Saturday, May 22, 2010

One country one message?

Received this piece from Féilim and I feel it poses many questions that Sinn Féin need to look at if we are to continue to grow North and South of the border.


One of the difficulties that Sinn Féin has, as a party in the 26 Counties, is that its policies in Government in the Six Counties often appear to contradict its image as a left wing party in the 26 Cos. It is clear that there are different priorities for the party North and South. However, the main problem which prevents Sinn Féin from growing in the South stems not simply from different sets of priorities in both jurisdictions, but from a lack of a clear ideological analysis of Ireland today, the Ireland we’d like to bring about, and how we’re going to do this.

In the Six Counties the main priority currently is to promote the interests of the nationalists (an ethno-centric approach rather than an historic republican approach) and the idea of a united Ireland. While virtually all SF people in the Six Counties have experienced poverty and disadvantage and have a natural affinity and empathy for those in similar situations, that does not translate necessarily into a socialist ideological perspective. Indeed many northern republicans would probably be quite happy with the 26 County Labour Party’s view on socio-economic issues – and some might even be content with Fianna Fáil if it adopted a more pro-active approach on Partition. Certainly northern republicans are more likely to say they oppose Fianna Fáil because it ‘sold out’ on Irish unity, rather than because it supports capitalism.

And here lies the problem for republicans in the South who want to make the party relevant to people in the 26 Cos. and whose priority is to create a socialist alternative.

The fact is that outside of republicans there is little interest in the 26 Cos. in the position of nationalists in the Six. There is no serious interest in a United Ireland, certainly not one which will cost the tax payers £6 billion annually or which will mean having to accommodate a million northern Protestants.

Since Sinn Féin is strongest in the Six Cos. and its leadership is primarily from the Six or the Border Counties, its priorities tend to represent the priorities of those in that part of the country. Unfortunately since Sinn Féín’s analysis is ethnocentric in the North and therefore cannot be extrapolated in any meaningful sense to the 32 Counties as a whole, this stunts the potential growth of the party in the South (and in the long run, also in the North). For example, Sinn Féin may well be the biggest party in the North with 26% of the vote - a great achievement by any standards. However, this vote is based on an ethnocentric appeal to a (limited) number of nationalists and the 74% which oppose us there appear to be quite consolidated in their opposition. Add to that the 94% who oppose us in the South and the question has to be asked – will a northern nationalist ethnocentric approach to politics do the trick ever bring about a united Ireland never mind a socialist one?

The problem is that Sinn Féin has never properly developed an ideological approach to the condition of Ireland as a whole and the potential change we would like to see. Policies which we have developed have been largely pragmatic responses to political problems rather than based on in-depth analysis from an ideological standpoint or a vision of where we’d like to see the country end up. It’s no wonder than political actions in the North have often appeared contradictory to what we say we stand for in the South.

One example of this is seen in Sinn Féin’s support for the Public Assemblies Bill, which is jointly sponsored by Sinn Féin and the DUP. This Bill is the result of negotiations between Sinn Féin and the DUP over the transfer of Policing and Justice powers to the North and the resulting discussions over Orange marches. In order to satisfy its priorities in this regard Sinn Féin has agreed to support a Bill which in effect curtails the right to protest for whole sectors of society in the North – NGOs, the Trade Union movement, solidarity groups etc. Indeed if this Bill was passed in the 26 Cos. the recent protests supported by Sinn Féin outside Leinster House would have been illegal. In recent days disquiet about the human rights implications of this Bill have been expressed by prominent trade union leaders in the North including leaders of the biggest public sector unions, NIPSA and UNISON. The N.I Human Rights Commission has also suggested that the Bill may contravene human rights legislation.

The Human Rights Commission's response to the draft bill is available at:

The SDLP has also suggested it will oppose the Bill in its current form on civil liberties grounds!

There are several things wrong with the Bill. However, the most objectionable element relates to the condition that any group organising a public meeting of more than 50 people (it doesn’t have to be a march) in a public area (street, footpath, town square), must give 37 days notice to a newly appointed body which will then adjudicate on the matter. This removes current rights to protest enjoyed by the community in the North and restricts the opportunity to dissent, at least in the short term. The fact that Sinn Féin in the North doesn’t see this as objectionable or as anti-worker or anti-solidarity movement or anti-civil rights or even anti-republican reflects the depth of the problem which exists in terms of a lack of republican analysis and ideology. It also explains in part why Sinn Féin is unlikely to grow in the 26 Cos. until/unless there is a major rethink on republican strategy generally.

There are always going to be different priorities in struggle North and South while Partition and two separate socio-economic, political (and I would add cultural) entities exist. However the pursuit of these separate priorities would not throw up the contradictions we are currently experiencing if it was grounded in an agreed ideological analysis and a strategy based on that instead of pragmatism, as is currently the case.

Féilim Ó hAdhmaill


  1. Nail on the head there Féilim.

  2. 'In the Six Counties the main priority currently is to promote the interests of the nationalists (an ethno-centric approach rather than an historic republican approach)'

    Feilim, if SF is promoting nationalist interests is ethno centric then is this not going back to two nations theory on the north.

    If everyone is Irish up there then how can it be ethno-centric. Its only ethno-centric if we assume that nationalists are the natives and unionists being the planters are the foreign nation.

    I have to reject your description of ethno-centric policies as I dont believe there are two nations in the north.

  3. Feilim is to be congratulated for making his voice heard on this issue.

    But once you agree that the party in the north is implementing right-wing cuts and the attacks on civil rights that accompany them, all as part of a strategy to unite Ireland from the top-down a few questions should crop up.

    Building the party on 'responsible' i.e. neo-liberal nationalism will mean that anyone attracted to socialism or left-wing politicsin the north will not only be put off but will actually see the party as deeply hypocritical. And that's just progressively minded nationalists - what about young Protestants who rebel against the ideological straight-jacket of the reactionary conservatism of the tented sawdust trails. What can Sinn Fein offer them?

    So you will build a middle-class nationalist party in the north, a party who will outnumber and overpower any left voices in the south, but which will fail to reach out to Protestants.

    I fear that the reward for ditching socialism in the north and implementing cuts which Thatcher could only dream of will be simply political power in the north. Does anyone actually think Irish unity is a likelihood today?

  4. "Féilim's analysis of our problems is spot on and has to be the starting point for changing SF into the kind of party many of us want it to be.Eoin O Broin's book should have helped begin this process but like the letter in An Phoblacht from Ruadhán last week and Toireasa Ferris' efforts last year the debate/discussion never developed into anything tangible because there is no forum within the party for such a process. At the moment SF is a broad coalition of individuals who agree on the goal of a UI but whose political idealogies go right across the spectrum. However I think that most SF members in the 26 Counties have left wing leanings- to put it no stronger than that- and that this can be built on. What force or forum exists in the party to develope and define our socialist ideology? I don't see any. It certainly is not going to come from the top down. Can it be built from the bottom up and if it can how do we begin? I dont think a start can be made by simply relying on isolated voices to push a socialist agenda at various party meetings, through the letters column of An Phoblacht and on the web. We need to get left republicans together -through a conference or a summer school or an education programme,a fringe meeting at the Ard Fheis or through a magazine or pamphlets etc. Would that be frowned on by the powers that be? I think it probably would and i say so what? Just think what would be the reaction across the party if Féilims article was to be discussed at all Cumann, Comhairle Ceantair, Cúige and Ard Comhairle meetings over the next few months? At least at the end of the summer we'ed have a fair idea as to where we stood.

  5. Its true the party will face different priorities in either juridiction, an inescapable fact of there being two states. But the ideology and how that ideology is expressed will also be shaped by those same circumstances.

    If the party is to go back to the well so to speak and reexplore what its All-Ireland vision must be then I think we have to recognise that how that vision is pushed, the timeline for achieving it and the order in which the steps to achieving it are executed will be very different in the 6 counties and the 26 counties. It will be different in Dublin and Belfast to Cork and Derry - different between each partioned statelet and within each statelet.

    The building of a socialist alternative must be cognisant of those factors though those factors cannot be used to avoid any progress towards a fairer society. However we must recognise that different areas, towns, communities etc. are at different stages or have different perspectives and that if taking these communities with us means one step back two steps forward then thats the way it must be.

    While we argue for a socialist alternative in south Ireland I believe we must step carefully so as not to unnecessarily encourage those divisions, which would ultimately be only to our detriment.

    Felim when you say "While virtually all SF people in the Six Counties have experienced poverty and disadvantage and have a natural affinity and empathy for those in similar situations, that does not translate necessarily into a socialist ideological perspective." I believe this is true of the most people in the 26 counties as well and TASC's report on the desire of southerners for greater wealth distribution supports that. This to me is socialism of the heart and while it may not be ideological socialism or socialism of the head it is the essence of socialism, innate decency and empathy for others. To an extent I think we are pushing at an open door.

    The difficult bit is that a person who may have an inherently socialist view if not ideology will be put off, even if only through misunderstanding, by attempts to rearticulate their socialism of the heart into socialism of the head (i.e a more rigourously socialist perspective). Its not to stay that it cant be done just that its a difficult job with the threat of loosing many friendly communities along the way if not carefully down.

    You mention the dichotomy of the sf 6 county being sometimes at odds with our stated position in the south. Its true. I dont know to what extent that contradiction effects our vote though. Is it a factor that actually stops someone in Cabra, Cork or Clare from voting for SF or are there other separate issues which must be tackled. Regrettably the electorate in the south dont really care much about the north but does that not also mean that they will not be as influnced to either vote for us or to vote against us because of our record there. I dont know the answer to this and am interested in people's thoughts.

    Good post Féilim which opens up debate.

  6. that etnocentic issue in the north will probably be adressed through necesity. Sf have either peeked in the north or come very close to it. the SDLP are holding. for Sf to grow further then need to move out side nationalist areas and bring others into republicanism. if they don't its stalemate again for another for decades. how SF will aproch its next stage of development will in my view depend on which section of unionism they think is more aplicable to a united ireland. middle class unionism or working class unionism. which ever section they go after will have a knock on effect on the party in the south.

    i would agree that the party has an underdeveolped ideological approch. though in terms of ecomonics this isn't problomatic yet in big terms to the north or with the exception of the cities large partches of the south even.

    and even when it comes to the cities is socialism confused for activism and a very tin form of activisim at that where the objective seems to be how many plackards are held or how many photo's taken, not praticularly to use numbers to force a decision on an issue.

    i think SFs biggest problem in the south is dublin and would agree that an agreed idological platform is needed because i don't think dublins problems are dublins but trying to opporate in SF working through the contradictions that SF in the modern phaze is trowing up. that debate seems to be going back and forward over the last decade. but as felim pointed out the party is depended on the north, where the party in the north steps into the unionist community will have a consequence on dublin one way or the other.

  7. This is a revival of two-nations theory dessed up as support for Socialism in the South. And the single policy dffeence highlighted? The Public Assemblies Bill! Any policy on this issue has no appeal to anyone in the South, because unfrtunately most havent even heard of it.

    Because of Partition there are two separate but related struggles. One is to remove the Brits from one quarter of Ireland. The other is to remove their legacy from all of it, including the social injustices, inequality and lack of democracy.

  8. An Giorra excellent piece. Let's have the meeting.The people are not being represented properly.Let's harness the anger and turn it to a positive anger.

  9. Féilim Ó hAdhmaillMay 25, 2010 at 10:23 PM

    I am glad that my post was first of all permitted and secondly that at least some people think of it as at least the starting point for debate even if they may not agree with some or all of the points. I don't think there is a big enough debate among the whole republican community about these types of issues. I'm not sure how to address the comments by Nora that "This is a revival of two-nations theory dessed up as support for Socialism in the South". If she is referring to my contribution may I say that I come from Belfast, have been a republican all my life and come from a republican family. I would like to see the establishment of a 32 County socialist republic, independent from Britain but one which 'cherishes all the children ( ie people)of the nation equally'. I dont support the old BICO two nations theory or indeed views that suggest that we cannot have a multicultural/intercultural Ireland. My end goal is clear. What is most unclear is how to get there!

  10. Nora, talk about misrepresentation. Feilim daring to speak of socialism in the south is to agree to 'two nations' theory! That's crap and everyone knows it.
    Your argument merely uses the Thatcherite economic ruse 'There is no Alternative' and applies it to the leadership's strategy - so there is no alternative to entering coalition govt in the north and enforcing cuts, privatisations and stealth taxes. Otherwise, you accept 'two nations' theory! Who do you think you will fool with this stuff?

  11. An Giorra, Ok then, let's just forget socialism of the head (i.e. one based on a rational understanding) and instead opt for one which waxes aimlessly about equality (while implementing cuts and privatisation). Republicans must only seek to think about how equality can be realised within the bounds of the current status quo rather than rediscovering what every rational socialist has known for 150 years - that the state is set up to prevent change, that the state protects market prorogatives and that real change can only come from people being mobilised against it.
    To outdo yourself, you then raise the old chestnut of *blaming* the absence of socialist consciousness in the people themselves for the party's implementing cuts that Maggie Thatcher could only dream about. Unfortunately for you, your own argument is exposed by a party leadership who have just agreed legislation to effectively make illegal anyone who might want to protest against these cutbacks!

  12. ANON _ where is it yet agreed that the new proposals you are talking about will prevent protest. At present the document is up for discussion and my understanding is that options will exist for protests to take place in response to events that arise ie plant closures, strikes etc.

  13. Mellows, anyone wanting to organise a protest under the new draft legislation would have seek permission at least 37 working days ahead of it. The legislation actually specifies trade unions as targets for it and gives a concrete example of how it would apply e.g. on a community wishing to protest the closure of a leisure centre! So no spontaneous protests and no right to protest even if you apply 37 working days ahead of time!
    The draft was agreed by a group composed of 3 MLAs from Sinn Fein and the DUP. Talk about denial!

  14. Feilim O'hAdhmaillMay 27, 2010 at 6:02 PM

    JUst to clarify again. I quoted the Public Assemblies Bill to support a wider argument. The fact that Sinn Féín has been involved in drafting, proposing, and indeed defending this Bill is of concern to me for the reasons I stated ( and indeed reasons publicly stated by several prominent trade unionists and the NI Human Rights Commission -the website for which I provided). The Bill will no doubt be amended once the opposition to it is realised. The point I am trying to make is that in my opinion republicans should not have agreed to draft such proposals in the first place and that reflects an emphasis on pragmaticism rather than ideology. The Bill proposes a number of things I would be very concerned about but the main one is the extension of notification requirements to all public meetings of 50 persons or more in a public place. That includes everything from protests about cuts in pre-school funding to trade union protests, to anti-war rallies. 37 working days is the notice requirement (see what the NI Human Rights Commission has to say about it at the link). I am concerned about the Bill certainly ( both as a republican and as a political activist involved in Palestine Solidarity work ,etc.). However, I am more concerned about the thinking that went into it and it's that I'd like a debate to be opened up about it within SF and republicanism generally.

  15. Anon - May 27 9.49

    You talk about me being in denial. This site is about sinn fein supporters discussing where Sinn Féin is going and what we are doing.

    Nobody on here has welcomed the Bill, but I am arguing against it in my cumman and making sure our views are heard at ntional level. As such I expect major changes and clarifications to be made.

    If you are here simply to attack Sinn Féin and all it does then maybe you are in the wreonmg place. what has been your experience of the debate in your local cumman?

  16. Learn to spell Mellows lol CUMANN