Time for Sinn Fein to work out what it stands for now the Armed Struggle is over…

I’m not sure what kind of subliminal message Mairtin is trying to send with his latest post (Pete Baker was right about Policing and Justice all along – ed?), if it’s an intimation of some serious reviewing of Sinn Fein’s forward strategy, so much the better for the party. Below the fold, Eoin O’Broin points out in no uncertain terms that even after the good showing in the Lisbon Referendum, the party is holed and listing in the polls… First Brian Feeney offers his explanation:

…it seems that when the issue is the famous Clinton slogan, ‘It’s the economy stupid!’, Sinn Fein don’t have an answer. If the economy has fallen into a black hole then it’s likely to meet SF’s economic policy in there because no-one has a clue where, or what, the policy is and that includes many in Sinn Fein.

By Eoin O’Broin

Last weeks Irish Times/TNS MBRI opinion poll was bad news for Sinn Féin. The numbers were troublesome from a number of perspectives.

Of course polls should be treated with caution. However they should never be ignored. The trick is in the reading. They offer a rough snapshot of public opinion at a given moment while mapping out the longer-term trends. Though not always right, they are rarely wrong.

There value is that they help us gauge how the public is responding to our message. They are another piece of political intelligence to throw into the mix.

Whatever way you look at the most recent poll Sinn Féin is not doing well.

We are sitting steady at 8%. In the three other TNS MRBI polls this year we held a similar position, with 8% in June, 6% in May and 8% in January.

More worrying is the drop in Gerry Adams satisfaction rate, down 12 points to 33%. Some comfort can be taken from the fact that he is more popular than Brian Cowan and John Gormley. However the drop is a sharp decline after several years in the high 40s and low 50s.

However the most troubling of the numbers is the party’s performance in Dublin. While at first glance our 9% in the city looks promising it is significantly behind Fine Gaels 20%, Labour’s 16%, Fianna Fails 15%. With seven months to go till next years European Parliamentary election these figures should make us very nervous.

The bottom line in all of this is that the party is stagnating. While we have managed to regain some of the ground lost in the 2007 general election, there is no indication that we are returning to the February 2004 high of 12%.

Of course the polls don’t tell you the reasons behind the numbers. That bit we have to work out for ourselves.

Sinn Féin had massive media exposure during the Lisbon Treaty campaign. Our position was distinct from all the other major parties. Our message was coherent, well presented and well received. Yet the Irish Times polls suggest that we gained only 2%.

Since then Fianna Fáil have fallen to an all time polling low of 27%, with Cowan’s personal approval rating down to 26%. Unemployment is at an all time high, the economy is in recession, and Fianna Fáil’s economic Midas touch has been exposed as the sham it always was.

Yet despite all of these shocks, Sinn Féin is not gaining ground. You would think that that section of Fianna Fáil’s base, who are suffering most from the current economic crisis, would find Sinn Féin the most attractive alternative. After all, these are the people who ensured the rejection of the Lisbon Treaty. Yet the polls suggest otherwise.

Next years local and European elections can be good news for Sinn Féin, but only if we understand the causes of our current stagnation and respond accordingly.

First published in An Phoblacht 20th November, 2008

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

  • Garibaldy

    Is that that Ó Broin article in full Mick? It doesn’t actually seem to be offering any analysis as it is quoted. Which could of course mean that there wasn’t any rather than you cutting it off early.

  • Whether or not there’s analysis, the article indicates that at least one person in SF is awake and I, for one, am not surprised that person is Eoin O’Broin.

    When I recently contributed my own tuppence worth to a debate on Máirtín’s blog about SF, pointing out that the party was liable to get its head handed to it on a plate come election time in the south, I was lectured by another poster about not being in NI during the Troubles etc.

    I have distanced myself from SF following that party’s abject failure in the case of Lá Nua and its seemingly quick absorption in the bureaucracy that is Foras na Gaeilge etc. But I saw the writing on the wall previously. SF is liable to be wiped out in the European sense come next election despite Eoin’s and Mary Lou’s efforts. It’s not an alternative of any description to Fianna Fáil. The joke is at present: what’s the difference between SF and Fianna Fáíl – fifty years.

    I have a great deal of respect for people like Eoin O Broin within SF – but as for the party itself, I wouldn’t touch it with a forty foot barge pole. It’s that toxic.

  • Mick

    Why would anybody, North or South, vote Sinn Fein on their own merits?

    They have no answers to anything and are simply a vehicle for protest against the unionists in the North and against, it seems, prosperity in the South.

    Without the unionists and prosperity they would disappear.

    But they’re not doing too bad considering that Gerry Adams name comes out at 666 (click on my name).

  • ggn


    Didnt the Cruiser say something similar about John Hume?

  • consul

    The rejection of the Lisbon Treaty had nothing much to do with Sinn Féin. Had they been for it like the rest, the result would have been the same. They just happened to be against it.

    The joke is at present: what’s the difference between SF and Fianna Fáíl – fifty years.

    Possibly, but Fianna Fáil could have trouble in future years too. I have more than a feeling that they are scoring heavily in the over 50’s. An awful lot of older people can’t or won’t see past FF. Apparently there’s no alternative. The younger people, the me generation, are more fickle and are not given to the same unquestioning adulation. It will be some time before it manifests itself though. It’s the best part of a generation away when all the current pensioners are otherwise occupied. Can’t see SF being one of the parties to profit from that though unless they’re an altogether different product from the current outfit. They are not fit for purpose as it stands.

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    “Pete Baker was right about Policing and Justice all along ” Unsubstantiated and erroneous Jibber Jabber.

    The Green Party are in power with half SF support.

  • percy

    I think if SF were prepared to tackle the issues surrounding “organised crime” within its own ranks, ie Slab Murphy; as opposed to lecturing us on Tax-loopholes for the other Rich, as he did at the 2008 Ard Fheis, ordinary folks might well say:

    “Fair play to him” and his poll-rating would increase.
    Nobody like a hypocrit!

  • percy

    Well said.


    Cruiser said a lot of things. Maybe even that about the SDLP. The problem he had was his lack of empathy for human beings which he shares with Gerry Adams.

    It may seem strange, the aristocrat and the pauper sharing values, but how else do you explain Cruiser’s lack of empathy for northern Nationalists with Gerry Adams lack of empathy with everyone bar the most extreme of republicans. It’s just a lack of love for one’s fellow man when he is in difficulty.

  • dub

    SF do not seem to understand politics in the South. If they did, they would realise that a party with 8 percent can make a lot of difference. Look at PD’s, Greens etc.

    If they had enough seats to form a technical group and actually took part in debates on people’s day to day concerns, they might actually go somewhere. Also it would help if their paramilitary friends stopped killing people. SF have never recovered down here from the McCartney killing. And since then there has been Paul Quinn.

  • percy

    good one john, agreed dub,
    “Also it would help if their paramilitary friends stopped killing people”

  • Jimmy Sands

    It was killing people that made them famous. We’d never have heard of these people otherwise.

  • percy

    Maybe SF could become the party of law and order.

  • Henry94

    If it’s votes in the south you’re after then don’t sneer at Fianna Fail. They have been the state’s most successful political party for decades.

    The interesting thing about recent polls was that FF voters spooked by the economic crisis and disappointed in Cowen switched to FG and not Sinn Fein or indeed Labour.

    My tuppence worth would be in two parts

    1. If I could quote Eoughan Harris, “some advice about Socialism, walk away from it”

    And in particular walk away from the prissy PC version of socialism Sinn Fein appear to be landed with. A national movement has to be a coalition.

    2. Face up to the truth about the armed struggle. It was right to stop it but until the movement comes to terms with the reality that it was the wrong strategy in the first place then it’s going nowhere. I believe the Irish people would respond to some straight truthful talk from Sinn Fein on the subject. It will be hard and painful but it is necessary if Sinn Fein is to have a future in the south.

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    “Face up to the truth about the armed struggle”

    Perhaps a joint statement of regret from SF and the British government be a good idea.

  • The Devil

    Guys where have you all been, I and others have for years saying that they have no position on anything,
    they have major problems in the party because they promoted so much shite to senior levels

    they gassed anyone with a sembelance of intellect on the instruction of whitehall and the clonard priests (same objectives different organisations) the reason for this was that they were embarking on a complete about turn on their politics and aspirations and anyone with a brain would have rumbled them.

    Thus they promoted the local thickos and gobshites as the saviours of the republic and propagated the community of the well being of the SF negotiating skills ( and as anyone in the media DUP SDLP UUP WC AP or British/Irish governments will tell you they were hopless. “a complete fucking joke” according to a QUB academic and “an embarrassment to the Nationalist population” according to an SDLP legal mind or “no intellectual threat to a dementia party let alone a political party” according to an Irish government negotiator.

    If it wasn’t for the sectarian nature of northern politics and the moronic voting patterns of the general public ( the unprincipled majority only vote for a party that is winning where as the principled voter votes with their spine) SF would be completely fucked

  • Condor

    @It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    “Face up to the truth about the armed struggle”

    Perhaps a joint statement of regret from SF and the British government be a good idea.

    In the grossest terms, the strategy of the British government to maintain NI within the UK through enforcing the rule of law was morally correct. The strategy of the IRA to blackmail NI into a united Ireland without the consent of those living there was morally incorrect. It was also strategically disastrous in terms of whether it made a united Ireland more or less likely.

    So fundamentally there is not an equivalence. While “both sides” (scare quotes because in fact there were more than two sides) may or may not have done this specific immoral act or another in terms of tactics, the very fundamentals of the IRA’s grand strategy were wrong in a way that that of the British government was not.

  • Pancho’s Horse

    Condor, that post must rank with the most ridiculous to ever appear on these pages. How can it be ‘morally’ correct to steal something and then slaughter at will to prevent it from being recovered. Íosa Críost!!

  • edward

    How many people are going to predict the demise of SF or lament its political and negotiating skills?

    Every time some little thing goes wrong for the provo’s its SF has breathed its last, they are no more, they have shot themselves in the foot! Yet there they sit the dominant party of nationalism in nIreland and feared dominant party period. Of course SDLP have proved to be SF’s best vote getter and proved it again this fall with their bout of foot in mouth disease

    As for their negotiating skills, they have secured for their community more rights and concesions then in all the previous 50 years ever had. Before SF the nationalist population only ever recieved a lot of unfulfilled promises. Under SF those promises were filled and more besides

    Though I will concede that they mostly fell under the law of unintended consequences, they dint get what they wanted but they got what they needed

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it


    “fundamentals of the IRA’s grand strategy were wrong in a way that that of the British government was not”

    The GFA was a recognition by both sides that they were wrong. That is good enough for me and probably good enough for most Irish people. Unionists are probably in the minority of Irish people who dont agree.

  • Condor

    @Pancho’s Horse

    Condor, that post must rank with the most ridiculous to ever appear on these pages. How can it be ‘morally’ correct to steal something and then slaughter at will to prevent it from being recovered. Íosa Críost!!

    By implication then you are saying that the GFA, supported by the majority of voters North and South is ridiculous. Fine if that is your opinion, but most people on both islands have subscibed that NI should remain in the UK unless and until it consents to not being so. So there must be a lot of people about who believe in something “ridiculous” by your reckoning.

    Nations are human constructs. They are built on the consent of the governed for the government. Land itself and history are only those things which are likely to correlate with and create them. The USA is not ruled from Britain nor Brazil from Portugal nor Algeria from France nor indeed the RoI from Britain precisely because that consent was withdrawn. History is history. The present is the present.

    Personally, speaking in the most general terms, I would have a great difficulty in supporting the morality of any irredentist claim anywhere in the world where the proposed territory to be annexed would not have majority support for such a unification. Even irredentist claims where that support exists can be tricky and not necessarily justifiable but where it does not exist then the moral case must surely fail in my view, unless perhaps there are extremely extraordinary circumstances.

    It’s not even like we are talking about a case over a dispute concerning economically significant natural resources like the present Arctic carve up, so the central issue is not to do with “stealing something”, unless by “something” you mean the right to rule over others irrespective of their wishes.

    Punishing “nations” as if they were human beings for misdeeds by giving or taking territory from them irrespective of the wishes of those living in it is the kind of nonsense that should have ended after the Treaty of Versailles. All the more dubious if they were centuries ago. But even Israel or Kaliningrad have a right to their present status IMO.

    By all means let there be a united Ireland, or even a united pan EU state, but with consent. Without consent it is immoral.

  • George

    Sinn Féin had massive media exposure during the Lisbon Treaty campaign. Our position was distinct from all the other major parties.

    No it didn’t and O’Broin should know this unless like Gerry, he’s suffering a bit of disconnect with the Republic’s electorate.

    What I find most odd about that comment is that SF people in the Republic were giving out yards about the fact that Libertas were getting all the publicity not them.

  • JohnF

    “Sinn Fein- Neo-Conservative Imperialist Capitalists?

    A life-long Republican and activist, I continue to adhere to the central tenets of Republicanism, and, until recent months, I have been a supporter of Sinn Fein’s political strategy, believing that while some political sacrifice is necessary, the party continued to adhere to similar principles as myself. Unfortunately, I must state emphatically, that I can no longer support or vote for Sinn Fein and I do not make that statement lightly. Like some recently resigning from the party, I feel completely betrayed by the political actions, or inaction of Sinn Fein leadership.
    Notwithstanding the local issues of policing, Irish language and the Long Kesh project, the following issues have appalled me:
    1-The welcome rolled out to George Bush by Martin Mc Guinness at Stormont. It is simply not enough for Sinn Fein to make some obscure reference to registering their disagreement to Mr. Bush regarding the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Rather than a menu of what they had for lunch, I want to see definitive proof of a statement made directly to George Bush by Mr. McGuinness stating Sinn Fein’s complete opposition to the neo-conservative agenda of the Bush administration and the illegal invasion and occupation of the sovereign state of Iraq.
    2- The role Martin Mc Guinness has adopted as a peacemaker, conflict resolution specialist, or whatever in Iraq, is the most appalling of all recent behaviours. Considering our history, when we as Republicans rightly believed that British Occupation of the Six Counties was the central source of our problems, are we now to believe, through Mr. Mc Guinness’s actions, that we were only really ‘warring factions’ like those he seems to believe are the current problem in Iraq. The Iraq problem is that it was invaded and is currently occupied by an imperialist force in a quest for control of resources. Start at the source Martin, lest you be judged as a hypocrite and a sell-out by the thousands who fought, and in many cases died, for believing that imperialism was immoral and unjust, and that each nation had a right to self-determination, control of their resources and freedom. Or failing that, prepare for a role on the BP, Esso or Sunoco board of directors, whom with the assistance of US militarism, are currently bullying the Iraqi people into submission of their oil reserves.
    3- Sinn Fein involvement in, and approval of, the much heralded New York Emerald Equity Fund investment in Northern Ireland infrastructure, is a betrayal of massive proportions. I am realistic enough to accept that any socialist ideology many may have espoused was mostly at an academic rather than a practical level, however, I had never envisioned that Sinn Fein would become the most willing vehicle through which the very worst of Thatcherite Capitalism would become our economic modus operandi. Am I really to believe that Sinn Fein negotiated and enthusiastically welcome a deal that would see not only many of our public services privatised, but for that privilege, we pay a 18-20 per cent rate of return on that investment. (Try asking your bank manager for the same rate on your investment/savings in their institution!) Lest there is any misunderstanding, private equity groups, hedge funds and their like, even with the warm, fuzzy, patriotic ‘Emerald’ title, are not shamrock bearing philanthropists who love Ireland and wish to reward us for our ‘progress to civilisation’; rather they are hard-core Wall Street bankers and investors who expect massive profits from their investment, and who will proceed to dispossess us of every asset upon failure to meet their investment conditions. Incidentally, in the US/Wall Street private equity market the rate of return in any equity investment is usually in the 13-15 percent bracket ( a fact that can easily be checked with minimum due diligence), why then is this rate of return of 18-20 percent expected in this obscene Irish venture?
    It is with the deepest regret that I observe Sinn Fein abandon the core principles of Irish Republicanism and adopt those of the neo-conservative movement that has brought much of the world to its knees both militarily and economically. To other Irish Republicans, I urge you to pay close attention to what our elected representatives are actually doing, rather than what they are spinning. That they sit in government with Unionists is not the problem for me; that they have abandoned utterly our whole belief system is. Finally, our only recourse is at the polls. Blindly voting along sectarian lines is no longer an option; if we are to secure an Ireland of Equals we must educate ourselves and have the courage to finally say a resounding NO to Sinn Fein’s current capitulation to neo-conservative/Thatcherite economic and political policy.
    A Republican”

  • Pancho’s Horse

    Yeah, Condor, we gave our consent for the Brits to come in and trash our country or have you stopped the timeclock at 1900?

  • Reader

    Pancho’s Horse: Yeah, Condor, we gave our consent for the Brits to come in and trash our country or have you stopped the timeclock at 1900?
    You’re the one whose clock is running backwards. The Principle of Consent operates for *now* – as it should.

  • Condor

    @Pancho’s Horse

    Yeah, Condor, we gave our consent for the Brits to come in and trash our country or have you stopped the timeclock at 1900?

    The earliest claim to inhabiting land is not a grounds for self determination, and would lead to practical absurdities if it where. Taken in those terms it could effect nearly every border in Europe. But the most proper border between (say) Germany and Poland is that which leaves the greatest number in the country they identify with. The idea of punishing countries for past misdeeds, or even present misdeeds, by saying that wronged countries have a right to chunks of them containing people who do not consent to be part of or identify with the wronged country is immoral and can only lead to disaster. Even if it’s Kaliningrad / Konigsberg that only happened 60 years ago. It would be wrong to give Kaliningrad to Germany since the people there are Russians.

    Self determination is a right that belongs to peoples, existing peoples, and not to pieces of land, or as revenge in the name of others who were displaced but are now all dead. The existence of a people is an active and present state of affairs. It is not historically based. For example Canada could rightfully join the USA or Alaska become independent provided sufficient consent existed amongst all interested parties. What teritories were, or who occupied them, at some point in the past is ultimately irrelevant.

    Land is not of great inherent value, at least where oil or gas is not involved, it is only used as a necessary legal demarcation between states, which practically complicates the self determination of peoples. However any claim anywhere that seeks to annex a territory which is in majority opposed to such an annexation can only be viewed with the utmost dubiousness. The IRA’s claim was such a claim.

  • edward

    Sorry Condor

    Canada may one day take pity on the Yanks and let them join Canada

    Canada will never join the USA

    Other interesting point re: Alaska, the last time a state tried to leave that union there was a wee kerfufle called the american civil war

  • Pancho’s Horse

    What you’re really saying, Condor, that it is impossible to say who Ireland belongs to. That may be so but we all know who it DOESN’T belong to.

  • Skintown Lad

    Condor, great postings here – your arguments are extremely well considered and logical. Their juxtapostion with the playground cries of “you stole our land”, above, is very forceful. Thanks

  • Condor

    Other interesting point re: Alaska, the last time a state tried to leave that union there was a wee kerfufle called the american civil war

    Note that I said with the consent of all interested parties, which would include the US government. Secession is a tricky thing to judge, annexation less so.

    What you’re really saying, Condor, that it is impossible to say who Ireland belongs to. That may be so but we all know who it DOESN’T belong to.

    It belongs to the people who presently inhabit it, and as there is a division in their identification in terms of nationality it is proper that the island is divided, and partly in union with Great Britain. The unfortunate thing is that such geographic division cannot entirely pragmatically reflect the will of the people since geographically that will is dispersed in such a patchwork fashion in this particular instance. For that reason special consocational arrangements are I believe reasonable whether NI be in the UK or a united Ireland.

    That said, all opinion poll evidence shows support for the union as being much higher than the unionist parties vote share, and is probably higher than it is in Scotland, so maintaining NI in the union is correct. Repartition would be a trickier question but since no-one is proposing it it doesn’t really need to be debated until they do.

  • Micheál Ó Riordáin

    Do bhí alt ar Lá roinnt seachtain ó shin fá ‘pháirtí gaelach’.

    Ní fhéadar liom a fháil anois.

    Do bhí an scribhneoir san in aghaidh an smaoineamh ach silim gur cheart dó dhaoine smaoineamh fé ar a laghad.

    B’fhéidir daoine a fháil ó áiteanna éagsúla ach ceapaim go mbeadh iar-bhaill de Shinn Féin ann a bheadh spéis acu ann.

  • Pancho’s Horse

    Condor, don’t let skintown lad’s remarks go to your head. No matter how fancy your words, they are still just your words. Let me know where you live and I’ll gather a few relatives to go up and squat in your garden with the eventual aim of ‘annexing’ it. I know we won’t own it but what the hell!

  • edward

    pancho let me know when you go I might be looking for vacation accomodation and free is good

  • yawn

    I think you are already on vacation Sean/Steve/Edward, at least according to Pancho’s logic. The First Nations got a far rougher deal than the Irish ever did.

  • edward

    yawn(you really are)

    of course they got a rougher deal the first nations gave up 3.5 million square miles of some of the richest land on the planet and after all that they dont get treated any better than the Irish

  • RepublicanStones

    ” Fine if that is your opinion, but most people on both islands have subscibed that NI should remain in the UK unless and until it consents to not being so.”

    I may have missed it, but when did people in England, Scotland and Wales vote on the GFA?

  • paul kielty

    Oh yes! Lets try to create a propaganda push against a political party, just what our political establishments demand. Yet another futile anti-sinn fein, anti-working class witch-hunt much loved by certain posters. The result? nothing, just like previous campaigns of similar right-wing political aggression. The economic situation in the south has only really hit in the last couple of months. The euro/local elections are not due for another 7 months!!!
    A hell of a lot can happen in that time, especially when people have had time to digest what has went wrong.