Sinn Fein are all over the place in the North. Time for an open debate on new leadership

We are accustomed to thinking of Sinn Fein as master strategists at best or cunning so and sos at worst. But current activity blurs the old image.  It’s only to be expected that playing a half- effective role in government is inconsistent with the stance of a revolutionary movement or even as  the default mouthpieces of the nationalist interest. Most of the time they straddle the two, but the strain is beginning to show.

Why have Sinn Fein chosen this moment to launch yet another reconciliation document along the old familiar lines? What am I missing? Is it part of a deeper political strategy? That’s always the question with Sinn Fein. It keeps most of us guessing, although some of us of course think we know the answer for certain before the question is even put.

When the document draws a straight line between reconciliation and Irish unity, Sinn Fein will anticipate the unionist response. So are we in another round of Sinn Fein making the unionists look bad and themselves the good guys to sympathetic outsiders? What’s the point apart from giving unionists another chance to display their familiar insecurity and lack of civility? We’ve been here before so many times.

A pained Martin McGuinness says “it  important for unionists, in turn, to reach out to republicans, noting the need for respect for the Irish language and culture..He was not criticising his partners in government, the DUP, but said he wanted to have a “gentle” conversation on how political unionism could do more.”

Good luck with that.

Next, take Mairtin O Muilleoir’s long overdue, very modest initiative to raise local revenue and help local small business. He deserves credit for it. But why did he precede it with an  argument for the affordability of a united Ireland?  Sheer exuberance?  Newton Emerson’s comments below plus his demolition of O Muilleoir’s case in the Irish Times today are answers of a kind.

Now consider Fionnuala O Connor’s attack on the Foster- McGuinness duopoly and her irritation with Sinn Fein’s supposed passivity over the DUP’s alleged dominance of the Executive.  Who would have imagined that happening in the old days? What does he get in return?

Are Sinn Fein rehearsing a long game to take advantage of confusion over Brexit?

Is their unity and reconciliation rhetoric designed to deflect attention away from   a hopefully  final IRA decommissioning round  and Sinn Fein  support for a harder law and order line in Belfast and the border?

Or perhaps there’s no cunning plan at all?   Chris Donnelly  calls for new leadership:

For quite some time now, the failure of Sinn Fein to expedite the process of transitioning to a new political leadership in the north, fit for purpose in an age of governance, has contributed towards the sense that the party plays second fiddle to the DUP at Stormont. Part of that problem relates to a seeming inability or reluctance to move past a modus operandi that has seen republicanism through its most challenging periods of ceasefires, peace process, political compromise and bedding in the northern institutions.

An open discussion about  future Sinn Fein leadership would set a intriguing precedent. Will they dare hold it?




Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

  • Declan Doyle

    “current espousal of leftish …policies”

    Now get yer Bike fella. The party is securely left of centre and has been for thirty years. Their entire sounthern support bas would literally evaporate if they moved from that position. Try not to believe your own propaganda.

  • Declan Doyle

    On the botton as usual Mo Chara

  • Declan Doyle

    They have marxist ideologies in their kit bag for sure. They are just not purist or extreist Marxists if you will.

  • Declan Doyle

    Fianna Fail are preparing. They held their youth meeting in Newry recently and also had a stalking horse candidtae in the most recent assembly elections. BBC NI have MM giving his wind bag imrersonations now at least one or twice a week. And almost every speech he makes these days has some form of critical attack on the Northern Executive. They are recruiting in Universities and approaching media outlets for recognition on support. This site particularly has recently become a gushing propagande tool for Fianna Fail.

    So they are for sure, on their way. The picture looks good-ish for FF in the South. If they can win back a couple of Euro Seats and a chunk of council seats in the next election alongside a cupla council seats seats in the Six Counties, it will be a good days work.

  • Declan Doyle

    Huge bump, and the UK have not yet left. Expect another bump in April when the next pools on it are due out and after May presses the button.
    Do you know what would be Ideal? in my view anyway.
    If the polls got stuck at say 40/40 in favour/ against, with 20 % dont know, would not vote.
    That could justify the two goves going back to the Parties in NI and saying right, we have a split here so go away and come up with a plan we can give to the people, a plan which will shut the thing down forever. Thats the ideal scenario in my view.

  • He could well keep going into his 70’s, after all Ian Paisley was still the northern First Minister at 82. However, given the talk of Gerry’s standing down as Sinn Féin President being sooner rather than later, my assumption is that Martin’s leaving of the stage won’t be too long after him.

  • Surveyor

    You wouldn’t be basing that on polling would you? The same polling which predicted a remain win and a hung UK Parliament.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Yes. Polling is a less precise instrument than some want it to be. But actually it’s nearly always there or thereabouts from the better agencies in this country. Might get it wrong by a few per cent either way and that has big impacts – but it’s rarely much more than that.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    A reminder: Lucid Talk had it at 30 / 65. You might have got the same figure in 1956 or 1926.

    Hope is the cruellest thing when it’s not grounded in reality.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    My point was none of those parties can really lead northern nationalism credibly. SF are saddled with their murderous past; the SDLP seems to be a bit stuck; and none of the southern parties have much purchase in NI. I suppose the Leave campaign won without clear leadership and maybe that’s the model. The EU though was a topic an angry ignored public were happy to use as a stick because many of them cared little about it and felt it didn’t really matter either way. Not so sure nationalism will have that luxury in a putative NI referendum. And the question is again, whose voice would be the leading one? SF’s? If that’s the strategy, I wish you luck 😉

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Yes – and Sinn Fein – all of those parties. BNP by the way.

  • Declan Doyle

    If you genuinely put modern day SF in that category, genuinely; then one of two things are going on. Either you have no understanding whatsoever of what populism and quasi fascism actually means, or you are so full of hate for a particular section of people that you use those terms against their political representatives to vent and to demonise them. Either way, its you and your ilk who need to be challenged.

  • Declan Doyle

    The leading voice will be the combined voice. Similar lets say to how the GFA was achieved. SF, the SDLP and Dublin may all have had different slants on things from time to time back then but they formed what was called a “pan nationalist front”. A unity in pupose so to speak. That is what will deliver a UI. As SF continue to rise in the South they will have a bigger hand to play in that unity of purpose.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Yes of course I do. You don’t think a party rooted in an authoritarian terror group that murders its enemies internal and external is quasi-fascist? Who held sway over people by physical threat and intimidation? And which whips up ultra nationalist fervour and ethnic resentment of neighbours?

  • Declan Doyle

    Only a year ago the poll figures were less than half that. Hope cannot be grounded in reality, by its very definition “hope” is something that usually refers to a future issue yet to be realised. Neither is it ever cruel, because it never offers a gauranteed outcome.

  • Declan Doyle

    Lol, you certainly have a fantastic imagination I will give u that.

    Your first sentence could describe Fianna Fail, Fine Gael or practically every established political party in Western Europe for that matter.

    Your second sentence sounds more like the antucs of the last
    Unionist regime.

    The only whipping up I see these days usually involves Flag proteters and orange supporters rioting in the streets or unionist parties publishing leaflets to whip up hatred against another group e.g Alliance party.

    Or maybe you do not see such things through your perfectly formed orange coloured glasses.

  • Reader

    Surveyor: The same polling which predicted…
    That’s about a 4% error in favour of the bien pensants in each case. How much of an error do you need to see in the opposite direction?

  • Skibo

    I don’t know why someone has not suggested it previously, oh yes it was not the plan to close Stranmillis but close St Marys!

  • Katyusha

    Oh. Well, you’re right that SF cannot champion this project alone. It needs collaboration and direction supplied by all of the main parties that claim to aspire to Irish unity, both political parties and non-aligned groups. SF is still an alternative, rather than a mainstream party. In order to produce momentum amongst society as a whole, other people will need to champion the cause.

    In the North, SF are perfectly capable of championing that cause, although I would welcome the entry of a centre-right nationalist party that would have more natural resonance with rural NI. The SDLP aren’t massively relevant, to be quite honest, SF today effectively claim the policy ground that belonged to the SDLP twenty years ago.

  • Katyusha

    Well, not really, because I didn’t see Brexit coming. It was more like a small glimmer of a silver lining to a monumental car crash. Sure you could wish for more, but hope will always outstrip reality, if you have any imagination at all 😉

    I’m surprised there was much of a bump, because of what I see of one of the big faults of the EU – the failure to articulate and rally support behind a common European identity. It makes it difficult to rally active, emotional support for the EU, as opposed to the myriad nation states throughout Europe that actively promote their common identity and culture.

    Most of the Brexit bump has come from people staring down the barrel of economic disaster, and I’d really wish to avoid such financial hardship for NI if at all possible. Unity isn’t the only important thing, nor even the most important thing.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    I think people have suggested both but are always caught out by the west Belfast reaction;

    Ex. 1 – close the stranmillis facility and send people to St Mary’s and sell stranmillis for housing.
    Reaction – “why does Stranmillis get housing!? WB needs housing!”

    Ex. 2 – close st Mary’s and sell that site for housing.
    Reaction – ” typical! Pick on the Catholic sector!!!WB needs jobs!!!”

    So I propose a sensible ‘weighted’ (in Mary’s staff favour) merger (a la the Glasgow teacher colleges) and allow the representatives of St Mary’s area the final say as to which campus gets flogged off to developers.

    And if they’d like me to buy them a cake to eat too then i’ll buy one. A big yummy one.

  • Skibo

    AG you are not thinking like an MLA at all. Close St Marys and Stranmillis and insist that Westminster build a new teacher training college on one of the old army barracks. Sure its their fault that Catholics and Protestants don’t mix!
    We could then sell both of the old training colleges and use the money to finance the pensions for the Victims.

  • Skibo

    AG if I hear one more person mention the waste of money that the Magherafelt bypass is, I will pull my hair out. I always assumed you were a fellow Mid-Ulsterarian. Surely you have seen how better the flow of traffic is. I know there are so many secondary schools within the town boundaries but the change in travelling through the town is exceptional and worth every penny spent. Hopefully we can persuade the Minister that Moneymore should not be ignored as it acts as a bottleneck on the way to Cookstown (next bypass in line after Dungiven).
    As for parents wanting their children bussed to Magherafelt schools, that has more to do with the success of the schools themselves.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Skibo, before the schools started I had no trouble cycling round magherafelt, i was struck how quiet the traffic was.

  • Skibo

    If integrated education is so great, why are they not top of the education tables. Perhaps parents vote with their feet and plump for the best school in their area.
    As for the gridlock in Belfast, the Government brought all their departments into the city, they spent billions developing industrial campuses around the city. How could there not be gridlock?
    When some departments propose moving to regional headquarters they are castigated.
    Millions have already been spent on widening the Westlink to three lanes. Why didn’t they do the York Street link first, then introduce the third lane. York Street was a nightmare before that and yet they forced another lane of traffic into it.

  • Skibo

    And have you been back? I travel through it regularly and other than 15 minutes in the morning and between 5 and half five, things move very well. I think it is a success. Would rather had a full ring road and try to stop the town spreading too much further but it is progress.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    During school time its so awful so what is the point?

    In ’94/5 my bus ( and the bus that was timed to take the fenians) came to a standstill outside the pound road.

    Now the pound road houses ANOTHER school and pupils still have to wait there and on the moneymore road in order to cut through the traffic that is of their own making.

    My suggestions for northern Irish education are not the product of social engineers but of common sense.

    (And nostalgia, the bypass now cuts through land where I hauled hay as a teenager, now the sound of traffic permeates magherafelt and we’re more motorway than moneymore…)

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    I just noted that this question was never answered….