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.

,

  • CS Parnell

    Reads like pseudo-Maoist claptrap to me.

    Have these guys even been to Ireland? Who or what are they liberating Rathmines from? Their unfortunate tendency to speak English?

  • Chris Donnelly

    ‘The DUP has substantially achieved it…’

    Gotta take issue, Mick. Sure, the DUP have had unparalleled electoral success, but they remain a party whose direction is completely dictated by the leader. The media may like to pretend Gerry Adams stands alone at the helm of Sinn Fein, but in reality there is a much stronger and broader collective leadership within Sinn Fein than within the DUP.

    I would have thought the question of modernisation for the DUP would have to wait until a post-Paisley scenario to see how it truly adapts- or at the very least, until the party comes through the necessary stage of accepting Sinn Fein as partners in government.

    Also, the idea that Sinn Fein is just now appearing to be embarking on a process of modernisation is false. The party has been modernising for the past decade, succeeding in reviving structures and building new ones across the island- a task no other party has even yet to undertake on the island of Ireland.

    We’re back to the allegation that Sinn Fein alone in the north are a party of protest. This has been shown, time and again, to be a false charge. Sinn Fein took the hardest ministries in the past Executive whilst others- no less than the DUP- opted for less important posts.

    All the main parties in the north, with the exception of the brief life of the Executive, have no relevant record of running a government (Sunningdale was far too long ago to count, as is the 50-year period of one party rule for the UUP.) Those who simply depict Sinn Fein as a party of protest ignore the evidence that all parties here have yet to encounter the harsh choices upon government ministers when financial constraints are considered.

    As for the website, there’s certainly room for improvement, but as someone who daily checks the latest news section of all of the main parties here, I’ve gotta say Sinn Fein are streets ahead in updating their press releases.

  • Clyde Valley

    “scientifically mobilising layers of public opinion”

    What beard-twiddling nonsense! I’ve only read this excerpt but it really sounds like the sort of over-analytical, self-obsessed “scientific” analysis distributed by the more cultish leftie groups on college campuses.

    And what’s so great about the DUP site Mick? Most of it hasn’t been updated since the 2003 election!

  • na

    ‘it may be the most democratising ground up route to reform the party can take’

    I disagree with this opinion.

    Sinn Féin have the advantage of being in a position to regularly engage directly with people in their communities and on doorsteps something worth 10,000s of hits on an internet site that will be generated only from within a community that likes reading politics on the internet ie. nerdy anoraks.

  • fair_deal

    na’s right. IIRC the electoral commission research showed that in elections about 3% rely in the internet for their info.

    The value of a good web presence is more for the media. A good modern site helps project that image to the media as does inclusion of text and web for promotion.

  • Kathy_C

    posted by Kathy C

    Hi all, Wow…let me quote from this,
    “Now our opponents and the enemnies of the peace process have acted with stealth to frustrate the burgeoning momentum of last august.”

    EXCUSE ME!!!!! like stealth… There was great discussion within the republican movement -on this board and I spoke about it- that the dup and brit and Irish gov’ts were not going to move ahead even with the IRA decomissioning…that the DUP would be allowed -by the 2 gov’ts- to frustrate the processes.

    I would like to paraphrase the title of this article…
    “Sinn Fein…it was never about the peace process and all about decomisioning the IRA and criminalizing the IRA—STUPID!”

  • overhere

    I have to agree with Chris here Nick. The DUP will not move an inch (sorry about the pun) until the auld fella (whatdaya know I’m bilingual) shuffles off

  • Meanwhile, further evidence is emerging about Sinn Féin/ British collusion in one of the most disgusting chapters in our nation’s history: http://www.breakingnews.ie/2006/08/29/story274353.html .

    Both have serious questions to answer.

  • Dec

    Matador

    I didn’t see SF mentioned once in that report. I suggest you take your party political grave trampling elsewhere.

  • Dec-

    Are you suggesting that SF and IRA in 1990 was anything other than unified, or that many of those in the senior ranks of the former in those days are not now in the senior ranks of the latter now?

    As the IRA only issues information via half-baked press releases by ‘P. O’Neill’, I’m afraid that the SF wing will have to do the talking.

  • Peking

    “The party has been modernising for the past decade, succeeding in reviving structures and building new ones across the island- a task no other party has even yet to undertake on the island of Ireland.”

    Maybe that’s something to do with the fact that no other party in Ireland has access to the “funding streams” the shinners have.

    Fair-Deal
    “IIRC the electoral commission research showed that in elections about 3% rely in the internet for their info. The value of a good web presence is more for the media. A good modern site helps project that image to the media as does inclusion of text and web for promotion.”

    If you followed your own line of reasoning, such as it is, then you would realise how wrong you are.

    Think of appending this to your above – And through the media to the ordinary punter thereby making the web an invaluable tool for projecting the image you want onto the general public.

  • Mick Fealty

    Good question CV. Some of most interesting of the policy papers are post 2003, but substantially you are right. It’s not that the DUP is a paragon of virtue in this regard, but simply by staying exactly where it was three years ago it still beats the opposition, hands down!

    Outside design, the fact that anyone can can sign up for all their PR output and receive it puts them streets ahead of most of the opposition north and south (though FG probably are probably ahead of them overall).

    na,

    You are nothing if not consistent. That’s a repeat of what you eloquently argued here in October 2003. Where you are entirely wrong of course is in couching it in ‘either/or’ terms, it can/should be ‘both’. The last time we had this conversation, I might have conceded the anorak argument. For a reality check, look at who is reading Guido’s blog.

    Associated Newspapers Ltd
    1934 returning visits
    Bloomberg Financial Markets
    391 returning visits
    British Broadcasting Corporation
    2921 returning visits
    Conservative Central Office
    7659 returning visits
    electoralcommission.org.uk
    478 returning visits
    dh214.public.mod.uk
    259 returning visits
    Expressnewspapers-net1-lon
    303 returning visits
    Good Relations
    492 returning visits
    Greater London Authority
    327 returning visits
    Guardianunlimited
    3207 returning visits
    Gx-corp-labourparty
    872 returning visits
    Houses Of Parliament
    18147 returning visits

    Chris,

    I don’t see much *reliable* reporting of what goes on inside the DUP. My own experience is limited, but I would guess there is still strict control, which nevertheless allows members on lower levels to talk fairly freely on a range of subjects.

    Much of the speculation on Paisley’s real role within the party comes from people who are not in a position to know, so I take most of it with a pinch of salt. The party’s messaging is well orchestrated amongst a broad range of their senior reps which indicates (though cannot confirm) that there is a degree of cohesion within the party. I doubt very much that it is a paragon of bottom up communication, but (admittedly judging on outside impressions) I’d say it was further along that road than Sinn Fein.

    Being slightly critical of SF, I’d say the party needs to free its people a bit more, and push the range of areas on which it can comment (convincingly) on. An academic colleague of mine suggested to a senior party member that Francie Molloy’s departure from the party line over the RPA recommendations was good for the party’s image since it showed it had some tolerance of mavericks. Whilst I recognise the need to be consistent with messages, I’m sure there is something to that.

    This article contains the seeds of what might allow the party to do that. In that respect, I’d say it is a future friendly statement. Whether it actually means, what I’ve suggested it means, I cannot be sure, since most of the developments hinted at will continue to unravel on a strictly sub rosa basis.

  • Apologies- that should have read: “…or that many of those in the senior ranks of the latter in those days are not now in the senior ranks of the former now…”

  • abucs

    i think the trick for both of the larger parties will be to take the obvious passion of their support base with them and turn it towards the more normal politics with all of the mundane bread and butter issues.

  • fair_deal

    peking

    The point concerns direct impact, with such low usage it does not directly impact upon the ordinary punter.

  • Peking

    fair_deal

    Impact is the operative word. Whether direct or indirect is immaterial. Via the journos, the web sites impact big time. Why do you think your old buddy Peter Robinson puts so much store by it?
    In fact, I would argue that a web-influenced journo repeating your mantra is likely to have far more impact than you doing it yourself.
    It cuts out the “well he will sing his own praises” factor.

  • JD

    “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,

    I think you have taken to narrow a view of what DK was saying when he talked about working more scientifically at organisation and planning. Yes the internet may be a small part of that, however as was mentioned earlier SF’s strength is on the ground and at the doorsteps. It is that organisation and planning, in my view, which needs to be more scientific. In summary I think his article conceeds that SF’s opponents’ counter strategy to take the significance and potential momentum out of the IRA July statement has largely succeeded. A warns of dangers of seeing Plan B as some type of safeguard, he urges work on SF’s strengths in order to break out of the negative spiral and apathy created by SFs opponents. Much work ahead for the activists.

  • Garibaldy

    Does anybody know if the talk about engaging with unionism was reflected in this document?

  • fair_deal

    As CS pointed, some of it reminds me of the essays written by the Marxist leaders after the October revolution with all its chat of scientific method and planning.

    It also helps if a discussion document is actually comprehensible. I realise I am often guilty of crimes against the english language but mine fall into the category of petty crime when compared with “to facilitate the internalising of our strategy within the widest possible spectrum of republican and nationalist opinion”.

    What these excerpts say are:
    1. Sorry about doing things over your heads but honestly we now want input from the grassroots.
    2. We need to get more support but the fact every other political party hates us means they will make it very difficult. Please keep the same level of commitment in peace as you did during the conflict.
    3. We have to be seen to deliver locally, if we do bigger things will happen.
    4. Trust us. We haven’t sold out. We do know what we are doing. This appraoch will deliver unity.

    Hardly earth-shattering stuff.

    The first and fourth points would indicate some rumblings of concern and fit in with the Dungiven (IIRC) speech that admitted grassroots disengagement (the one the Sunday Indo went overboard about). The scale and seriousness of these I am in no particular position to judge.

    The second and third points state the obvious. All the second point does is to emphasise the external opposition to keep internal unity with a cultural reference to Kitson for the hardliners.

  • Clyde Valley

    Well none of the UK parties have really got their heads around the net the way they have in the States. Locally I think the best sites are SF and UUP (regular updates, loads of information on both).

  • JD

    I am not sure what mean by being ‘reflected in this document’. I do know that SF’s unionist engagement is ongoing and extensive.

  • Clyde Valley

    Across the water, the SNP site is very good, nice clear layout. Still nothing on the web-driven campaigns in the US for the November mid-terms.

    Why is it so different on this side of the pond? UK isn’t that far behind in broadband penetration surely?

  • fair_deal

    There is more to communication than a website. I think it takes more than a journo comments to convince joe public. There has to be a consistency in the quality of material the ordinary punter recieves/views e.g. leaflets, newspaper advertising, billboards. If they are of a poor quality the journo saying different will jar with their own experience.

    If we leave to the side the problem of their crap message, the UUP had some of the most professionally produced party political broadcasts in recent elections. However their other materials weren’t up to much.

    The DUP introduction of a few new techniques eg texting/battle bus served them well in November 2003. New approaches fitted in with the new attiudes the fair deal message was meant to convey.

    There is an additional point about the web. As it is the direction things are heading it is best to get involved early and well to always be one step ahead of others in utilising it.

  • Garibaldy

    JD,

    Thanks. I meant was the issue specifically raised in this article as something that would be a central part of their strategic vision of future political action

  • Clyde Valley

    I remember signing up for that texting thing, never worked once for me!

    And when you sign up for their mailing list it sends you every single press release as a separate email! It’s inbox agony!

    Their campaign literature, leaflets etc though are top-notch.

  • Peking

    fair_deal

    The points I make are, obviously I would have thought, on the assumption that all else on the PR front is being taken care of and “on-message”.

  • Mick Fealty

    I would sort of go along with this:

    “Sinn Fein took the hardest ministries in the past Executive”.

    Operationally perhaps, but none of the party’s were in power long enough to test whether they did a good job or not. Mary Harney on the other hand with fall or prosper on her handling of Health in the Republic.

    Politically, there is no question that SDLP got the toughest electoral sell with Finance.

    JD,

    Clearly the party should seek to maximise its current advantages on the ground, and no doubt there are new technologies the party can put in place to support that. But if you look around at the western world, precisely the kind of younger audiences that SF, and all political parties are after, live online. Kids now watch substantially less tv, for instance, than ten years ago. Why? Because they are online.

    Also, as communities become more prosperous it gets more difficult to motivate people to spend precious time out on doorsteps. Being scientifically smart about how to deploy smaller and smaller human resources should certainly be part of the foward plan for any party, but doing so and trying to ignore the ‘pull’ value of the net would be, IMHO, short sighted.

    There is also the harsh reality that the people outside core constituencies that the party wants/needs to attract are likely to be net users and not always available to traditional canvassing. Think Foyle, 2005.

  • fair_deal

    “The points I make are, obviously I would have thought,”

    Assumptions are often unwise on slugger just as mine was when i assumed people would realise i meant direct impact.

  • JD

    “Being scientifically smart about how to deploy smaller and smaller human resources should certainly be part of the foward plan for any party,”

    Human resources are not an issue for SF and with the July 28th instruction to IRA volunteers to involve themselves in political activity a whole new batch of resources opened up for the party, to be used scientifically and deployed wisely.

    However I agree with you that we are in an IT age and that todays youth communicate in a largely different way to earlier generations and I think you will find that SF are one of the few parties that are using podcasting on a regular basis. In addition internationalising the struggle in Ireland has been a successful attraction for young people along with genuine ties to struggles abroad with which large sections of young people feel affinity eg Palestine.

  • na

    Mick,

    I’m at a loss to how the returning visits to Guido’s sites are ‘a reality check’ to my anorak position. Each one of the organisations listed has a vested interest in visiting a political commentary site and party websites, I expect DUP, UUP, SDLP and SF members provide a huge element of the hits on the others’ websites here. Much of the increased interest in online ‘activism’ seems to be more about fitting around limitations of interaction with growing and geographically spread constituencies and the others who don’t face those limitations being unwilling to cede any ground, no matter how significant, to their competitors. Those that have the manpower and motivation to engage outside the online world or via press release seem to be those that are retaining or growing their support base. While there is clearly a space for an online presence I don’t think it should be overemphasised when those that concentrate on engaging directly with their constituencies reap the largest rewards.

  • kensei

    “Politically, there is no question that SDLP got the toughest electoral sell with Finance.”

    I seem to remember that this minstry was responsible for University Tutition Fees. Given the arguments around that at the time, they could have made bold moves that could have won them many, many votes including mine.

    Also, they didn’t get lumbered with it; their had first choice on the Nationalist side.

  • Mick Fealty

    Ken,

    Though I didn’t mentioned being ‘lumbered’, they certainly did get lumbered with responsibility for the budgetary constraints on most of the ‘spending’ departments.

    Which begs the question of who is going to take on the job in future, when the opposition is actually inside the cabinet? Or will it matter if, as could happen, SF and the DUP take the lion’s share after another Assembly election, and liabilities are more evenly split?

    “I don’t think it should be overemphasised”.

    Fair enough. Though I note you have broadened term ‘anoraks’ to mean something closer to what might be loosely termed, ‘networks of influence’.

    It is certainly wise for the party to play to its constituency strengths, but it gives the impression that it doesn’t believe it can win an ‘air war’ for the foreseeable future. For the sake of its hardworking activists, I hope it pays off for them.

    But that is leaving a lot of factors to chance. The thing about the net and new technologies generally is that you have work them to know how best to use them. In which case I would guess there is next no in-house expertise on how interactive new media works.

  • fair_deal

    Mick

    “they certainly did get lumbered with responsibility for the budgetary constraints on most of the ‘spending’ departments.”

    Hmmm. Their period of office coincided with a massive growth in public spending, spending levels the local departments couldn’t manage to actually spend so it wasn’t a particularly tough time with budgets. Their inaction on the New Deal waste and failure both at DFP and DEL also hardly means they covered themselves in glory.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    “This means recognising that new political circumstances create new potential sites of struggle. Republicans should strive to make political struggle, whatever the terrain.”

    Go forth and find new things to be offended about?

  • Kensei-

    I believe you’ll find that the SDLP introduced grants for students from low-income working class families. Abolition of top-up fees was on the agenda (as came to pass in Scotland), but alas the provos decided to install a spy ring, the unionists got nervous, and the rest, as they say, is history…

  • lookatthatfish

    On the worth of political websites, which politician has had two recent news releases 1. Sitting in a cart with his wee lass 2. Pointing at a fish?

  • Peking

    “Assumptions are often unwise on slugger just as mine was when i assumed people would realise i meant direct impact.”

    Not at all. You were just plain wrong but are unable to admit it.

  • kensei

    “Though I didn’t mentioned being ‘lumbered’, they certainly did get lumbered with responsibility for the budgetary constraints on most of the ‘spending’ departments.”

    Implication is a wonderful thing.

    “Which begs the question of who is going to take on the job in future, when the opposition is actually inside the cabinet? Or will it matter if, as could happen, SF and the DUP take the lion’s share after another Assembly election, and liabilities are more evenly split? ”

    As has been pointed out, coincided with an increase in spending and as Gordon Brown has shown, controlling spending is a great way to get what you want.

    “I believe you’ll find that the SDLP introduced grants for students from low-income working class families.”

    Pathetic cop out. Also, the problem is a minute. My mate graduate as a Doctor. He will earn in his life time, many more times than me. But he has less student debt as his parenbts were less well off. How is this anyway fair.

    “Abolition of top-up fees was on the agenda (as came to pass in Scotland), but alas the provos decided to install a spy ring, the unionists got nervous, and the rest, as they say, is history…”

    It was going off the agenda and it had basically been decided against AFAIK. Plus this spy ring? Was it proven in court.

    At any rate, it probably saved us from more ineffectual SDLP ministries, so we can all rejoice.

    Seriosuly, what the fuck is it with SDLP supporters? Stop attacking SF and do something positive ffs.

  • kensei

    Problem is the middle, rather.

  • heres hoping

    elmat how many times are you going to attempt to destroy interesting discussions by posting irrelevant nonsense in support of the sdlp.

  • HH-

    Em, I think you’ll find that Kensei threw down the gaunlet with this comment: “I seem to remember that this minstry was responsible for University Tutition Fees. Given the arguments around that at the time, they could have made bold moves that could have won them many, many votes including mine.”

    Apologies for daring to respond to an accusation/ assertion. I thought that was the whole point of discussion. I promise I won’t offend your provo sensibilities again, oh great one…

  • kensei

    “Apologies for daring to respond to an accusation/ assertion. I thought that was the whole point of discussion. I promise I won’t offend your provo sensibilities again, oh great one…”

    No problem with you making a relevany point in regards to the SDLP. As it turns out, it was still inadequate, especially as I felt quite strongly about it at the time (and still do – abolition of Uni fees is probably the number #1 thing we can do to hold on to and attract good students).

    What I do mind however, is endlessly turning every discussion as some point scoring oppurtunity against SF. If you really wnat more people to vote SDLP rather than SF, you maybe need to consider this isn’t the way to go about it.

  • heres hoping

    Kensei thats my point exactly but elmat is programmed to respond in the only way new SDLP know how attack sinn fein. Elmat the sdlp were accused on tuition fees and you responded by spyring nonsense. not discussion, avoidance i’d call it.

  • goldilocks

    Back to the article, I think the time has long since passed that ant republican in or out of SF listened to Declan Kearney. His handling of problems in Down, Derry and Belfast and his useage of Denis Donaldson to deal with these problems has seriously undermined his credibility.If Declan wants activists to do their jobs better then he should lead by example,he should have fallen on his sword when Denis was unmasked,when good people from Belfast and other areas were sidelined he ignored it or worse still participated in it.that this man continues to lead and lecture republicans is nothing short of a disgrace