Thoughts on Sinn Fein

Following on from Eoin O’Broin and Brian Feeney’s comments some weeks ago- carried on Slugger here– I feel compelled to add my own tuppence worth regarding the current position facing Sinn Fein and would welcome comments- critical, supportive or otherwise- from across the political spectrum.

Let me preface my comments by acknowledging that the party, as the largest nationalist electoral force in the North and even at 8% in the South, remains in the strongest electoral position since partition to potentially effect change and drive an all-Ireland agenda from the margins into the mainstream of political discourse on the island, a testament to the sometimes masterful manner in which the party leadership navigated the process of change from armed conflict to compromise over the past decade and more. Eoin O’Broin is correct to point to serious failings in the party’s approach to date in the South, but sitting at 8% the party still remains on course to be in contention for the role of coalition partners in any future post-election mix. The problem, as I see it, is that the Stormont experience to date suggests that, were Sinn Fein to secure a position in government within both jurisdictions in Ireland simultaneously, on current form the party would not appear to have anything close to resembling a plan to maximize such a position of influence and power to further nationalist objectives.Whilst Eoin has highlighted serious deficiencies with the party’s approach in the South, I would like to focus primarily on the party’s failings to date in the new northern administration and legislature, failings which are a cause for concern given that they point to the necessity of significant leadership-led changes to the party’s modus operandi if the party is to begin to plot a way forward which will maximize delivery for its constituency and begin planning seriously about how to not only grow support in the South but also utilize any potential electoral/ political strength for its wider objectives of Irish unity.

Let me state from the start that I haven’t been particularly impressed by what’s shaped up at Stormont to date across the board, with few of the 108 MLAs scoring highly in terms of articulation of policies, quality of debate within chamber/ committee or ability to deliver a pro-active Ministerial agenda. But, given I’m a republican, my most pressing concern has been the –to my mind- sluggish performance of Sinn Fein at both Executive and Assembly level to date, which indicates the need for decisive action from the party leadership to ensure that the tremendous potential of the current political environment is not lost.

There needs to be greater clarity regarding the strategic direction of the party at this time. Pursuit of Irish unity is its cornerstone, defining objective, but beyond seeking to hold the reins of power in the two administrations on the island, there isn’t a clear direction being provided from republicans about the way ahead. More than troubling, this is perplexing given that the canvass shouldn’t be that difficult to fill.

As I see it, the root cause of the current malaise is a failure to expedite the process of transforming Sinn Fein into a professional political party, with all that entails for the development- and delivery- of policies; for performing the multi-faceted roles of legislators in a competent and articulate manner; for addressing the deficit in professionally experienced and skilled advisors within party ranks; and for upgrading the constituency service provision to a level which no other party in the north should be able to match.

That’s not to say I believe the party is performing at a sub-par level in regard to each of the outlined areas when compared to the other main parties in the north; rather, I’m suggesting that the party needs to set itself higher targets and standards quite simply because a) it has the ability to do so and b) it needs to, given that its political project is much more ambitious than any of the other parties in the north at this time.

Too many of the party’s policies- spanning all areas of social, economic and cultural life, as well as regarding the constitutional question- are little more than broad brush vision statements, often lacking in both imagination and, most importantly, a sharpness and clarity of purpose that comes from a body politic embedded in the professional world. Maybe that’s harsh, but it’s true. Again, could be said of most other parties (perhaps with the exception of the DUP) but that isn’t my concern.

In most legislatures at any level, there are, broadly, two types of elected representatives: the good constituency representative, who owes his/ her election to a reputation built on familiarity with constituents through the hard graft of constituency work/ advocacy. And then there’s the policy legislator/ ‘wonk’, who along with party advisers drives the policy agenda of the party and helps formulate and articulate a party’s stance on the plethora of issues facing a political party.

It will hardly come as a revelation to political observers on Slugger to suggest that Sinn Fein is dangerously top-heavy with the former, to the extent that the party has been exposed in a number of policy areas as simply not having the professional experience within either its pool of elected representatives nor in the ranks of party advisers to cope with the broad range of issues facing the party at Executive level and within the legislature in a satisfactory manner –never mind being consistent with any ideological position.

Again, Sinn Fein is not alone in this regard, and anyone having watched or listened to any of the Stormont debates or studio discussions involving politicians in the past 18 months will see that all parties have their share of MLA’s with a painfully obvious level of ignorance when it comes to policy issues under discussion. But given that the party needs to avail of its access to power in the north to sharpen its ideological consciousness and policy platform to better equip itself for a successful southern relaunch, then the need for swift and decisive action from the republican leadership becomes clearer.

Ironically, it has been the continuing decline of the SDLP which has contributed to the lethargy within republicanism leading to the current predicament. The abysmal state of that party has ensured there is less of a sense of urgency to address such shortcomings within Sinn Fein. In this regard, the more robust level of competition within unionist politics in recent years has clearly benefitted unionism in keeping the DUP on their toes and by forcing the UUP to consider the imaginative (but ultimately doomed) option of linking up with the Tories to try and break the DUP’s dominance within unionism.

But governing politics has its own dynamic, which invariably poses electoral problems for incumbent parties, as the DUP and Sinn Fein essentially are, given their predominant position within the Executive.

The tendency of electorates to grow tired, disgruntled and ultimately impatient with the governing party(ies) is a common theme across western liberal democracies, hence the importance of Sinn Fein acknowledging and providing a simultaneous function to fill the opposition deficit within the consociational arrangements at Stormont. To this end, the party has shown a reluctance to pro-actively and effectively fulfill the opposition role it must assume in all but the three Departmental Ministries it holds. It needs to realize that the Executive ain’t no normal government: the gloves should be off for all but the party’s own Ministers.

In sum then, my proposals are simple. The party needs to invest in expertise and innovation, free itself of the shackles of laudable but otherwise counter-productive party rules and conventions and in the process equip itself with a refreshing and attractive policy platform to not only earn a place in government across the country but to utilize that position to transform the political scene in Ireland, in the process shifting others onto the ‘all-Ireland’ platform.

  • ulsterfan

    You mentioned the word compromise. Others might think of sell out.
    They have surely turned their backs on socialism and repudiated republicanism.
    It was inevitable that they will support the Establishment in the North and become non radical in the South—-a long decline awaits.

  • Turgon

    I suppose another thing they should think about is all their political leadership supporting the rule of law. Maybe that should include the agriculture minister suggesting that people go to the police about criminal attempted murder in her constituency.

    Maybe assisting the police in the investigation of previous criminal activity would help. The fact that the Deputy First minister could not even give full evidence to the Saville enquiry due to an alleged oath to an illegal, sectarian murder gang. Then other SF MLAs might help with any information they might have about other murders in this part of the world. Maybe the Regional Development Minister could stop besmirching the name of one of his constituents immediately after he was murdered and maybe he (the minister) could stop running to talk to illegal organisations to discuss that murder.

    If all that happened who knows SF might look a little more like a professional political party.

  • Mark McGregor


    I think your blog while laudable for addressing problems in your party is indicative of the failings in SF as a republican party.

    The difficulties in moving from a militarist mindset, a necessity during decades of armed struggle, to a constitutional parliamentary party are inevitable but seeking to address this solely by improving the leadership cadre, both elected and administrative and concentration in improving ability as a ‘governing’ party stands in stark contrast to what I feel a republican and socialist movement should be about.

    The absence of any focus on empowering the grassroots constituency, broader community, giving a sense of ownership over both the party and wider politics and concentration on making a power-focused, leadership driven, machine more efficient is bound to replicate mistakes of the past. Accountability, empowerment and connection with the masses are ignored in pursuit of possibly doomed attempts to improve a vanguard.

    As a party that still describes itself as revolutionary this seems like Marxist-Leninist structures from a party of limited demonstrable socialism. I think upskilling of the top tier of the party could bring benefits but to further separate the elected from the people by ignoring any reconnection on the streets seems like missing the biggest failing of SF in the last decade.

    (you did ask)


  • Percy

    SF have rising stars like Daithi McKay, who would deny John O’Dowd is one of the most articulate of all the MLA’s.
    Chris Gaskin of Balrog has been known to make sense on the odd occasion 😉
    I’m happy with the general direction of the Party.
    Remember it was Paisley at the helm for 40 yrs.
    Post-Paisley politics is the new era.

    Carpe Deim.

  • runciter

    SF’s biggest problems (in no particular order):

    *being consistently out-manouevered by the DUP
    *Ruane’s breath-taking incompetence
    *being dismissed by the Southern electorate.
    *aging leadership without obvious replacements

  • Dewi

    A serious, committed effort of engagement through practical policies toward people of the other tradition is needed IMHO. Would an office on the Shankhill get burnt down these days?
    Perhaps the facilitation of cross-tradition agricultural co-operative organisations in the Steeples would be an idea?
    And abstentionism at Westminster now seems anachronistic in the new world – especially wrt practical arrangements for Unification.
    For the past few months Horseman has been, very elegantly, recording the demographic changes – most recently in the workforce, all advantageous to nationalism. It’s time for practical planning of the details of unification with especial focus on the fears of Protestants.

  • Realist

    “Chris Gaskin of Balrog has been known to make sense on the odd occasion”

    It’s the rank bigotry of odious individuals like Gaskin which means that PSF are a long way from “reaching out” to those they need to “reach out” too, in order to have a hope of a “united” Ireland.

    “It’s time for practical planning of the details of unification with especial focus on the fears of Protestants”

    They’d be better concentating on Unionists.

  • Turgon

    I guess apologising unreservedly for their many members involvement in murdering people might help. Then they could try cooperating with the police and judiciary in order to bring the assorted criminals to justice. Maybe they could start with the likes of the murders of Frank Hegarty, Patsy Gillespie and the La Mon and Claudy bombings.

  • Percy

    I think you’ll find Adams has made more apologies than any other of the parties in the conflict.

    Also SF have been as open, if not more than anyone else vis-a-vis victims, when you consider the Britsh Secret Services and/or RUC/RIR and loyalists.

    If you study the Omagh case for example, its clear there’s been a cover-up.

  • josephine

    there is no plan to advance irish unity because there never really was one, just a fanciful set of slogans and half-worked out pipedreams manufactured to keep people like chris donnelly (if that’s his real name) happy with the gyrations of the adams leadership as they moved towards power and respectability – so wise up chris!

  • Mark McGregor

    imo Gaskin’s blog after a good start spiralled into a very dark place of reactionary blogging. In recent weeks he seems to have made a genuine attempt to end this, has removed the worst offenders and seems on the road back to be a worthwile read (I hadn’t been reading regularly for a long time)

  • Turgon

    Great so I assume that any members of SF with any information about Claudy, La Mon etc. etc. are about to come forward.

  • Percy

    Its more important that you come to terms with the past.

  • Chris

    Good of you to point up the fact that the SDLP strategy of minimising Sinn Fein’s influence while they are the largest party is working.

  • Bruno Spiro

    SF is all about putting on a show for their great unwashed. Their ‘strategy’ for a united Ireland is nonsense because they do not understand that unionists simply have no interest.

    SF labour under the old republican myth that unionists are at their core republicans that just need to be persuaded to come out of the political and cultural closet.

    It’s not going to happen and all the “outreach” or whatever other fanciful term they come up with is not going to change things.

    If they honestly believe that people who have withstood forty years of murder and mayhem are going to engage meaningfully with those who prosecuted those outrages then SF are not only deluding those that vote for them but also themselves.

    Working ‘together’ with unionists within the UK is as good as it gets. Even this, to quote a former PM, makes many many unionists “sick to their stomachs”.

  • Turgon

    No it is more important that there are more unsolved murders in Northern Ireland over the last forty years than in any other part of the UK. The fact that there are so many unsolved crimes and indeed so many murderers unconvicted is a cancer on this society: a cancer which SF has fed for years.

    All SF and Adams can ask for is a quarter truth process whereby the British government tell the truth about any and all collusion that occurred between the British government and loyalists (I believe there was indeed some and it was utterly loathsome and unacceptable). What SF really do not want to come out is about any collusion between the IRA and the government. Best not to know exactly who set up the “heroes” at Loughgall.

    Of course it goes without saying that SF do not want anything at all to come out about the IRA’s sectarian murder campaign. They do not want to tell us why so many people were murdered by them.

    Indeed it is important that we all come to terms with the past. That involves truth and justice. SF seem interested in about one quarter truth and no justice.

    As for me personally I believe that there will be both truth and justice: complete and total truth and justice; just not within the courts of this world.

  • slug


    *Sinn Féin does not want to be in opposition in NI. Therefore I think SF should aim to be a responsible left of centre party of government.

    *Sensible and responsible ministers like Michelle Guildernew and Conor Murphy can attract votes from a broader base than could less able ministers who take a dogmatic attitude.

    *Similar types of people in the ROI can hold a number of seats in Donegal and Dublin.

    *This can be enough to get SF into government with FG or FF from time to time. SF should not ally themselves more closely to one than the other.

    *SF should work/coopeate with Labour to develop the left wing vote.

    *SF should emphasise an alternative to the low tax model of the ROI, with better public services and more intervention in the market (more like the Scandinavian models). Eoin’s comments are a very good (IMO) pointer for the best direction on economics.

  • Brian Walker

    Sinn Fein’s problems as I see them lie mainly in the fact that they have yet fully to make transition to becoming a party of democratic government. The party still bears the marks of the old quasi-Stalinist revolutionary millenarian movement, skilled in the politics of early transition but weak on contemporary policy and with a newly uncertain political touch.

    During that early transition, they can scarcely be blamed for thinking they were dictating events. But now with cross community government becoming established in the North and the South not very interested, it must be obvious to them that they have inevitably lost traction. I suspect they will become as vulnerable to swing as any other party in the North as well as the South. Their difficulty in adapting to new circumstances is scarcely surprising given their history – toxic or heroic, according to taste.

    They will have to shed the remnants of primitive Marxism and adapt their republicanism to convince a wider electorate that they has become fully respectable, which in spite of their electoral success they have not yet achieved. Signs that they are doing so will come when they can lead a policy debate, attract a significant brains trust from civil society and achieve a faster turnover of party leaders to stimulate diversity and change. Perhaps the latter is starting to happen. The old warriors, who were so essential for ending conflict and gave the party its charisma will leave a frightening hole. Who wants to become just another nationalist party? That surely is Sinn Fein’s big problem; but also its opportunity.

    The DUP, who did not play an earlier “military” role despite their many antics and provocations had a similar quasi-Stalinist character, but have progressed to a more collective leadership. They have also proved themselves rather better at political adaptation, having been enthusiastic parliamentarians interested in the practice of government from the party’s inception in the 70s.

    Plainly, Sinn Fein is by no means the “stupid party.” It needs to use its talents to evolve genuinely workable cross-community policies which are open goals for any party to score, like a replacement for academic selection instead of dogma, and above all build a credible economic policy. (Economic ignorance in NI politics is just about absolute).

    Sinn Fein should do this not just to please unionists but to build a new momentum and fill a gaping policy vacuum – in the interests of a new Ireland if they like. The pragmatic route is their best option. Otherwise, they are fast becoming a dormant volcano, a party of protest and last-ditch defence at the mercy of events, prompting the potentially lethal question” what is Sinn Fein for?”.

  • Oxo cube

    Is turgon David Vance.

  • Mark McGregor


    A problem I’d see is the larger collective leadership of SF is hidden and people assume a personality cult based around Adams and to a lesser extent McGuinness when imo that movement has been lead by a much broader group of invisible strategists that have only ever put themselves in the public domain to a very limited degree.

    This cuts into my point on accountability, a purely democratic and constitutional party cannot continue with structures where many of the senior leadership figures are not only hidden from the public and supporters but to a great level even many activists themselves.

    Chris is clearly pointing out a party not fit for purpose but to address that issue not only does it need to examine what that purpose is but also requires an open an honest examination of largely hidden internal structures.

  • Mark

    Who are we talking about when we speak of the hidden leaders of SF?

    Surely that is just a SF myth. And you’re just bolstering up the mythology that SF are led by generals in the trenches who know how to outsmart every other party. There has been no evidence of hidden SF leaders in recent time when SF leadership has been extremely mediocre and transparently so.

  • cynic

    I think there is a fundamental problem of vision and of skills in Sinn Fein. As a Unionist that worries me because I want politics here to work and in the longer term see them starting to fail.

    Why do I say this?

    1 as others have indicated SF’s policies often developed from shallow slogans designed to support a military campaign. One of the most obvious is’Brits out’ when the problem is not the Brits but 1 m + unionists who live on this island and have done foe generations. Here the sloganising becomes counter-productive as it deceives even the membership (and some of the thicker leadership) of the realities of political life here

    2 a lot of the policies are threadbare. SF’s social agenda is stuck in the dark ages of the 1970s as comments here demanding a return to Socialism help show. By all menas return to socialist polices – and see how many votes you get. It’s a discredited philosophy but you havent found a new narrative.

    3 the leadership is looking old and tired and threadbare and very male. Yes they have a few women but mainly for the optics. When all the heavy lifting needs to be done it’s the boys who do it and call the shots.

    This is not a party poised for the future. it reminds me of our own dear UK Labour party. A hollowed out shell led by a man who has reached where he wants to be, has no idea what to do now he has got there and has surrounded himself by frit yes men.

  • Mark McGregor


    Forgive me but I have no intention of engaging in coversation with you on this or any other issue. So don’t waste your time asking me questions.


    Women for the optics is a real issue. I know of one now supposedly senior member that was wheeled into ‘negotiations’ when in an electorally targetted area and immediately after the arrival photo op ended up sitting in the car with the party driver shooting the breeze while the boys carried out hours of negotiation.

  • Ulsters my homeland

    I have nothing good to say about IRA/Sinn fein. does this count as a thought?

  • kensei

    * They need to ditch the Marxist remnants. It simply isn’t reflective of where the party is now. But that alone is not enough. They have to replace it with a credible centre-left philosophy. In practice pragmatism will play a key role, but what are the general principles.

    * They need to find some way of coming to terms with the past. They will never, ever convince a lot of people, but they have to deal with it to have any hope of reaching out beyond their current electorate. I’d go so far to say that they need to do it without any reciprocal moves from the British and take the short term consequences. And it would mean dropping or severely playing down some of the things that Nationalism can cope with, but Unionism never will.

    * They need to invest in policy. Resources are limited here, but there should still be enough resource to get a few people targeting specific questions full time looking at what works elsewhere, reading relevant material, perhaps even commissioning or supporting some of their own research.

    And if they are serious about unity, they’ll be constantly be looking for places where there are good candidates for sharing resources or policy or both. Unity is the ultimate in convergence and they need to realise that.

    * I’d also be investing in polling if I could afford it. What do people really think. Where do Nationalists and Unionists share ideas or opinions, how dot hey react to policy North and South. If you are serious about expanding the vote, you have to know what people think.

    * They need to looking to harness some the energy and the people they have behind them. I’d be paying particular attention to what Obama has been doing and how they could translate even a piece of that into something useful. They have all these people knocking doors or attending meetings. If they could get them to start discussing ideas and giving feedback, it would be a great win. You might be getting 95% crap, but it’d still be useful if you got 5% gold for minimum investment.

    * I’d say they need to devolve power down, but that is a difficultly for all parties: the membership is always more extreme than the general populace and have the capacity to make difficulty for the leadership. If they can have a go, great.

    Moving to match local candidates to speak on local issues is also important. It is good to see if they have started to do that.

    * They need to get realistic on what can be achieved, in both jurisdictions. Going into Southern elections they should know they aren’t getting a majority, they aren’t getting a major partnership role. They can get a few policies enacted, some modifications of things they don’t like, probably a ministry in the best case. What is the top 3 targets SF want? Hammer them home.

    In the North, they have got to start boxing clever on what they can get Unionism to do, and rather than looking for direct confrontation look for opportunities to trade off or opportunities where Unionist reactive opposition does not help them. There is room for direct confrontation but not often, and you have to pick your battles.

    * Stick an SF office on the Shankill. And elsewhere. Seriously. There are prerequisites to doing that, and its tough, but working for people, asking for their vote, listening to their ideas: that’s outreach, not half arsed leaflets. Become a truly 32 county party.

    * Develop links with immigrant communities. Lots to learn from the SNP there.

    That’d do for starters.

  • Chris Donnelly

    Some good observations out there, though too many for me to comment on individually.

    You make a number of good points, but I would disagree with regard to where republican politics needs to develop at this juncture.

    Sure, republicans will face criticism regarding losing touch with grassroots, but in my experience this is somewhat wide of the mark and indeed wishful thinking from detractors.

    There remains no other political party with the level of grassroots activism as Sinn Fein, and republicans to date have retained that sense of obligation to become involved in local community politics that has always been to the benefit of the broader struggle. Things may change in that regard, but I believe the focus for improvement at this time needs to be on the new arena of struggle, where (albeit limited) power and influence can be used to promote party policies and move towards securing objectives.

    Again, some good points, particularly with regard to economic policy.

    In full agreement with all your points.

    I do believe it is important for republicans to avoid being caught up in a transparent ‘how to prove’ ourselves to unionists trap, which really will only perpetuate a MOPE-ish response from the more vocal and extreme elements of political unionism, and from which republicans can expect little.

    To my mind, that was the mistake of the ‘Unionist outreach’ initiative launched by the party some time ago.

    That’s not to say republicans need not be centrally concerned with developing support from beyond its traditional support base. That support needs to be cultivated by developing a strong, left of centre policy platform with policies which many non-nationalists would subscribe to whilst also continuing to articulate a republicanism which accepts and seeks to accomodate the British identity of unionism within a united Ireland.

    Now, I’m not naive enough to suggest that’ll deliver votes to Sinn Fein from unionist heartlands; but it will open up interesting new alliances and relationships across the constitutional political spectrum.

    Simultaneously, the party needs to continue with progressive policy advances with regard to promoting an equality agenda for unionism and nationalism, which may be vociferously opposed by the political leaders of unionism but to which many grassroots unionists would accept.

  • Turgon

    Mr. Donnelly,
    You seem to have got some answers but seem to be avoiding the comments of those of us concerned about your party’s endless, murderous baggage and the difficulties it has with supporting the police against certain types of criminal activity. Not to mention your own personal problem with the murderous past of the likes of Paul Butler: I note you decided not to respond to that comment when I raised it yesterday.

    The other issue which might be worth mentioning is that this blog seems suspiciously timed to deflect criticism away from you personally: oneill’s comments on your following in grandpa’s footsteps being the obvious example.

  • Realist

    “Stick an SF office on the Shankill”

    Why not put that bigoted, murdering, scumbag Sean Kelly in it?

    All in the name of “outreach”, of course.

  • dewi

    And maybe encourage the South to join the Commonwealth Kensei? – there are historical links which can be respected – and it’s easier to win medals at the Games….
    Password – court – subtle or what?

  • Mark

    Forgive me but I have no intention of engaging in coversation with you on this or any other issue. So don’t waste your time asking me questions.

    What’s wrong now, Mark? Or is this just another egomaniac’s response to someone having the nerve to challenge your supposed insider knowlege of the republican movement. You know, the same movement that had to stop killing people on advice from the SDLP, or else face defeat. There weren’t many secret strategists on that shift.

    Why are there so many phonies in republicanism? It’s full of pseuds, phonies, and depressives trying to foist their hollow agenda on people who really only ever use them to push their own interests anyway.

  • Chris Donnelly

    Paranoia becomes you- think I’d have time to put this thread together just to avoid somebody’s comment?

    It might disappoint you but I don’t spend too much time revisiting threads I’ve commented on- life is short and busy enough without having to respond to every blogger.

    But to satisfy you, I shall respond to your points raised above and that of oneill.

    Firstly, I’m not particularly vexed about your concerns, or those of similar minded unionists regarding Sinn Fein.

    During the war/ conflict, there were many people killed and wounded, all with loved ones. As a republican, I’d be a hypocrite to say anything other than that such things happen during war; all loss of life being regrettable, I’m sure you’d agree, though I’m also sure your opinion of the killings of republicans by British forces- in uniform or out of uniform- differs considerably from mine.

    Now, with regard to where Sinn Fein is today vis a vis an anti-agreement organisation which acts as a magnet for the most reactionary elements of this society, the TUV, I find your concern for the rule of law to be particularly ironic.

    Regarding oneill’s angst on another thread, it remains a feature of Slugger that some unionists find it difficult to accept a spotlight being shone on certain issues. I note that nationalists/ republicans tend to avoid slinging the mud at unionist bloggers like yourself when you start a thread critical of republicans/nationalists. It is consistent with an inability of some to accept anything which challenges their narrative.

    My advice to oneill is to get over it and simply accept the diversity of opinion on Slugger- which apparently differs from his own site.

    I trust that answers your ‘concerns….’

    Back on the thread, Kensei’s comments are excellent.

    On the ‘Shankill’ office, I don’t think that’s plausible at this stage, though I do know that Gerry Adams’ office has handled many constituency issues for people from the Shankill.

    But the point remains a good one. If not the Shankill, then other mixed/ majority unionist towns/ areas should be considered as a possible site for Sinn Fein offices as a statement of intent to work for all.

  • Driftwood

    A good starting point would be to ditch the term Sinn Fein (Ourselves alone)in a world where ‘nationality’ is increasingly irrelevant. Incidentally the same applies to ‘unionist’ parties.
    SF are not just the adjunct of a terrorist group (PIRA), they forge links with FARC, ETA, Hamas, Al Queda etc, and expect anyone with an IQ in double figures to respect them.
    AND they maintain their Roman Catholic identity??
    Simple question. What is their position on Abortion?

  • Turgon

    Fine Mr. Donnelly: you tried to suggest that I supported Mark Harbinson and when I unreservedly condemned him and asked you about the murderer Paul Butler you fell remarkably silent.

    Also you seemed quite distressed about oneill’s comments at the time; you were far from ignoring them. Then all of a sudden what passes for an intellectual blog from you came out: I am sure it was just coincidence. Well if you want to pretend it is that is fine: just like you pretend that your murderous friends were fighting a war. Tell me what threat was Douglas Deering, what threat the Collie Club, Marie Wilson, the children who your mates thankfully failed to kill at Tullyhommon?

  • Comrade Stalin


    I hope I’m not being a smartass here, but since the 1970s right up until the ceasefire period SF actively courted support from right-wing political elements in the USA, including pro-Israel Republican Party uberfanatics like the pro-Iraq War Peter “there are too many mosques in this country” King.

    IIRC you were an SF member (or otherwise supporter) during that period. Did you not then think there was a danger of socialist ideals taking a back seat ?

  • PeaceandJustice

    Chris Donnelly – “articulate a republicanism which accepts and seeks to accomodate the British identity of unionism within a united Ireland.”

    SF PIRA in Northern Ireland has never shown any respect towards the country they live in. McGuinness just about managed to say Northern Ireland during the swearing in process for the Assembly. Perhaps you could start this new-found respect tomorrow by asking your SF PIRA colleagues to start flying the NI and Union flags from all of the SF PIRA offices. If you can’t show respect today, no one is going to believe you about showing respect in some future scenario.

    kensei – “Stick an SF office on the Shankill. And elsewhere. Seriously.”

    You want to set up offices amongst the people who SF PIRA tried to murder? Which fantasy land do you live in? If SF PIRA want to say sorry to ALL their victims and if SF PIRA gang members want to start showing respect for the country they live in – then it will be a start.

  • Sinn Féineach

    Interesting post Chris.

    My personal prefernence would be for social and economic policy to be founded in actual economic reality and possibilty rather than in apstract confessions of principal which in reality cannot mean anything as they are not subject to the laws of mathematics.

    Rational in place of fundamentalism.

    I believe that whilst social matters are of vital importance to Sinn Féin as a party, Irish Nationalism must take precident. To this end, I would propose that Sinn Féin style the party’s stand as Radical Social Democracy rather than Socialism, revolutionaly or otherwise.

    Socialism will not take the party anywhere in the South.

  • runciter

    a republicanism which accepts and seeks to accomodate the British identity of unionism within a united Ireland

    What exactly does this mean?

    Please be specific.

  • Belfast Greyhound

    Lets stick close to the questions raised here and not go off in too many pre-defined directions.
    Politics in NI are changing in ways that few can predict wit any degree of accuracy BUT what is apparent is the inability of the SF party to actually become democratic in the widest possible way.
    No one could really describe SF as an inclusive party, unless you were from a background that venerated secrecy and hierarchy in organisations and then you might think that it was a model of democratic progressiveness.
    The party achieved the greatest success when they were pushing the open door of the man who had the hand of history on his shoulder and now both it an the DUP having no persistent crisis to use as a convenient bolt hole to obscure rational debate are falling into potential electoral dis-interest.
    Remember the adage that the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about holds true here.
    Sadly all that SF have achieved could have been done without the loss of any lives, though the Loyalist Murder gangs would still have mindlessly gone off killing people, Protestant and Catholic, anyway I suspect, but that really is conjecture.
    What is not is that the British State run guerilla fighters of IRA/SF laboured long and hard so as in the end they would have a British funded re-emergence of peaceful British control over Northern Ireland. And they (SF) would be active participants in that British control being made a success.
    When you take the somke and the mirrors away that really is what is left and the cracks that this will allow to develop in the geriatric leaderships legacy will be structural and not surface crazing on the plasterwork.
    How come you didn’t know that you were being run by the Brits GerryA/MartinM/GerryK/PatD et al?
    Did you not notice or were the Brits just too good for you?
    Can the leopard change it’s spots?
    Probably not but it will not matter since ultimately the Good Friday Agreement will politically have the same sort of impact as the meteor had with the dinosaurs, for both SF and DUP.
    The problem for the DUP is that being deniers of pre-historical records they will not accept the meteor has already landed.

  • kensei


    Why not put that bigoted, murdering, scumbag Sean Kelly in it?

    All in the name of “outreach”, of course.

    There are certain prerequisites; the party would really need to ask itself what parts of itself would never unacceptable to Unionism and let them go. But I think there is an important message contained within the suggestion. It is that where once SF were party to destroying those areas, now they are serious about building them up. Do I expect any great success? No. But if SF could convince even 5% of Unionists over the course of a decade by working really, really hard for them that would a fucking revolution.

    I’m sorry if the suggestion blows your wee mind. Republicanism done right normally does.

  • Chris Donnelly

    ….and what threat the many hundreds killed or wounded by ‘your murderous friends’ in the British forces in the most recent outbreak of conflict or those preceding it?

    We could go on, naming individual cases if necessary, but I fail to see the worth in that.

    So glad to be honoured with the ‘intellectual blog’ reference, or at least ‘what passes for’ one, ‘Mister’ Turgon (LOL).


    What about a thread by Unionist/Loyalist bloggers demanding a start to Protestant paramilitary decommissioning? How about the DUP telling us where the still active guns of Ulster Resistance are buried? What about a bit of disclosure about the Loyalist terrorism campaign of the 60’s and the links between the UVF and well known Unionist politicians? How about a debate on Vanguard and it’s military threats with, again, well known Unionists fronting it? Maybe a bit of truth about the links between MI5 & BOTH Unionist parties and the British intelligence moles that are STILL there? Finally we need FULL disclosure on the part that Unionist politicians played in the Dirty War and their umbilical link to Loyalist death squads! Republicans and Nationalists are doing their bit for peace and a lasting settlement, it would be a lot easier if a reluctant Unionist community did likewise.

  • Ger


    Thanks for that post.
    I assume that this post now is also maybe a response at some level to the recent announcements of leadership changes. Kearney into chairman especially. From what I have read he is a good organiser and capable of performing well in such a role.

    Also I was struck by Adams mention of making the party fit for purpose.

    Do you believe Declan Kearney’s appointment into the Chairman role will result in an improvement in party capacitY across the island.

  • Turgon

    Mr. Donnelly,
    You asked me about Mark Harbinson and I answered: I asked about Paul Butler and you fell silent.

    In terms of your blogs, I guess this one required a bit more intellectual effort than your usual fare. However, despite your claims at the outset that you would welcome critical comments you seem only to want critical comments from nationalists or neutrals.

  • runciter


    How could “the British identity of unionism” be accomodated within a United Ireland? Have you actually given this any thought or are you just repeating empty slogans?

  • Prionsa Eoghan

    >>On the ‘Shankill’ office, I don’t think that’s plausible at this stage, though I do know that Gerry Adams’ office has handled many constituency issues for people from the Shankill.<

  • Chris Donnelly

    I do think Kearney is an experienced and particularly skilled political character who’s promotion should concentrate minds on what needs to be done. I recall him using language very similar to the Adams’ quote you refer to in an APRN article some months ago.

    Sorry to burst bubbles again, but my ‘silence’ may have something to do with not being on Slugger nor likely anywhere near the computer since my post on your anti-McAleese rant.

    I’m taking it you don’t have kids as if you did I’d be surprised you find the time to clock into our site so regularly- never mind concern yourself about others’ presence…

    Finally, regarding your ‘thoughts’ on the thread, I’m fairly relaxed about who comments on threads. I guess some comments are more worthwhile than others, be they from unionists, nationalists or otherwise. Trying to reduce a thread to a MOPEish whinge might be your idea of a good Sunday night, but the final minutes of the 1st Half of the Steelers game and sleep are my only concerns for the remainder of this night.

    I promise to clock in tomorrow night, Mister T- adios.

  • Driftwood

    lets not pretend that SF are a ‘republican’ party. They are unashamedly a ‘Roman Catholic’ party. hence their policy on abortion. They follow the vatican completely.
    Sinn Fein are a Roman Catholic ‘party’. just as the DUP are ‘Protestant’. The UUP, SDLP, Alliance do not have these religious hang ups.
    I really hope the UUP/Tory link can get us out of this religious malaise, for all our sakes.

  • DC

    Do you learn your upper political class patronising from Gerry Adams, Donnelly.

    My advice for Sinn Fein is to get real, get confidence and get over notions of culture cringe in the north and get on top of the aspiration gaps in west Belfast. The drugs, depression, deprivation and suicide.

    Blog on that more often and it will help in part in trying to get real…perhaps you might get listened too.

    But still you’re just following in el president’s footsteps.

    Unite Ireland, you can’t even unite north Belfast nor even the education sector.

  • qubol

    Great post Chris, I think your points and those of Kensei are really interesting.

    One of the issues that has come up is resources. It has yet to be realised locally but the web presents a massive opportunity for any party willing to truly engage with it. I really wish Sinn Fein would put more energy into the area. Having the odd MLA or Gerry Adams write a blog isn’t enough anymore, those concepts are essentially static, publisher centric idea’s that while useful don’t provide a platform for open and transparent conversation with the public. Imagine an online research portal to drive policy with online discussions or webinars with experts from around the world. Give people the opportunity to talk about their area of expertise on a respected platform and they’ll do it, even more so if they feel that policy makers are listening and someone might even try to do something about it.

  • Percy

    Driftwood, there’s hope for ya, finally an intelligent comment.
    We need less of the religious head-bangers.

  • Mack

    Driftwood – I’m not a Sinn Fein supporter but I thought they were pro-choice.

    Apart from that I thought your comments were closest to what they need to do.

    1. Rebrand – Fianna Fail did it, Fine Gael did it.
    The only reason why they might not (and tbh, I don’t think this should be their concern), is the danger that some other grouping may claim the title later.

    2. Lose the radical international dimension.
    How on earth is the Irish government going to get along with the Spanish or Columbian government when a coalition partner that actively supports ETA or the FARC? Have they thought this through???

    3. Move towards the centre-left.
    Formulate a cohesive economic policy, get a cadre of respected economists to analyse it and make sure it is credible.

    4. Recognise achieving a United Ireland requires a coalition – recognise they put as many people off this goal as they motivate positively. Let others do most of the driving.

    5. Put some distance between themselves and the IRA
    You don’t see Ógra Fianna Fail visiting war of Independence engagement sites. Sinn Fein the Workers Party / Democratic Left were seriously hamstrung by their connections.

    6. Demote the importance of Connolly, Pearse and 1916. Instead focus on Wolfe Tone and 1798.

  • Mack

    Actually should expand 6. above to include demoting the importance of the recent troubles (1981 and the like) also. It is always going to divide, though presumably that would open up the risk of another group filling that void.

    Hoisted on their own petard, on that one, methinks.

  • Jer

    Mack, Thanks for your list. Some thoughts in reaction to it.

    (1) Rebrand? That will help their vote in the 6 counties how? Not sure thats not necessary. Maybe reassociate the brand away from being associated solely with the conflict.

    (2) True but not as big an obstacle as you might imagine.

    (3)True about Economics. I think the entire leftist movement worldwide has focused, to their detriment, on the redistribution of wealth while ceding the creation of wealth to the right.
    Its true of leftists everywhere that more focus needs to be placed on economics and not just redistributive neasures but how to equalise the creation of wealth.

    (4) Let others do the driving on reunifcation. Who would those others be? Not an option I am afraid.

    (5) “You dont see Ogra FF going to War of independece sites.” This presupposes that Ogra FF are a republican movement.
    SF should be mindful of this. The danger is they end up like Fianna Fail. A republican party only in name which lacks the ambition to meet its republican targets despite being in power more than any other party.

    (6) Its hard to demote Connolly when his aims deal so much with social justice. Tone would be interesting and I suspect you may view his protestant background as having some appeal moving forward in the broader protestant community in the north. However I think such an appeal will be overstated and will not match the conducting of clinics in protestant areas. A practical rather than a theoretical approach will have more merit.

  • Mack

    Jer –

    Rebranding may not increase the SF vote in NI but it would increase their acceptability as a coalition partner in the Republic – and reduce the fallout from any potential international hostility. A decent rebranding strategy might in the long run also help reduce tension with the Unionist community as it would be stepping away from the conflict.

    If SF are the only ones driving re-unification it won’t happen. The SDLP have a policy on unification, Bertie spoke about it recently. If you want it, a coalition across multiple parties needs to be built up. A way needs to be found to allow other parties to articulate their vision and let a conversation begin about what kind of united Ireland is achievable, desirable and acceptable to those whose preferences lie elsewhere.
    On driving – I meant publicly at least. If SF are the most motivated, then organise talks in public and private and let others make the PR announcements.

    There is a conflict between Sinn Fein’s ‘normal’ political aims (e.g. social policies) and the aim of constitutional change. Constitutional change needs to be politically neutral – as afterwards the electorate can still vote for right or left wing social policies. That needs to be crystal clear – or there is a danger that some will conflate a united Ireland with Socialism for example, and become highly motivated to vote against it.
    A campaign for a UI would be much more likely to be successful with promoters from across the political spectrum.

    I guess Connolly is fair enough. While 1916 succeeded in creating the southern state, it failed in the north. We’re still divided as ever. 1798 at least had Ulster Protestant support and involvement. While it may be unrealistic to expect nationalists / Republicans to win over the support of a large number of Unionists – with demographic change all that need happen is to persaude enough Unionists that it is not worth voting against. Current SF are a bogeyman that motivates. Wolfe Tone’s goals are quite noble, and thus attractive, to have as a guiding set of principles.

  • Mack

    Jer – Also I note you conflate the term Republican with support for armed conflict. Which is really something I’d like to see dropped. It alienates people from the idea and the power of any idea is largely determined by those who believe in it.

    An Irish Republican is someone who supports the existence of a sovereign Irish Republic to manage the affairs of the Irish nation.

    Such a Republic already exists, and I think that there is a strong argument for the inclusion of Northern Ireland (with the consent of her residents) within that Republic.

    While a soveriegn Irish Republic has the right to bring force of arms to bear to defend it’s sovereignty, many who would support the proposition above, would not neccessarily agree that it was the right strategy to employ within Northern Ireland.

  • Hempleton White

    How amusing to read these republican “intellectuals” pontificate on the Sinn Fein project. Build as many Sinn Fein bunkers as you like it’s not going to change even 5% of unionists thinking; unionists using Sinn Fein offices is nothing more than an urban myth.

    Don’t you understand that the loved ones of those that republicans maimed and murdered have no interest in whatever “rebranding” or “progressive social policies” you come up with?

    Please don’t insult everyone’s intelligence with the ‘it was a war, everyone suffered’ line. Bollocks! It was not a war, a war is what is happening in Gaza, in Northern Ireland the state contained murder gangs of various colours by using the criminal law.

    Unionists have no interest in a united Ireland, they’re unionists ffs! Is that too difficult a concept for you to understand?

    By all means chat amongst yourselves, for that is all it amounts to, back in the real world Northern Ireland will remain part of the UK.

  • blinding

    We will put you down as a maybe then “Hempleton White”
    Thanks for your engagement.

  • Greenflag

    Mack ,

    ‘Formulate a cohesive economic policy, get a cadre of respected economists to analyse it and make sure it is credible.’

    And if by some stretch of the imagination they found such ‘respected ‘ economists they would want to get ‘patent’ rights on any such ‘solutions’ said economists come up with. For as of now the entire Anglosphere if not the entire global economy is bereft of such genius .

    Jer ,

    ‘Its true of leftists everywhere that more focus needs to be placed on economics and not just redistributive measures but how to equalise the creation of wealth. ‘

    Here you are dealing with the eternal struggle between the have nots and the haves even if in the developed world relative standards have increased for all . As to equalising the creation of wealth . As impossible as trying to equalise the size of the ten digits at the end of your hands and feet without recourse to a meat axe .

    Give each of 1,000 people 50,000 euros and come back in 20 years to see the results . 80 % will still have money -approx 15 to 20% will have grown their 50,000 into a million or more and another 20% will have 10,000 or less . Some will have nothing and probably be in debt up to their ears . Call it human nature if you will but that’s what happens . The creation of capital be it financial , industrial , human or cultural is no easy task .

    Society is always behind the times vis a vis the economy . The latter is always to the fore with government and society trying to play catch up . This is also known as fighting WW2 with WW1 weapons .Witness the current world stasis as just another example.

    Sinn Fein needs to become more pragmatic and cast off ideology be it of the left or right in favour of what works . Then people in the South who now turn away from SF as they are considered them to be ‘extreme socialist ‘ may listen to what they have to offer .

    Far easier for SF in NI where they have the advantage of the Unionist ‘enemy ‘ to keep their members active and primed .

  • Jer

    I take your point on it being difficulty to distribute wealth but my emphasis was more on the equalising of the opportunity to create wealth rather than the immediate redistribution of wealth.
    Thats as much a social project as a finanacial one.
    As you point out the giving of money to 1000 people will not in the long term create a more equal distribution of wealth.
    Rather I would prefer to see people who are capital poor in our country but with the ability to creat wealth have greater opportuntiy to create wealth for themselves. I see little merit in transfer payments as a method of distributing wealth.

    Socialism is about allowing everybody in a state enjoy the fruits of capitalism without some sections being allowed to enjoy special status i.e people in the south of Ireland who earn over 100k being able to access credits simply because of their wealth. Yet those who earn 90000 not being able to do so.

    Leftists need to be able to argue clearly how to create wealth and not distribute it. Otherwise they will always be stuck with the tag of spenders.

    I dont think that SF need to cast of ideology but rather it needs to reassess what it means to be leftist in a pragmatic fashion and be willing to use new language to describe what it wishes to achieve.

    If they talk about high taxes then they should mention in the same breadth better auditing and value for money measures.

    If they talk about rent allowances they should look at ways to allow landlords to open up the market for renting.

    If they talk about helping the unemployed they should cost proposals to make it cheaper for small to medium firms to retain staff/recruit new staff.

    And most importantly if people are spooked by the term Socialism then drop the word socialist and proceed to build a fair society, a just society or whatever.
    The left also needs to develop a new narrative and recognise that the old cold-war era language is redundant and a new expression must be found.

    What do you think?

  • Mack

    Jer –
    Making capital available to those with a good idea, skill and determination – regardless of their personal wealth – is an excellent idea.

    Ireland needs a network of business angels and venture capitalists willing to fund early stage startups (the former) and help grow them to scale (the later). The existence of such networks is what makes California and Israel such dynamic hubs for technology startups.

    This is capitalism and not socialism. Having the state provide funds for startups isn’t ideal (it acts as a distortion and the companies are less likely to be successful) – but should be done if the private networks aren’t fully fledged. Government can structure the tax base so as to favour investment of capital with entreprenuers (over say, investing in property) which should encourage the development of those types of investor networks.

    Socialism, to most people – I think, has a very different meaning than what you’ve described above (if I’ve read you right).

  • Mack

    Greenflag –

    I actually meant just that they make sure their economic policy is as believable / workable as those of other left-wing parties. The Shinners were hopelessly at sea in the last elections down here – and weren’t even internally consistent (re corporation tax).

  • Jeremy

    Mack, you read me right.

    In 1965, U.S. CEOs in major companies earned 24 times more than an average worker; this ratio grew to 35 in 1978 and to 71 in 1989. The ratio surged in the 1990s and hit 300 at the end of the recovery in 2000. The fall in the stock market reduced CEO stock-related pay (e.g., options) causing CEO pay to moderate to 143 times that of an average worker in 2002. Since then, however, CEO pay has exploded and by 2005 the average CEO was paid $10,982,000 a year, or 262 times that of an average worker ($41,861).

    Look at the increase in productivity compared to increase in median wage and you will see that while more value is being created its being funneled up.

    Thats not capitalism but a form of meritocracy where social advantage or access to power is a key factor in how wealth is distributed.

    Thus it ever was and ever will be but the last few decades pulled this piss to such an extent that wealth was moved up the classes, debt moved down and this played no small part in where we are now.

    I reject as mere rhetoric talk about controlling the factors of production etc.

    Republicans must recognise that as the strategy for a united Ireland with a republican vision will be most successfully implemented via long term strategies that allow those goals to be realised do must the creation of a more just, equitable society require long, long term strategies, Thats not to say that immediate changes cannot be put into place.

    However it must be recognised that while socially the USA in the ’50 was not great that in certain regards it was a fairer society.

    As a first step lets row back to where we were before reganomics skewed the picture in favour of the cos circle.

    If we can do that via socialism/capitalism or any other ism than lets do it.

    Achieving the vision rather than the method used is the requirement. Even by rowing back to some of the fairer distributions of wealth evident in the 1950s US would be a very radical turn that could be achieved entirely using the language and methods of capitalism.

    It would be a pity to fail to be so radical by falsely relying on outdated terms.

    That being said be clear that i see myself as a socialist but I believe that unless socialists learn the tools of economics and become as au fait with discussing measures of creating wealth as how to distribute then they will fail and whats worse will simply become right wing in their thinking as the default position.

  • Jeremy

    Republicans must recognise that as the strategy for a united Ireland with a republican vision will be most successfully implemented via long term strategies that allow those goals to be realised do must the creation of a more just, equitable society require long, long term strategies, Thats not to say that immediate changes cannot be put into place.

    There are clear inconsistencies, and there always have been, in Sinn Fein over inequality in society. Gerry Adams has recently identified his role as a “nation builder” and this runs against the theme of redistribution in his party literature. If he wants to nation build then he will eventually realise that that means advocating inequality to stimulate economic success. He clearly hasn’t thought through his position.

    If your goal is the maximisation of Ireland as a nation then you’re in the Michael McDowell camp of advocacy of inequality. On the other hand, if your goal is ridding society of poverty and inequality then you’re in the social justice camp.

    Clearly Adams thinks he can ride two horses. This is mildly annoying for SDLP supporters like me, who have basically watched Adams steal our clothes on the basis of a lie that he can advocate equality and nation building. His lie is in effect his competitive advantage over the SDLP.

  • Greenflag

    jer ,

    ‘my emphasis was more on the equalising of the opportunity to create wealth ‘

    Fair enough . My experience in several different countries in business including the USA , Japan , Germany -some of the former Soviet States and the developing world is that no matter what country you are in there is at any one time a limited pool of wealth ‘creators’ i.e people willing and capable of starting a new business be it in a new hi tech field or in any traditional business area . I believe that this ‘limitation’ has more to do with the objective economic facts within any society at a particular time and it’s economic and political relationship with surrounding societies than anything else . Mostly these ‘facts’ are not changeable within a short time frame unless there are exceptional events which turn the economic or political order upside down . We may well be in the midst of one of these ‘exceptional ‘ events right now 🙁 Still hard to discern the wood from the trees .

    Any society can either encourage such people or drive them away . Communist countries drove them away and some socialist societies -i.e public sector dominant make it extremely difficult for many of these people -not all though – to compete on favourable terms with the public sector in terms of wages , benefits etc etc .

    What you state about the USA in the 1950’s and 60’s is basically correct although for minority African Americans the picture was of course less rosy .

    The idea of rowing back to the world as it was pre Reaganomics is I’m afraid wishful thinking although as an interim objective it has some merits . You can however never really go back . The world economy has radically changed since 1980 with much of that change brought about by you guessed it ‘reaganomics ‘. When the Romans left Britain in the 5th century AD -living standards dropped but never went back to pre Roman levels but then neither did they materially rise very much for the bulk of the population until perhaps the 17th century . Progress is not guaranteed nowhere.

    There are IMO certain areas in a modern econmy which just do not fit efficiently into what we understand as the ‘free market’ . One is health care and the other is education . For a modern society to have any chance of competing in the global economy and remaining politically stable at the same time there has to be government control /regulation or large scale involvement in these areas . Does this make me a socialist or a pragmatist ? I see myself as the latter for what it’s worth .

    The western world as we know it may have to face the ‘unthinkable ‘ i.e declining living standards for a generation until the rest of the world catches up to where we are falling ? Some optimists assume that such a process can occur without a world war or proxy wars between resource rich states and capital rich states etc ? Perhaos -although ironically a more widespread distribution of nuclear weapons may in such a situation be more of a safeguard than a peril ?

    Sinn Fein are in a more precarious position particularly in the Republic given the number of other parties that subscribe to ‘general ‘ Irish nationalism and the fact that FF is described as centre left -FG as centre right and Labour as Left with the Greens as occupying both political wings seemingly simultaneously .

    No easy options for SF in the Republic I’m afraid . But then there never were . The only real hope for SF was for the Northern Unionists to go ‘ballistic ‘ during the ‘troubles ‘ and bring on an island wide civil war which probably would have qualified as an ‘exceptional ‘ event .

  • Greenflag


    ‘I actually meant just that they make sure their economic policy is as believable / workable as those of other left-wing parties.’

    As of now I’m having some difficulty in finding any economic policies be they of the left or right as credible as they once might have appeared 🙁 . I get the feeling that the ‘experts ‘ are all in the air on a wing and a prayer and pleading with the God Of Chaos for a safe landing 😉

    Economic change is now moving much faster than societal change and in this new faster than fast internet globalised world economy the politicians and their public sector social and economic policy advisors and experts have fallen further behind than eever before. . We have seen this in the ‘meltdown’ on Wall St and we continue to see it as the former heads of financial agencies are fired or are resigning because they can no longer appear ‘credible ‘ in the light of recent economic revelations .

    New paradigm and all that . But there is no going back . There is nothing to go back to 🙁 It’s either been outsourced or it’s obsolescent.

  • slug

    Very good discussion folks.

  • Chris Donnelly

    I agree.

    a republicanism which accepts and seeks to accomodate the British identity of unionism within a united Ireland
    What exactly does this mean?
    Please be specific.

    I’ll try my best.
    Republicans- and nationalists- should continue to not only seek to persuade unionists and others to agree with a united Ireland framework for the future, but also in the process articulate a vision of an all-Ireland state which accomodates the unionist identity.

    This can- and has- been done to date by embracing power-sharing on local councils controlled by nationalists, as well as through the considerably more progressive attitude of nationalists in general to the display of flags and emblems of both traditions within civic buildings- Sinn Fein having stole a march on the SDLP with the ‘Equality of Neutrality’ policy in this regard.

    Forming relationships with loyalists at grassroots level has been an important development, which is vital to not only reducing sectarian tensions at interface level but also fostering a culture of respect from which new alliances may be forged on all sorts of issues.

    Attitudes to the Loyal Orders have changed significantly in recent years, with republican leaders in speeches after speeches defending the rights of the Loyal Orders to promote their culture- though republicans are correct to avoid shirking their responsibility in condemning and speaking out against the more sectarian excesses of those organisations. It’s a balance which has, of course, been aided by the fact that, post-Drumcree, the Loyal Orders have been reduced in terms of status and influence.

    An all-Ireland state, to my mind, would emerge from a constitutional convention which would need to provide firm guarantees as to the rights and national entitlements of unionists as British citizens; these rights would have to involve (here I’m speculating) continued Commonwealth status for the northern state (for I am convinced an all-Ireland state would need to be federalist) as well as perhaps issues such as House of Lords representation (that’ll probably be an elected chamber by then….) and a continuation of what should by then be a. almost universally accepted practice of flying the flags of both national communities from civic buildings in the northern state.

    Just some of my thoughts…

  • runciter

    I’ll try my best.

    Thank you for taking to time to reply Chris.

    Most of what you suggest seems to amount to allowing current protections to continue (within the 6 counties) after unification – which seems reasonable.

    Interestingly, your proposal for a “federalist” solution echoes the SDLP policy of maintaining a devolved assembly post-unification.

    Does SF have a similar policy? Are you aware of any internal discussion on the matter?

  • graduate

    I’ve read this debate and the debate started by Mick on the aspirations of the Conservatives in NI and the thing that has struck me most is that many people recognise the need for all our political parties to restructure themselves for a new set of circumstances. Maybe this has been precipitated by the Tories arrival on the scene or maybe the parties were moving that way anyway. The level of debate and the willingness to debate in both these threads has been high and actually gives me some hope for the future of politics here. It’s been curious that the DUP have been fairly silent on this issue- maybe they don’t feel a need to change, in which case I think they’ll have problems sooner rather than later.

  • Driftwood

    Can anyone tell me what SF’s position is on extending the 1967 Abortion act to Northern Ireland?

  • Ulsters my homeland

    “[i]We need less of the religious head-bangers.”[/i]

    Posted by Percy

    I can’t believe it, I may agree with a shinner on something, but I’m afraid his words are empty with no real commitment.

    If, according to Percy, we need less religious head-bangers, why does his fellow shinners need to use these religious head-bangers as intermediaries for decommissioning, as support in pushing through education policies and support in making dieters into policital hunger strikers?

    Why do the likes of Percy talk through both sides of his mouth?

    The fact is, Percy and his band of political headbangers have no intention of getting rid of the religious headbangers, because without the Priests, Percy and his band of Gerry men wouldn’t have got so far.

  • Mack

    Driftwood – Contrary to my earlier statement above, it looks like they are opposed to abortion and the extention of that act.

    When did that change? I remember nearly always thinking they were pro-choice.

  • Jer

    Runciter and CD,

    A United Ireland might well be united in the same sense as the United Kingdom is (or more aptly was) a United entity.
    The Northern Assembly is not going anywhere. Those who imagine a unified single entity governed as a Republic from Dublin are not going to see that happen in the first instance. However that does not mean Republicans cannot create the type of Republic envisioned while waiting for the Republic tag to be amended.


    I dont believe the Tory link up has had an effect. Althouhg I note that thats covered on another thread and will use that to discuss further.


    I understood that all parties in the north of the island were unified in opposition when a recent effort was made to allow abortion. While maybe looking only at issues that affect SF’s future growth and moulding into a fit for purpose party I would believe that abortion is not an issue they will need to focus on either to broaden their appeal to voters or to secure their current base of voters

  • Greenflag

    runciter ,

    ‘your (jer’s)proposal for a “federalist” solution echoes the SDLP policy of maintaining a devolved assembly post-unification.’

    Ireland is too small a country to have a federation . We already have 166 TD’s in the Dail , 104 in the Stormont Assembly which is 270 public representatives for 6 million people . Britain has 636 ? for ten times the population . In addition NI has reprentatives at Westminster and Strasbourg and Dublin also has European representation .

    There won’t ever be a UI until such time as Northern Ireland’s nationalists outnumber Northern Unionists by a significant margin and only then if the latter accept such a solution peacefully which is not certain .

    In the event of any UI the particular interests of those of the Unionist persuasion can be catered for by Senate representation . Otherwise it’s Dublin rule -end of story .

    There is always ‘repartition’ of course which may suit most Unionists especially those in the east of the province .

    But the Irish electorate (Republic ) will not put up with the ‘convolutions ‘ of forced power sharing . The Northern Ireland electorate know they have’nt much choice – political ‘beggars’ just like their economic equivalents don’t get to choose the menu .

  • Mack


    Ireland is too small a country to have a federation

    I don’t see it that way. You are not talking hypotheticals here – both states currently exist. Northern Ireland would need to pay it’s own way, but given it’s wage competitivenes, and the Irish tax structure, FDI attractiveness I think that is acheivable.

    I would disagree with a federal structure however, until the Northerners had proven themselves I do not think that the Northern Irish executive could be co-equal in determining foreign policy, shared fiscal policy, etc.

    Northern Ireland could remain devolved as it is now, albeit with scope for far more influence within the Dail and autonomy than it has now within the UK.


    I’ve been thinking about this more since you and Dave keep brining it up. I have no personal desire to see people who do not wish to be members of the Irish state subsumed into it against their will. No desire to see the Tricolour hoisted in Carrickfergus, for example.

    I suspect some form of repartition is inevitable, United Ireland or not. What I would hope for, is if Unionists were unhappy within a United Ireland that a largely autonomous, non-contiguous British Authority could be carved out of Northern Ireland for them. So that the Ulster British could live culturally (& politically) independent of the Irish state (while still benefiting from it’s tax structures, FDI etc).
    In order for the area to be non-contiguous friendly relations would be essential (which is essentially the pay-off, you live in a nominal United Ireland, but yet West of the Bann Unionists get autonomy). As the British Authority and Northern Ireland would be inter-dependent in terms of the provision of infrastructure and public services. The British Authority could have it’s own legislature, executive, judicary (structured according to it’s own choosing), but in order to keep relations close would still be entitled to send representatives to the Northern Irish assembly, Dail and perhaps also Westminister.

  • Jer

    Hi Greenflag,

    Federalism was Chris’ mention but I believe that its going to be the way forward.
    A united Ireland will exist when both parts of Ireland are working in a close fashion on macro issues. As it is there is already Dublin investment in the north regarding transport etc.
    It may not be explcitly a federalist relationship and for a while the country may be defacto united while the north continues to be part of the UK. By that I mean that such a close working relationship may exist that the majority of decisions by both execs are on an agreed basis. This gets very close to being a United Ireland while the nationalsist process of normalising Irish cultural expression into the fabric of life in the north will create a more unified island culturally. Thats not to say Unionists will become Irish speakers (though some will) but that they may no longer regard it as politicised.

    To my mind the two states in this island will intermesh to such a degree that de facto unification will precede by many years the actual legal change.

    I see the North continuing to have its own assembly and continuing to remain for many years in the UK political entity while more and more becoming part of the Irish cultural and political sphere.

    Maybe this is the brilliance of the current approach. Create the Republic first and then do the paperwork rather than the older method of get the legal change first and then figure out what type of republic to build. One just happens organically and the other requires you to bang heads. Guess which is working.

  • Greenflag

    Mack ,

    ‘Northern Ireland would need to pay it’s own way’

    Good luck . They haven’t in over 80 years of ‘self government ‘ No matter which way you cut the cake the area is likely to be a financial burden on whichever state it’s a part of for some considerable time into the future .

    ‘but given it’s wage competitivenes, and the Irish tax structure, FDI attractiveness I think that is acheivable.’

    Perhaps in time but right now we are talking about a public sector hooked junkie state. Given the present economic outlook thoughts of any ‘economic moves ‘ to less public sector dependence are likely to fall on deaf ears .

    ‘So that the Ulster British could live culturally (& politically) independent of the Irish state (while still benefiting from it’s tax structures, FDI etc).’

    Normally Mack I have the highest respect for your contributions but here you have gone out on a limb of political generosity and institutional convolutions which beggars the imagination 😉

    I am not a fan of ‘fudge’ generally but realise that sometimes a certain amount is necessary to get from point A to point B which is why I disagree with the standard political high moralists of anti SF punditry here on SOT. But there is more than a fudge too far in your approach well meant though it be .

    I mean

    ‘still be entitled to send representatives to the Northern Irish assembly, Dail and perhaps also Westminister. ‘

    As it is they’re having enough trouble electing the requisite representative material for Stormont never mind sending any further scarce humans with brains that can think straight to Westminster or Dublin or elsewhere .

    Keep it simple would be my view . If repartition is inevitable then make sure that it’s not left just to the Unionists and Nationalist/Republicans in NI to administer . Bring in the UN and or EU and have both sovereign governments involved in maintainence of public order on both sides of any potential new border .

    I’d imagine that after a new ‘repartition’ we’d all settle down to business as usual with just the border smugglers being discomfited by having to move their operations 25 miles further north .

    And if Mr Brown brings in the Euro that’ll put an end to that loophole for tax evasion gain to a large extent anyway .

  • Greenflag

    Jer ,

    ‘One just happens organically and the other requires you to bang heads. Guess which is working. ‘

    Reminds me of when the man was asked if life was worth living and he replied ‘ it depends on the liver ‘

    Likewise your comment above depends on the organ being ‘transferred ‘ ‘ In it’s present state it’s likely to be rejected by any new host body . It’s already been ‘rejected’ as a kind of appendix in waiting by it’s present host body (UK)

    But your analysis may be right at the end of the day . It would not be the first time that we Irish got things right arse backwards having screwed up with the original traditional approach ?

    As of 2009 most people on this island are not looking at a UI future or otehrwise . They’re wondering whether the USA economy under it’s new President Obama will ‘restore ‘ confidence and drag the western world out of it’s present malaise .

  • FewsOrange

    Ireland is too small a country to have a federation

    Switzerland has a population of about 7.5 million and has a highly decentralised federal structure.
    Of the 26 cantons (which have a high degree of autonomy) 22 have a population less than 0.5 million.

  • Mack


    you have gone out on a limb of political generosity and institutional convolutions which beggars the imagination 😉

    It’s not political genorisity – though it might be viewed as such from a northern perspective. Ireland (Republic) is successful because it is homogenously Irish – everyone is pulling together for the state.

    The last thing we need is to be distracted with in-fighting or security concerns. So I was thinking of a way of parcelling up the problem of those who don’t want to be in the state.

    This kind of thing would only apply if Unionists refused to be accododated within a United Ireland. I don’t think the Irish state needs to be contaminated with the Northern conflict.

    The problem with real repartition – as opposed to an autonomous internal entity – is that the populations are intermingled and infrastructure resources are intermingled. The border would have to be contiguous and the states self-sustaining. This would mean large numbers would be painfully trapped in states they detested. History rhyming, no?
    South Down (and by extension South Armagh, presumably) were included in Northern Ireland because Spelga Dam was a critical infrastructure resource, essential for Belfast’s needs.

  • Greenflag

    Few oranges

    ‘Switzerland has’

    Lesson 1: Ireland is not Switzerland.

    Lesson 2 : We are not surrounded by Germany , France nor Italy .

    Lesson 3: We speak English – some Irish and rumour has it that Ulster Scots is spoken by a few people .

    Lesson 4: We do not have a 400 year old tradition of neutrality which is respected worldwide .

    Lesson 5: The Swiss are prepared and have the resources to defend themselves militarily . We Irish would rather pretend we do but deep down we expect the Brits and Americans to come to our aid if the worst comes to worst and not just in the event of an unlikely invasion but in the event of a collapse of political and economic order within the State should our IDF not be up to the job .

  • Greenflag

    Mack ,

    ‘Ireland (Republic) is successful because it is homogenously Irish – everyone is pulling together for the state. ‘

    Eh ? What’s with this homogeneous bit . Last time I checked the barman at a local pub was from Shanghai , the Lithuanian sales rep still works at Woodie’s and Polish is still spken and heard more often in the streets of Dublin than Irish . Some 10 to 20 % of the population here are non Irish and that includes a fair number of English .

    As for everybody ‘pulling ‘ together ? Right now it seems that we’re about to pull apart i.e the social partnership bit I mean . When it comes to the wall as far as dosh is concerned the Irish just like everybody else rally first to who has the gold and the devil take the hindmost . Call it practical financial self patriotism if you like .

    ‘South Down (and by extension South Armagh, presumably) were included in Northern Ireland because Spelga Dam was a critical infrastructure resource, essential for Belfast’s needs.’

    And Fermanagh was included because Lord Brookeborough had his farm/castle there and it’s location proved beneficial for his cattle smuggling operation in later years . Best financial investment he ever made i.e the border 😉

    ‘This would mean large numbers would be painfully trapped in states they detested. ‘

    Not at all . The word ‘detest’ is a bit strong . Most NI nationalists may not be delirious over the present NI State but if it was all that detestable would they continue to live there if all it takes to leave is to hop on a plane or ferry or drive 50 miles south ? The same would be the case in the event of a UI for many Unionists . Of course some would leave at the mere prospect of a UI but most would stay put and make the best of it exchanging former ‘king of the castle ‘ status for ‘sullen ‘ aggrieved minority. In any event from a perusal at a possible ‘repartition ‘ some time ago I think that it could be achieved with approx 96% of the population of the island getting to live in the State of their first choice . There would be a 150,000 minority of former Unionists in an enlarged Republic and approx 100,000 NI nationalists in a smaller predominantly Unionist State .

    And bot States would continue to trade across european borders , the sun would rise and set as usual whenever of course it could be seen from below the grey skies of the land that time forgot 😉

  • Ulsters my homeland

    give it up Greenflag. there’s time for other things.

  • FewsOrange

    Greenflag, thanks for the 5 interesting lessons, I am not sure which ones relate to Ireland’s size making it unsuitable for a federation.

  • Driftwood

    On the abortion issue, obviously SF seen its previous pro choice position not so long ago:

    Sinn Fein still destroy the lives of the innocent
    Sinn Fein’s annual conference at the weekend passed a motion demanded the Irish Constitution be changed to accommodate “a woman’s right to choose”. Sinn Fein also gave their support to the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) who are campaigning for the legalisation of abortion on demand throughout Ireland. In the past Sinn Fein have tried to cover up their support for abortion for the sake of political expediency. The use of ambiguous language allowed the grass roots to be conned into thinking that their anti-life Marxism was an illusion. Now it seems the mask has well and truly slipped.
    UK LifeLeague 28/02/06 an electoral liability.

    So it goes…

  • Mack


    I had thought about clarifying “homogenously Irish”, but then thought there wouldn’t be a need. I don’t mean ethnically – rather that the citizens of the state (Irish citizens by and large) and her additional residents support the state, in contrast to NI where a substantial minority opposed the state.

    That means we’re not wasting time and money chasing our tail and fighting shadows.

  • Greenflag

    few oranges ,

    ‘thanks for the 5 interesting lessons’

    No problem . If you don’t like them there’s more I can post for you if you feel the need 😉

    For the record – just in case you assume I’m anti Swiss – Northern Ireland is also not Belgium nor the Middle East.

  • Greenflag

    Mack ,

    I’m not into mental telepathy 🙂 If somebody writes homogeneous I take it to mean what it usually means . As you have explained it I can see your point more clearly .

    ‘That means we’re not wasting time and money chasing our tail and fighting shadows’

    Sadly I believe any involvement with NI is destined to include a lot of tail chasing and shadow fighting for as long into the future as one can see . With a shadow Assembly and an unwilling coalition of diametric opposites my assessment is that this mess of pottage will eventually cost more than it’s worth .

    Remember wise old Chinese saying –

    Touch black paint have black fingers .

    Update 2009

    Touch sectarian state get sectarian fingers !