Exclusive: Sinn Fein councillor ‘suspended without prejudice’

Slugger understands that Fermanagh Sinn Fein Councillor Bernice Swift has been suspended from the party ‘without prejudice pending review’. Ms Swift’s offence? It would appear speaking out against the party line on policing and District Police Partnerships. Pete blogged her fairly cogent arguments, originally carried in the Impartial Reporter, earlier in the month:

The DPPs possess significantly less influence than the limited powers of the policing board. The Patten recommendations, (and indeed subsequent similar legislation), states that the views of the DPPs would only be ‘taken fully into account’ by the police and it also makes clear that these bodies would have no power to investigate police activities or to approve policing plans for their areas?

The lack of powers possessed by these boards and sub boards means that meaningful control and accountability by the community is impossible, as the control and accountability mechanisms rest elsewhere. These accountability mechanisms may have been tweaked recently but it is quite clear to me that such activist as those of MI5 will not be subject to any interference from these boards.

This interesting for a number of reasons. It is absolutely true that political parties are in effect collective enterprises all be it made up from lots of different minded individuals. They have a right to expect members to toe the line. The trouble here is that Ms Swift’s arguments reflect the feelings of those in other parties and are borne out by the fact that DDPs have struggled to retain the interest and enthusiasm of represents from as far apart as Fermanagh and North Down. Though Ms Swift’s arguments take a much wider purview than the usual grumblings about DPPs just being ‘pointless talking shops’.

That her remarks have warranted such a censorious response may be because her critique goes to the heart of misgivings shared by a lot of people in Republican heartlands: that the deal brought Sinn Fein back from St Andrews was no better, and indeed possibly a good deal worse than the previous deal the party so heavily criticised the SDLP for, which at least gave local politicians some sense of what the Intelligence Services might be up to.

What should worry insiders is the potential loss of a talented local councillor. No party (on any of these islands) is so awash with talent that it can let go of its best people cheaply. Indeed, as last week’s poorly managed parliamentary attack and the disappointing performance of some of its key Ministers demonstrates, such top down micro management of dissent is not necessarily the best way to build up a coalition of talent, never mind a new generation of leaders.

As one commentator suggested to Slugger, it is as though the party has no coping mechanism to help it manage the enormous changes it’s going through.

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