Announcing the modernisation of Sinn Fein?

Labour did it. The DUP has substantially achieved it. The conservatives are in the process of doing it. Now Sinn Fein appear to be embarking on a modernisation programme of its own. Declan Kearney gives the most detailed and engaging analysis (reg needed) to come out of the Republican movement in quite some time in this week’s An Phoblacht. As is often the case with any political statement emanating from SF it is couched in ambigous terms which raise more questions about the party’s pragmatic on-the-ground intentions than it answers. But the terms in which it’s couched imply that the party is readying its activist base for the responsibilities of government.He warns activists about getting distracted on possible plan B’s, and that the party should instead continue to build strength on the ground in readiness for any protracted negotiations after November 25th. Interestingly, he invites supporters to consider that they are now into a ‘big board’ scenario, in which the party’s opponents organise separately and out of their own self interest, but are in effect united in their opposition to Sinn Fein. It is to this ‘strategic paradigm’ he attributes the heat the party has faced over policing for instance.

In essence, he draws out three challenges facing the party, in the wake of the IRA decommissioning of its weapons, and presumably the downgrading of the strategically critical role of the Army Council:

– to recognise that the leadership-led phase of our struggle is over. Leadership-led initiatives were necessary to drive forward the struggle at a time when our collective republican instinct resisted the forensic application of strategy and preferred the traditional comfort zones. Now the onus is upon grassroots activists to provide leadership and devise initiatives which provide Sinn F�in with the ability to engage and excite popular opinion.

– to facilitate the internalising of our strategy within the widest possible spectrum of republican and nationalist opinion. Our opponents’ efforts to turn popular opinion off from the peace process and to isolate Sinn F�in, North and South, represent a modern-day variation on the doctrines of the British Army’s most famous counter-insurgency strategist, Brigadier Frank Kitson. We must roll back this strategy by scientifically mobilising increasing layers of popular opinion in support of republican aims. This means recognising that new political circumstances create new potential sites of struggle [my italics]. Republicans should strive to make political struggle, whatever the terrain.

– use the political power we possess now to maximise the change to citizens’ lives, regardless of whether or not we are in government. As activists we need to become much more strategic in our use of the political power which our political strength produces. We should create popular, national advertisements that Sinn F�in is ready for government across Ireland.

It is not clear whether this strategy of preparing for government is primarily aimed at Northern Ireland or the Republic or both, but the implications are that the party has to leave the comfort zone of resistence movement identity behind, and move to towards state rather than anti-state power:

Be sure of this: present-day republican activists are pioneering a cultural and intellectual journey out of the traditional mode of resistance into a new liberation phase, and thence to state power. Mastering this transition will require that we all adopt increasingly scientific methods of planning and organisation.

If this last implies a more effective presence on the internet than heretofore (SF’s site lags immeasureably behind the DUP’s) it may be the most democratising ground up route to reform the party can take.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty