An attack on Sinn Fein and centralisation

Former Sinn Fein activist, and Slugger contributor – Eoin O Broin launching his second book on Sinn Fein and the Politics of Left Republicanism argues that the party’s insistence on discipline and loyalty must give way to decentralisation if it is to continue to expand its support base.

See article from Irish News.Sinn Fein ‘insistence on loyalty could cost votes’

By Bimpe Fatogun
17/02/09 Irish News

A LEADING Sinn Fein activist has said the party’s insistence on discipline and loyalty must give way to decentralisation if it is to continue to expand its support base.

Formerly the party’s director of European Affairs, Eoin O Broin yesterday launched his second book, Sinn Fein and the Politics of Left Republicanism.

In it, he addresses the future of a party which is arguably in a stronger position in the north than at any time in its history.

With the largest vote at the last assembly elections, second only to the DUP, Sinn Fein now controls three ministries in the power-sharing executive and occupies the position of deputy first minister.

Despite this, Mr O Broin, a former North Belfast councillor and national organiser of the party’s youth wing, warns his colleagues that the leftist tendency towards centralised control could cost it dear in future elections.

“Sinn Fein’s ideological and organisational history, and the experience of 70 years of [British] state repression and 30 years of armed conflict have all combined to create an organisation which is both highly centralised in its distribution of power and vertical in its structure of command,” he writes in the book.

“Discipline and loyalty are often more highly valued than critical debate and internal democracy.

“The advent of the peace process has created a degree of flexibility within the party.

“However, if we are to continue to expand and respond effectively to the changing political circumstances in which we find ourselves, we need to struggle towards a more decentralised and horizontal party structure.”

He advocates giving increased autonomy to the grassroots – long regarded as one of Sinn Fein’s strengths.

In recent years there has been criticism from within party ranks that Sinn Fein stifles internal debate.

In January 2006 veteran Co Derry republican John Kelly, who was opposed to the party’s support for policing reforms, co-wrote a letter with Brendan Hughes which claimed that the Sinn Fein leadership was attacking members who sought a debate on the issue.

He was among a number of high-profile members who left the party at that time because they believed it was too controlled by the chain of centralised powers.

Mr O Broin said he believed it was important for activists to remain engaged with the party.

“We need to equip activists with the ability and space for ongoing constructive critical reflection and to give real and meaningful ownership of the key political and strategic decisions to the activist base,” he writes.

“Sinn Fein is too small as an organisation to carry out the tasks we have set ourselves, and as an organisation we need to grow, in terms of activists, supporters and voters.

“This growth can only take place if we loosen our structures and decision-making procedures ensuring that Sinn Fein is truly a democratic, collective organisation of empowered activists working together for change.”

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