Author Topic: Sinn Fein? They have gone away, you know.  (Read 308122 times)

Trevor Hill

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Sinn Fein? They have gone away, you know.
« on: January 18, 2010, 12:28:52 AM »
Quite an interesting article in the Sunday Times, while not quite relevant to the Liam/Gerry Adams thread, I think it raises an issue that some may have missed. If Gerry does resign because of his brother, there really is no one to take over.

Shortly after last June’s local elections, a private document wended its way through the backrooms of Sinn Fein headquarters. Marked for the attention of party leaders, it painted a dark and pessimistic picture of the state of Sinn Fein.

A “culture of fear” pervaded the organisation, it said, leaving members disempowered and frustrated. The party’s bright hope for the future, Mary Lou McDonald, had little hope of securing a seat in Dublin Central in the next general election, while Aengus Ó Snodaigh was also likely to lose his Dublin seat. “Sinn Fein is in serious and potentially critical decline in Dublin,” it said. “We are one election away from being totally irrelevant in Dublin, and the south in general.”

Six months after writing the internal review, Killian Forde had still not received a response from his party leaders. He took this to be further evidence of a refusal by Sinn Fein to engage with anyone who spoke out of turn.

The silence was compounded by a public rap across the knuckles from the party for voting for the Dublin city council budget. The 39-year-old councillor decided he had had enough. Last week he announced his intention to jump ship and join the Labour party.

The resignation of a local representative would not normally merit the attention of the national media, but Forde’s defection marked a trend: he was the fourth Sinn Fein councillor to leave the party in six months. To lose one might be regarded as misfortune; to lose four signals political danger.

With the peace process in excellent health in Northern Ireland and a growing appetite for socialist politics in the republic, Sinn Fein should be thriving and expanding. So why would any councillor choose now to leave?

Is it, as party officials have valiantly claimed, an insignificant blip in an otherwise prospering organisation? Or has the absence of a leader in the republic, combined with the infamous party discipline, made it unattractive to both voters and politicians alike? Is there any truth in Forde’s claim that Sinn Fein is one election away from oblivion in the republic?

FOR party headquarters, the figures don’t add up. Between 1999 and 2004, Sinn Fein enjoyed unprecedented electoral success, increasing its number of council seats from 21 to 54 and its TDs from one to five. But instead of it continuing to ride that wave of popularity, the tide seems to have gone out.

Far from achieving its publicly stated objective of doubling the party’s Dail seats in the 2007 elections, Sinn Fein lost a TD when Sean Crowe was defeated in Dublin South West. Suddenly, all the pre-election speculation about a Fianna Fail-Sinn Fein coalition seemed rather premature.

Last year, the party managed to hold its 54 council spots, but McDonald was unseated from the European parliament by Joe Higgins, a socialist rival. McDonald’s €160,000 budget, about four times the amount spent by Higgins, wasn’t enough to convince the electorate.

Pearse Doherty, Sinn Fein’s Donegal-based senator, said it was simply unrealistic to expect big wins at every election.

“Last June we consolidated the huge growth we had made in the previous elections,” he said. “We have also been attracting lots of new members to the party. Last year was one of our best years for that.”

Sure enough, figures from party headquarters show that between 2007 and 2009 there was an increase in the numbers joining the party, as membership grew from 4,366 to 4,823. College applications in particular are booming, with 1,300 students joining the party last year.

It seems to fit with Doherty’s claim, the profile of a small party that is building steadily, after a brief spurt in growth. But closer inspection by one political analyst reveals a considerably more volatile situation.

“If you look at what happened to Sinn Fein in Dublin between the 2004 and 2009 elections, you see there was a huge turnover of councillors,” he said. “Six left and were replaced in Dublin city council, there was another in Tallaght, and even in places like Donegal there were resignations.”

A certain level of turnover is expected in every party between elections, but the analyst said this was well above the norm.

“The last time I saw anything like it was in 1991, when there were mass defections from the Green party,” he said. “It points to something being radically wrong somewhere in the party. With another four having resigned in the past six months, you start to see there’s a definite trend. They might say they’re not worried about it, but they would have to be. It’s actually more surprising and more concerning for Sinn Fein than it would be for other parties, because one thing they are renowned for is their discipline.”

Forde believes that it is precisely this notorious discipline that is driving members away.

“At the time of the peace process it was very important that no one stepped out of line, and I think we all understood that,” he said. “But when you spend 15 years punishing people for being off message, you get a situation where people are afraid to express any view that is different or new. You would notice that people who spoke out were isolated or just didn’t appear on a particular committee any more. When people see how militant it is, they just don’t stay. Hundreds of people have left from the Dublin organisation in the last couple of years.”

Doherty denied there was any problem with democracy in the Sinn Fein organisation, saying that one of the reasons Forde left was that he could not accept the democratic decision of the party to reject the Dublin city council estimates.

“Killian Forde also left because he wanted to advance his own political career,” he said. “If you want a career in politics, Sinn Fein is the wrong party for you. We are not in it for ourselves: we’re there to serve the people.”

It’s a noble sentiment, but a startling one too. Running a party on the basis that nobody looking for a career need apply seems a sure-fire way of driving the most talented and ambitious young politicians into the arms of the opposition parties.

“I don’t think so,” said Doherty. “It’s that type of attitude that is at the core of what Sinn Fein is about, and that will attract the type of candidates we want — the people who see it as a privilege to serve the party.”

Unfortunately for Sinn Fein, there seems to be a dearth of such politicians in Ireland.

Doherty himself is one of the new hopes for the party, and is tipped to take the seat vacated by Fianna Fail’s Pat “the Cope” Gallagher in Donegal when the government gets round to holding a by-election.

McDonald and Toiréasa Ferris are also regularly name-checked by party officials when defending the ageing profile of their public representatives.

Ferris, who failed in her bid for a European parliament seat in Ireland South in June, caused some controversy last year when she claimed Sinn Fein meant “nothing to the bulk of people in the south” and was viewed as a “northern-based party, irrelevant to the everyday concerns of people in the 26 counties”. She later said these remarks were taken out of context.

McDonald, in particular, was being groomed by the party to take a leadership role but despite huge resources being pumped into her 2007 general election campaign and European election bid, she failed to get elected.

“McDonald is just a defeated docket at the moment,” said one Labour analyst. “We haven’t seen or heard a thing from her since last June. Things can obviously change quickly in politics, but at the moment that project has definitely failed.”

In the absence of any obvious successor, it seems Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president, will soldier on in the position he first took up in 1983. Even though former and current members of Sinn Fein are reluctant to admit it, Adams is becoming one of the party’s biggest liabilities in the republic.

“The lack of leadership in the south is a huge issue for them,” said one analyst. “Adams is very confident talking about the north, but ask him about the economic crisis here and he looks completely lost. He was totally shown up in the leaders’ television debate before the last general election, and that did Sinn Fein a lot of damage. If they want to stop the tide going out, they need to get a strong southern leader.”

But even if Sinn Fein can successfully grapple with its organisational difficulties, can the party convince the Irish electorate to take it seriously?

On paper, Sinn Fein has some potentially strong selling points, such as the fact that their TDs and senators continue to earn only the average industrial wage, which, in the midst of a recession, should give them a moral advantage over their rivals, the Labour party. They have deep-rooted socialist policies, which should appeal to an electorate scarred by our recently imploded capitalist economy.

“I think we have the right policies and the right politics, but we’re not telling people about it in the right way,” said Ferris. Doherty, too, believes that the party is failing to communicate what it is offering. Both reject the allegation from some commentators that Sinn Fein was a “one-trick-pony”, and that the success of the peace process has, conversely, spelled the death of the party in the south.

Forde also rejects this assessment. “We actually produced a very sound and comprehensive document about the banking crisis,” he said. “The problem is, the crisis happened in October, and it took us until March or April to get it out, so obviously no media organisation wanted to cover it then. Sinn Fein needs to change its mindset from crisis management to normal, routine party work, but that change has to come from the top, and it’s not coming.”

But with no leader in the republic to speak to the media on crucial issues, and the party’s slow reaction to events robbing them of media coverage, Sinn Fein has found itself consistently outshone by the Labour party.

It has also struggled to maintain good relations with its socialist comrades, and is finding itself increasingly isolated in both the Dail and at local level. Christy Burke, the former Sinn Fein councillor who, last June, resigned from the party after 30 years, said Sinn Fein’s refusal to compromise was one of his primary reasons for leaving the party.

“Somebody in head office needs to cop on and realise that you can’t go looking for all the gravy and never dish it out,” he said. “We will never get anywhere if we vote against everything all the time. The Sinn Fein councillors who voted against the Dublin city council estimates thought they were voting against bin charges, but they were also voting against money for playgrounds and swimming pools and community development. I left because I wanted to be a player, to start having a real influence. Sinn Fein has to get real. If they want to see results, they have to start co-operating with other groups.”

In 2007, there did seem to be some glimmer of hope for such co-operation, when Labour and Sinn Fein made history by agreeing to a pact for the Seanad elections. It led to intense speculation that a left-wing collaboration might be in the offing, but since then there has been little sign of any further co-operation between the two parties.

Despite this, Doherty envisages a future “left alliance” involving Sinn Fein, the Labour party, and left-wing independents. “Irish politics can’t always be about the Tweedledum and Tweedledee combination,” he said. “We have seen huge changes in the political landscape in the past few years. People want something different. The left parties and left-wing independents could come together and give voters the option of a majority left government for the first time in this country. That would be a real alternative.”

The Labour party is considerably less enthusiastic about this prospect. Asked if the party would now consider an alliance with Sinn Fein, one Labour analyst laughed. “Of the 80 seats that Fianna Fail lost in the local elections, we took more than 30 and Sinn Fein didn’t take any,” he said. “I don’t know what the future holds for them. But the Labour party is the left alliance.”

Zapatista

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Re: Sinn Fein? They have gone away, you know.
« Reply #1 on: January 18, 2010, 08:03:59 AM »
Where did you take that from? It a little sensational.

I think the success of SF between 99 and 04 was huge and they are still holding that ground. It's been a case of 2 steps forward and stop since then so I doubt if they are too worried. I'd say SF look at it over a longer period and that their place in politics didn't start in 99. Since then they are in Government in the north and could become the biggest party in the north.

The 4 cllrs who left all left for different reasons and went to different places so I don't know if you can call that a trend. 1 went to FF, 1 went to LAB, 1 to Eirigi and 1 independent. All bar 1 left within 6 months of being elected on a SF ticket. All were SF reps who held their seats. I'd say all were probably in the wrong party to begin with.

Mary Lou McD didn't loose her seat to Higgans. Dublin was reduced from a 4 seater to a 3 seater and she lost out on that. SF was the obvious one to lose out there. Higgans took the FF seat.

It's a little encouraging to hear Forde left to futher his political career. Brian Lenihan claimed in the Oct budget that politics was a vocation. I laughed when I heard that coming from FF. It's nice to know that there still might be people out there who are not in it for themselves.
« Last Edit: January 18, 2010, 08:10:11 AM by Zapatista »

Nally Stand

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Re: Sinn Fein? They have gone away, you know.
« Reply #2 on: January 18, 2010, 11:25:09 AM »
Would have to agree that this story is sensationalist. Fordes remark that he "wants to be a player" and the fact that he didn't resign his seat won on a SF ticket, contrary to the pledge taken on becoming a SF cllr. essentially proves he was motivated by careerism. In county councils, SF gained 2 cllrs in cork & wicklow, and gained one in 6 city councils & one in 7 more county councils & the figures in the article shows SF remains the choice of young people. No reason to panic.
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trileacman

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Re: Sinn Fein? They have gone away, you know.
« Reply #3 on: January 18, 2010, 11:37:52 AM »

With the peace process in excellent health in Northern Ireland and a growing appetite for socialist politics in the republic, Sinn Fein should be thriving and expanding. So why would any councillor choose now to leave?


Stopped trying to take it seriously after that. The idea that a) the peace process is in excellent health, b) there's a growing appetite for socialist policies in the south ??? where's that coming from, and c) Sinn fein represent a socialist ticket. Wrong on all counts IMO.
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Silky

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Re: Sinn Fein? They have gone away, you know.
« Reply #4 on: January 18, 2010, 12:25:56 PM »
It seems to be a Dublin problem rather than the whole country.

Hardy

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Re: Sinn Fein? They have gone away, you know.
« Reply #5 on: January 18, 2010, 12:36:01 PM »
It seems to be a Dublin problem rather than the whole country.

Sinn Féin in meltdown is a problem?
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Nally Stand

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Re: Sinn Fein? They have gone away, you know.
« Reply #6 on: January 18, 2010, 08:47:19 PM »
Yes Sinn Fein in meltdown would b a problem as they currently represent the only effective force in Irish Republican politics. Lets face it, if we're talking about the free state here, they are the only republican party in leinster house and the only party to stand for election in each of Ireland's 32 counties.
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ardmhachaabu

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Re: Sinn Fein? They have gone away, you know.
« Reply #7 on: January 18, 2010, 09:16:44 PM »
Yes Sinn Fein in meltdown would b a problem as they currently represent the only effective force in Irish Republican politics. Lets face it, if we're talking about the free state here, they are the only republican party in leinster house and the only party to stand for election in each of Ireland's 32 counties.
How does all of that mean that SF in meltdown would be a problem?
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pintsofguinness

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Re: Sinn Fein? They have gone away, you know.
« Reply #8 on: January 18, 2010, 09:17:55 PM »
a lot of shinners walk around thinking the run the place, I'd love to see them taken down a peg or two
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Nally Stand

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Re: Sinn Fein? They have gone away, you know.
« Reply #9 on: January 18, 2010, 09:24:03 PM »
How would it not be a problem? No Republican party in leinster house or standing in all 32 counties would mean a savage blow to those of us who aspire to a united Ireland.
"The island of saints & scholars...and gombeens & fuckin' arselickers" Christy Moore

camloughlad

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Re: Sinn Fein? They have gone away, you know.
« Reply #10 on: January 18, 2010, 09:27:20 PM »
a lot of shinners walk around thinking the run the place, I'd love to see them taken down a peg or two
how do ya work that out

Nally Stand

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Re: Sinn Fein? They have gone away, you know.
« Reply #11 on: January 18, 2010, 09:28:39 PM »
Pints, unfortunately partitionists do run the place. Therefor is it not they who should b taken down a peg or two? This thread is about a newspaper article not a thread for whether or not you like SF.
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ardmhachaabu

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Re: Sinn Fein? They have gone away, you know.
« Reply #12 on: January 18, 2010, 09:32:56 PM »
How would it not be a problem? No Republican party in leinster house or standing in all 32 counties would mean a savage blow to those of us who aspire to a united Ireland.
How do you make that out?  I can't see why it would change anyone's aspirations to a united Ireland (whatever that is)

If you look at it objectively, you could say that they are merely administering British rule in the north in much the same way they said they never would.  See, they always knew that negotiations could only get so much...

Seamus Mallon coined it right, it's "Sunningdale for slow learners" and they have no vision or path to a united Ireland... because at the minute, none exists
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pintsofguinness

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Re: Sinn Fein? They have gone away, you know.
« Reply #13 on: January 18, 2010, 09:35:22 PM »
a lot of shinners walk around thinking the run the place, I'd love to see them taken down a peg or two
how do ya work that out
I'm not sure what you mean by that or what you're asking. 

Nally, I'm not talking about the areas of government, I'm talking about Sinn Fein activists at local level (not them all I have to say) going around thinking they own the place.  I wouldnt mind seeing them taking down a peg or two. 
Which one of you bitches wants to dance?

mylestheslasher

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Re: Sinn Fein? They have gone away, you know.
« Reply #14 on: January 18, 2010, 09:38:10 PM »
A lot of you boys are in the North and may not be fully aware of what is happening SF in the south. The honeymoon is over, people want some ideas from SF and are tired of constant blathering about the peace process. Adams has become a liability as he is completely out of touch with what  is going on in the South. O Caolain should have been let me SF's main spokesman for the last general election but instead we got Gerry Adams getting obliterated on national tv debates. SF should be making hay in these times as a left wing party but are not positioned to do so and I fear for them in the south big time.