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.”

  • Vladimir Lenihan

    Eoin is not a former SF activist. He is a candidate in the upcoming 26-county local elections

    Whatever about the book’s content (and I was just given a copy to read by someone who was very underwhelmed by what it had to say), one must not forget that it would have been heavily ‘censored’/controlled by the ‘Movement’, just as Jim Monaghan’s was. Go figure then. Say’s a lot about his appeal to see the limits of the strictures of (IRA) ‘loyalty’ and ‘discipline’

  • fair_deal

    I thought this was an interesting quote from the Irish Times coverage re sinn fein and the workers party

    “Sinn Féin has been one of the central architects of the peace process and is increasingly setting the terms of political debate in Ireland north and south. Despite this, the party remains much misunderstood and often misrepresented. It is the left republican tradition started by Connolly and continued by Mellows, Gilmore, O’Donnell, the Republican Congress, Clann na Poblachta and even the Workers’ Party to which we belong.”

  • picador

    “…and even the Workers’ Party to which we belong.”

    Does this mean they are to rehabilitate the Stickies. I suppose it is the least they could do after first shooting them and then, some years later, adopting their ideas. Which ‘stage’ are we in at the minute?

    ‘Left republicanism’ is only one component of SF. Some would say that fascism comes under the Provo umbrella too. When does the Truth Commission get under way?

  • An fhirinne gharbh

    Eoin doesn’t seem to realise that dislike of Sinn Fein is a cultural given among much of Ireland’s middle class – in the South at least. It doesn’t matter how the party tweaks, disloads or denies its past and present ideology; it is simply untouchable for a vast majority of people.

  • An fhirinne gharbh

    … it is simply untouchable for a vast majority of people.

    Ironically, all southern parties are untouchable to the majority! When did any party ever get over 50% support? I think most people dislike Labour, most FGers dislike FF, and vice-versa, and almost everyone disliked the PDs.

    So SF is in a similar boat (though their transfer-repelling skills may exceed even the PDs).

  • An fhirinne gharbh

    I’m not so sure, Horseman. I know many people who have voted in different ways in elections – this time for Labour, this time for the Greens. I admit that the great FF / FG divide remains but the point is this: a vast majority of middle-class people will never even consider voting for Sinn Fein – no matter what version is placed before them. And it’s not just the middle class: what can we say of a left-wing protest party that can’t significantly increase its poll ratings at a time when the poor are getting a kicking?

  • picador

    Ironic, that it took the Provos to sell partition to southern voters.

  • An fhirinne gharbh,

    I accept that SF may be even less popular than most other parties (bar the Greens, maybe), but remember how untouchable the Workers Party were? A few metamorphoses later and Eamonn Gilmore is head of the Labour Party, with a serious shout at power!

    Politics is a very fickle business, and if SF re-invent themselves in the right way at the right time (and hire a bloody economist!) they might just tap into something. Or, more likely, like the WP, their name and/or personalities might change, but their core ideas become mainstream – or at least less untouchable.

  • veritas

    Workers party core ideas became mainstream!

    What, the ideas that led to numerous splits, that led to all their TD`S bar one leaving to form a wholly DEMOCRATIC,open party, free of centralized, Stalinist control. Free of links to armed thugs and criminals!

    Anyone with any credible “core ideas” had to leave the sticks and as for the assertion that the sticks had or have any ideas…please don`t make me laugh.

    They`ve held on their guns, their criminality, their social clubs and bars and yes they are untouchable and I wonder why?

  • picador


    You seem to have a chronic case of Stickie knee-jerk. Did they shoot you in the leg or something?