in communities and on policies builds it.

    Calls for resination of Coughlan and forcing the hand of o'Donoghue were good and build up credibility as a party capable of saying what needs to be said rather than pursuing a Fine Gael style work the system approach to John which would have ensured he was still CC.

    Pursuing a more agressive course will indeed make us marginally less popular with some (who dont vote SF full stop) but will allow us to represent a wider block (15-17% I suggest). Such a course, providing a forthright critique of Irish society with credible and detailed answers to problems and concerns in Irish society, will give us credibility for a segment of society. Because we can only hope to secure credibility with a segement in the first instance.

    Sinn Fein will find it hard to establish its credibility in a broad field where there are so many long established parties - some what akin to the crowded center theory of Irish politics.

    SF will be able to establish its credibility in a more targetted niche of about 30-35% * (people finding you credible and voting for you are separate, at least for 1st IMO).

    I get the 35% vote block who we can quickly establish credibility as those of the NO side as per Lisbon vote - a segment willing to listen to SF and vote and stand on the same line as SF, a vote block that although never yet harnessed - repeatedly exists in this state and includes small farmers, fishermen, people in rural and Urban Ireland, people with broad left aspirations in the whole (with some exceptions surely). A vote block thats willing to ignore the fairly intense barrage of the main stream media.

    Considering that Matt then highlights the obvious challenge we face with a biased media then its comforing to think that such a large block will remain steady in the face of an assault by every agency and media that could be used against them.

    Matt is right that republicans must build its own effective media routes. By establishing SFs message in a segment of the media then the whole media becomes forced to adapt. We must cross that threshold and then i believe we will be surprised as to how quickly this boycott is broken.

    When I think of other parties who have been the subject of such boycotts around Europe then I am atruck by how they ensure that by agressively pushing the pace of political life they receive the attention they deserve in the media. Forceful, insistant and credible like when we set the ball rolling on John an Tarbh.

    Separate to that we would need a grass roots level strategy alternative media strategy. Its being termed netroots in the US. The idea that we all engage in online activity akin to knocking doors but instead create a large communtiy online. The broad network of republican sites, social media etc are part of that approach.

    A higher level approach would be for some senior republicans to guest post on sites like Slugger,, and other reputable online fora. A type of engagement not yet developed but well used by sites such as sluggerotoole who even had Wallstrom contributing on Lisbon 2.

    Reputable sites like those above will give credit to reputable proposals or arguements and will represent a unique manner of enagagement.

    Considering the much predicted demise of print media then we should consider it. We should not wait for another party to set the pace.

    Finally when Matt says we must recognise the different levels of enagagement that some people can make then its a good point. Just because someone cant make a cumainn meeting does not mean they are not willing to provide some type of contribution.


  2. Some very good media ideas J. They are just the subversive type of activities that a party such as SF must become expert in very quickly. Let's face some hard facts. The MSM (main stream media) is firmly in control of the neo-liberal capitalist (NLC) agenda and it popularisation. Despite the economic devastation caused by NLC, NLC doctrine has come through this crisis stronger and with hardly a whimper of opposition from the general populace. This has emboldened those who are creating the new NLC policy of wage devaluation and privitising public service across Europe. There might be a few reforms in banking and a bone thrown to ecology and social concerns but the plan is to increase profits through wage cuts, agency tactics, off-shoring and creating stealth taxes through privitisation of public services (and thus increase prices for every citizen irregardless of wage levels). Income distribution will accrue heavily to the already wealthy.

    Another hard fact we'll have to face is an increased attack by the MSM in all 32 counties. SF to an extent has had a fairly easy ride in six counties due to the poor quality of oppostion. SF cannot expect this to continue indefinitely. In 26 counties I believe we've already seen an example of a new tactic in the publicising of the Irish SP party during the Euro campaign in addition to the negative stories on MLM. The media, govt and business cohorts believe that the Irish Labour Party is firmly on board the NLC project (yet to be seen) and have absolutely no fear of the the Irish SP. During the next GE, we can expect a MSM pincher movement giving publicity to both the SP and Labour in order to eradicate SF once and for all. We'll also probably be faced with another bout of gerrymandering as FF and their blood brothers the Green Party seek to cut the number of Dáil seats before the next GE.

    Arthur Morgan was the first SF politician in a long time who displayed a bit of fire in his belly. The coverage of his Dáil speech was to an extent passed over by the MSM but still made waves beyond the normal. It's nice that our elected SF reps are parliamentarian in their demeanour but where is the old fire and belief? Where was the party that enjoyed overcoming the obstacles that the brit and Irish establishment continually threw at them? There are many talented people in the SF organisation. We need to tap into this talent and also talent in unaligned community groups and unions which can reinvigorate the party at all levels. We need to reconnect, and resurrect the passion.

    Matt's piece is well thought out and written and I don't have any quibbles - bar one. 'We need to get people back into the party who've left'. Why exactly? It is quite normal for a party the size of SF to have people come and go. A case in point, the fermanagh guy who left claims he was shown the light by Higgin in regard for the need of a command economy, and that the provos drove a wedge between nationalist and loyalist workers. Oh really. First of all, a command economy (especially one built on the now defunct Soviet model) isn't a flyer and will never garner broad public support. Most clued up Socialists have moved on and are able to critique the failings of the Soviet model. They recognise it for the failure it was.

    Secondly, I don't know what six counties that fella lived in but the institutional sectarian structures that wed the loyalist working class to the structures were well established and used by the loyalist working class to maintain the status quo. There may be leverage in the future to bridge the gap between the workers in both communities but not while there is an adherence to sectrarian doctrine. As always the 'live-in-the-past' SP want to construct a pre-determined and ideal scaffold projected onto all their commentary and analysis. It didn't work in the past and won't work in the future.

  3. PS, I thought the cumainn meetings were valuable during elections but not so much otherwise. They'd be far more enjoyable during non-eletion periods if we cross-fertilised with cumainn across all 32 counties on occassion. Discuss; trade stories; learn about local solutions to local problems; and have a bit of craic.

  4. I don't think that the councillor in Fermanagh said anything about a Soviet style "command economy". He did however talk about a socialist one. I don't see any reason to equate the two and I don't see any evidence that he does either.

    I think that the idea that the media will boost the Socialist Party to get at Sinn Fein is pretty silly. The SP and SF aren't really in the running in each other's target seats. The only place where the two parties are neck and neck is Cork North Central and it would take a very good day for either the SP or SF to pick up a seat there anyway.

    There's no point in them talking up the SP to damage SF, because there just isn't anywhere much where the two are both serious contenders. Talking up People Before Profit would make more sense from the media point of view if they really did have some Machiavellian plan to talk up those groups on SF's left flank. They, after all, do have a real shot at taking Aengus' seat.

    In fact the SP will get media coverage in the next election because of Joe Higgins, who elements in the media like. They like him because he provides good copy, some funny lines and one of the few points of view in mainstream politics that is completely different to the consensus. Other than Higgins, Socialist Party candidates won't get particularly favourable coverage and in fact won't get much coverage at all.

    By the way, I think you've misrepresented O'Cobhthaigh on the sectarianism issue too. He doesn't at any stage argue that Sinn Fein or the armed struggle created the sectarian division. He even specifically argues that most SF members are not personallys sectarian. What he does say is that the armed struggle further strengthened division (which seems to me to be obvious even if you think that the benefits of armed struggle outweighed that drawback) and that SF are now constrained by the communitarian logic of the government system they participate in.

    Those are serious arguments that can't really be wished away by saying British imperialism created the division and the Northern statelet perpetuated it. That's common ground. The question is what can be done about it today? Are SF's policies and approach to government undermining division or strengthening it?

  5. I take your points Zinlet, and I'm sure that those in various leadership positions have a better read on the dynamcis of Labour, the SP and other left wing parties than I do. Real politik is the name of the game. Those who consider themselves the true harbingers of Socialism, often relying on a very specific interpretation of broad leftist doctrines, have as usual decided that other leftist parties are the main enemy.

    However, this is not a a one way street. Much less reported are right-leaning SF members, and at least one councillour candidate I know of, who have also left the party. As a Socialist who contenances a variety of means to obtain the ultimate objectives, and also one who is not constrained by previous models of Socialism, I think SF needs to find methods, means and policies to attract support which is progressive but realistic across all 32 counties, but which is adaptable to circumstances. Leftist parties, on the whole, don't do adaptability. Capitalist parties are masters of adaptability.

    My main point, and politics is a rough game, is that SF has to come out fighting. The best defence is offense. There is a broad middle way down the progressive path which can achieve policy goals that are readily available to SF at this moment in time. These policies, which mightn't set the Socialist world on fire, can achieve immediate and tangible results for all Irish people - bar maybe a few fat cats. Isn't that the ultimate aim of Socialism/progressive policy as opposed to NLC?

    The stormont project is just that - a project. There are several tangentile benefits to being in govt on that level. The question, rather than the one set by 26 county command economy socialists or 6 county Republicans of other ideas, is should a Republican party try to do something about the situation with actual engagement or should we all sit around and theorise about how 'should' be done? Do we wait around until conditions are just right and then we'll act?

    The Fermanagh guy's statement of class division (a very misintrepreted definition, if one goes by Marxian analysis btw) is more nuanced than the SP's official line. However, you don't have very far to go find out how SP's rhetoric is actually used in this regard. A quick search on the net will suffice.

  6. Whatever one's interpretation of the real politik situation, imo there is only one course of action. Complacency is not an option. From what I seen recently in various forms, whether at grassroots or from politicos at a 32 county level, is a tendency to come out fighting. There does seem to be a re-engagement and willingness to consider a broader array of options.

    As one who is deeply immersed in Socialism and Socialist study, I often find that I have to step away from the Socialism thingy once in a while. It tends to create a tunnel vision which diverts one's attention from what is really happening in the world, and more importantly how ordinary Irish wage earners view circumstances. One can take two views here. You tell wage earners what needs to be done or you can listen to what the class of wage earners wants you to do. The art of politics is to create a dialogue between the two views. SF should become masters at this dialogue; neither superimposing a set of docrines nor failing to come up with comprehensive policies which address the concerns explicity stated by the variety of concerns expressed by the wage earning class. Very few political parties, the world over, have been able to democritise the political economy.

    The question the broad left should be addressing is how NLC has gained so much prominence and how it has gotten stronger through the very crisis it created. The only people making some headway are progressive economists who can address NLC supporters with the very analysis NLC supporters use. Yet it is up to political parties to turn their analysis into action. It's not earth shattering stuff but it begins to address some issues, and more importantly it will change the terms of terminology and dialogue for the entire political economy if driven forward.

  7. Tgmac, well articulated.

    When you say "The only people making some headway are progressive economists who can address NLC supporters with the very analysis NLC supporters use".

    The lefts mistake has been to not only fail to challenge the Neo-Liberal economic analysis but to actually fail to use the stamdard economic tools to develop their own analysis. The use of rational, economic analysis is not a right wing tool. Its an economic tool thats being used to give a neo-liberal analysis. Nothing precludes its use as a tool for progressive economics.

    As a progressive party then it is only natural that we would seek to develop a framework with likeminded economists. This will provide the practical outworking for our basic philosophy of equality, social justice, and the right to live in a united Ireland with its own culture.

    That will allow us to grow and become stronger. however that philospohy has to be worked into many many policies so people can see that we are offering a credible alternative.

    As much mention is made of the SP above I must say we cannot be like them or other left parties SP argues that the economy can be boosted by building loads of hospitals and roads and not actually saying how many roads or hospitals.

    I am a left winger and that proposal of theirs was so useless and lacking any concrete detail, even though its theory-book sound, that I will not even transfer to the SP in an election. Why vote for people who dont credibly defend the ordinary people.

    I dont have a mortgage. If I did then I would be even less likely to vote SP. Why would I? I cant balance my household budget without knowing exactly what money is involved. Why then even consider the SP who cant quote any figures (money or hospitals to be built) for their economic proposals.

    The MSM love when the left comes out with watery proposals.

    As a left party then we need to work even harder to argue cogently and clearly a vision that the liberal Media might not like but is so solidly grounded in economics that its impossible to write it off.

    Economics wise we need to have focus in three areas I would think over the next 2 years:
    1) Banking
    2) The structural deficit - a comprehensive overhaul of the tax system
    3) how we handle personal debt?

    As an observer I can see that much of this is being done already by the party.
    Its going to be a long haul with the goals slowly achieved.

    But then nothing is ever achievd quickly, not personal success, economic equality, a fairer society or the unification of our country.

    If our vision is believable then we will have credibility. If its not then we'll get 50000 votes on the whole island like the SP.

    We are building our credibility and arguing well. Maybe knowe we just need patience?

    (Its not about winning seats and big votes but if only 50000 people vote for you out of 4 million voters then you have a credibility problem with 3.95 million people. Its other your wrong or they are wrong and its a bit much to insist its all of them)

  8. I wrote previously that a good media strategy for the party might be:

    "A higher level approach would be for some senior republicans to guest post on sites like Slugger,, and other reputable online fora. A type of engagement not yet developed but well used by sites such as sluggerotoole who even had Wallstrom contributing on Lisbon 2."

    Paschal Donohoe of fg is on slugger today with a broadside against the govt. on why only 10 million for the flood victims


  9. J, a very sensible suggestion that, handled properly of course, can only be a positive. The occassional post from a few Sr. politicos on online fora keeps the fire lit. Since SF is carving out a progressive niche in the economic polity of Ireland/Europe, you'd tend to think that such posts would exhibit a bit of a unique viewpoint(s) not often articulated on popular forums. gl