Killian Forde and the Moguls of Irish politics

The departure/defection/eloping of Cllr Killian Forde from Sinn Fein to the Labour party appears to be causing considerably more discussion that the earlier leavings of Christy Burke or Louise Minihan.

While this is perhaps because he has left and joined another party, it is also possibly because it was more about policy and the party’s overall direction rather than what was happening on the ground in particular wards or constituencies. We’re all aware that Christy Burke was less than impressed with the shenanigans around the Dublin Central by-election and the party’s support or not of his efforts given that they still favoured the eventual election of Mary Lou McDonald come the general election. Sinn Fein made a major mistake in 2004 in overselling the level of service that part time cllrs could be reasonable expected to deliver – for all the talk that there is of what cllr are paid, it is not a full time position. It was never designed to be as part of our democrat institutions. There is a considerable disconnect between the life of the SF activist in the north who see nothing wrong with committing yourself full-time for a roughly minimum wage return. If you were prepared to spend time in prison away from your family and friends as some were, then living on the minimum wage serving your community appears to be little enough of a sacrifice. Yet in the south that mindset doesn’t exist in large part because the south has not been shaped in the same way as the north by the situation there. Here a person embarking on political involvement not unreasonably expects they will still be able to hold down a proper job in order to be able to provide for a family and to spend time with them. Their expectations would be that a few evenings per week they will have meetings or canvassing, occasionally out during the daytime, and then responding to constituent’s queries within a reasonable period, not to provide people with a free advice service 24/7 and be out every evening in all weathers.

That in part is why there have been so many resignations as public reps within SF, too many found that the level of work expected from them by the higher ups in the party (who are mostly northern and mostly full-time) was not compatible with actually being ordinary members of the southern electorate that they were tasked with representing. And this burnout and high turnover hurt the party in 2009.

But that isn’t the driver behind Killian Forde’s departure, in his case it appears that the problem was different but similarly systemic. The way in which SF goes about the business of its politics is what caused him to leave, in essence SF operates more like FF with almost all the decision making power in all areas being exercised by a few at the top and with little room for input from those who were not in favour with the leadership. In other words, it’s political nepotism. So wrapped up in the long term and personality driven nature of the republican end of project of the peace process the party appears unable to separate a criticism from the individual making the criticism, or the policy being criticised from the person who has advocated it. And that has hampered the party as it tries to come to terms with the fact that the peace process is for many people eaten bread and that other more mundane struggles still exist, like getting a job and making sure that your child can access a good education or health care.

This isn’t a problem unique to SF of course, though it appears more marked at this stage within that organisation. I’ve had my own views for some time on the lack of opportunities for people who are not public reps to have a formal input into the development and review of party policy and I’ve repeated those views to any within my party who will listen. I’m not blind to the real challenges involved in convincing the public of ideas nor to the limitations that there must of necessity be given that it is the elected representatives that must be able to make the case for the advancement of a particular policy platform. After all, it would be completely wrong to compel public reps to argue for policies they do not believe in or have a hand in shaping. But I would hold that we should have a better balance towards involving the members of political parties in decisions about the direction of the parties they are members of and which they do so much to sustain.

I don’t believe nor do I claim that we in Fine Gael have the balance quite right in that regard, but it would seem that SF have the balance completely wrong in the other direction with people, who are not answerable or accountable to the electorate and thus not as in touch with ordinary people, in positions of being in charge of policy formulation and more importantly in the decision making to adopt specific policies. They are like the movie moguls of old, hidden from the view of the paying public but always active behind the scenes shaping what parts the actors get and deciding who will work in this town again. Politics should be the most open and transparent of fields, with people rising and falling by success of the decisions they make and the ideas they create. To belabour the movie comparison still further we need fewer moguls and more auteurs. We need individuals who will present their own original ideas that can be shaped and revised by debate and implementation and who will be rewarded with more opportunities if those ideas deliver for the public. And we need fewer people who merely act as the messengers presenting the ideas of others, disowning responsibility for those ideas that are found wanting, but embracing after the fact those that succeed.

I wouldn’t make the presumption of describing Killian Forde as a friend, though I’ve always found him courteous we’d have significant differences of opinion about the political direction of the country. That is likely to continue to be the case but I’ve found him to be someone that it’s possible to debate political points with because he was interested in the content of politics, unlike some in Irish politics he is able to listen to the arguments put forward by others. This is done, I believe, with a view that I share that only by genuinely listening to others that you can properly find the flaws in their arguments. I wish him well in his future within the Labour party and look forward to having the opportunity at some point of again testing my ideas against his ideas. Because politics is primarily about ideas, not personalities.

  • Paul Doran

    I think the picture is apt for this partiuclar
    chapie.I would agree with a lot of what you say.

    The Labour Party a party of the left.Whatever enxt

  • slug

    I wonder if that photo of Killian yawning was taken during one of Gerry Adams’ speeches?

  • Dixie Elliott

    2.I wonder if that photo of Killian yawning was taken during one of Gerry Adams’ speeches?

    Posted by slug on Jan 11, 2010 @ 05:04 PM

    Perhaps…..Or?

    http://www.pbpulse.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/bodysnatchers1.jpg

  • Chris Donnelly

    An excellent analysis, Dan.

  • Marcionite

    I once worked with a Sinn Fein activist in Tyrone in the early 90s who confessed to admiring Maggie Thatcher’s economic policies. I knew many in SF whose only interest was a united Ireland.

    They had no idea or vision for what that actually meant. I know some did but only a few. Their manifestoes only existed because that’s what parties have to do before elections, a mere fig leaf for a party whose literature consists of slogans and fantasy.

    Mr Forde sounds like he is a true democrat and lover of free expression and a socialist. He and his ilk in the South were probably initially taken in by the Shinners’ packaging as revolutionary and street. SF in it’s modern form is a clever precocious child of the northern civil rights movement. Chucky comes to mind, no pun intended.

    Funny how Labour is now a home for ex Stickies like Liz McManus and Priontious De Rossa and ex Provisional Shinners like Killian Forde and others. Have they all renounced without equivocation the use of violence for if not, could Labour’s reputation as a constitutional party be called into question? If I were a long time serving Labour man, i’d b concerned by the influx and it’s influence.

    SF can never mature unless it retires its old warhorse leadership and replace it with people without personal or familial contact with PIRA.

  • JD

    “Sinn Fein made a major mistake in 2004 in overselling the level of service that part time cllrs could be reasonable expected to deliver – for all the talk that there is of what cllr are paid, it is not a full time position. It was never designed to be as part of our democrat institutions”

    That is true, however the problem pre-dates this. The growth of Sinn Fein in the south before 2004 had been based on a full time volunteer structure being applied to clientelist politics in target constituencies and the breakthroughs at the 1999 local election and the 2002 general election happened on the back of this. The capacity of the then republican movement to deliver on a clientelist basis even rivaled Fianna Fail in the constituencies concerned.

    It wasn’t all parish pump. The dynamism pulled in a certain amount of young idealists and these formed the basis candidate slate for an extremely successful result in the 2004 locals. The psephologists and pollsters pointed to the skewed nature of nature of Sinn Fein base. A disproportionate amount of it was young male working class, like most of their new cllrs on Dublin City council. There’s nothing wrong with that, however a better age spread would have been better able to absorb the attrition rate of young public reps who find the role inhibits their settling down, starting a family and putting a roof over their head.

    I believe the Sinn Fein leadership conscious of the polling evidence of the nature of their vote drew the wrong conclusion. Rather than examining the needs of supporting their new cllrs and taking their lead in Dublin they over promoted Mary Lou McDonald’s because she was neither male or working class. Rather than allow Sinn Fein organically grow in Dublin the Northern Leadership imposed Mary Lou on the Dublin organisation with the disastrous results in Dublin Central.

    When the final act of decommissioning came it was met largely with indifference in the South, there was no groundswell of grateful closet Sinn Fein voters. The full time volunteer infrastructure vanished and party message became erratic and contradictory.

    In 2006 when the St Andrew’s agreement was signed Sinn Fein became a party of government in the North and set about making itself a party of government in the South angling to become Fianna Fail’s partner in Dublin even thought it cut against the grain of their hard won new support built on being a party of protest.

    In 2007 that illusion was shattered at the Dail election the new strategy was an alliance of the Left. Labour was happy to cut a deal to win two extra seats in the Senate but since then Sinn Fein in policy terms has been following in Labour’s wake, with Labour ignoring calls for an alliance. If anything Labour has learnt from their disastrous alliance with Fine Gael in 2007 by exploiting Sinn Fein’s subordinate role.

    In 2009 a revealing interview on Vincent Browne’s election results programme on TV3, Browne asked Mary Lou to outline the policy differences between Sinn Fein and Labour (with the exception of the priority of Irish Unity). Mary Lou stared blankly at the camera and grinned – the over promoted party Vice President was at sea and at present that is where Sinn Fein is in the South

    In 2010 Sinn Fein need to defend their success in the North. If the Euro election were replicated they would be the largest party of government. How they retain that while keeping the credibility of their all Ireland aspirations becomes ever more difficult.

    At present with the exception of the emphasis on Irish Unity why should not someone join the larger Labour Party in the South?

    If they transplant their catch all nature to the South, with the exception of the emphasis on Irish Unity why should not someone join the larger Fianna Fail in the South?

    If the SDLP do break up or re-align both Labour and Fianna Fail will become all Ireland Parties and the Sinn Fein’s unique selling point then is that it abstains from Westminster and was the war party from 1970-94. Sinn Fein’s superior organisation in the six counties will sustain them as will the section of the electorate that will stand by them for being war party from 1970-94 – nobody else can challenge them for that constituency.

    If Sinn Fein eventually fall back on differentiating themselves as having been the war party from 1970-94 they’ve made the same mistake as the SDLP did the past ten years, looking backwards pointing to what they were not to where they want to lead us.

  • scruff

    Marcionite, I think the days of worrying about where McManus and de Rossa stand in relation to the use of violence are long gone. They’ve more than shaken off the past. Not too sure about this new guy but he seems to be amongst the new generation of shinners for whom the ” conflict ” was history.

    There are many SF’ers in the South as well who still struggle to look beyond the ” conflict “, as support for it was their sole position as party members.

  • Marcionite

    Scruff, fair point on De Rossa and McManus but how do they get on with ex SF members ? Anyway, if Labour & FF organise in the North, we in the North be unique in the world as having two sets of national politics bring played out in the same territory. Interesting for psephologists etc but to which jurisdiction do they give allegiance to if a conflict between the jurisdictions clash?

    I think the parties in the North should agree to disband and regroup along left/right wing lines with the constituonal issue being a free-vote matter. A referendum should be held every 20 years. The current arrangement if every 10 years is too destabilising. It too regular in that it promotes the flag issue to too high a position in the roster.

    There’s no nationalist or unionist way of organising bin collections. Which party should a monetarist Irish nationalist belong to? Where does a socialist secular unionist belong to? The current party system in the North stunts the growth and shape of political ambition, discourse, participation and acheivement.

  • JD

    ” if Labour & FF organise in the North, we in the North be unique in the world as having two sets of national politics bring played out in the same territory. Interesting for psephologists etc but to which jurisdiction do they give allegiance to if a conflict between the jurisdictions clash?”

    In practice I doubt it would work like that. Sinn Fein has/had a tendancy to try pretend the border isn’t there in how they’re organised. The shortcoming of this was exposed in how Gerry Adams screwed up in the Dail election when his lack of knowledge of the South undermined the SF campaign.

    Stickie lead Irish Labour is most likely to link with British Labour and the Dublin leadership taking a very hands off approach. I imagine there would be a Belfast leadership plugged into UK debates about public services and tax and spend – don’t expect Eamon Gilmore to be knocking around the six counties much

    Fianna Fail worked with the SDLP for years. It is hard to see how a Northern FF would not be the SDLP with a name change still doing its own thing, but under the banner of DeV’s party. I suspect that Fianna Fail and the Tories would be very congenial bedfellows with Fianna Fail’s private health care and “tough” budgets being the envy of the Tory right.

    On another thread it was pointed out that Alisdair McDonnell in not committed to the SDLP’s link to the Party of European Socialists and might join the European Liberals with Fianna Fail and the Alliance Party.

    Alasdair has already been hawking around the idea of a “centrist” SDLP-AP-UUP alliance. In practice this might well be Fianna Fail-AP-Tory alliance (Tories and Lib Dems?).

    Sinn Fein, DUP & TUV still exist outside this orbit, but the main parties of government in London and Dublin might well be very pragmatic on policy and coalition in a way the existing Belfast centred parties are not.

    However maybe the “centre” will muddle on as they are? We seem to prefare deadlock.

  • Henry94

    JD

    In practice I doubt it would work like that. Sinn Fein has/had a tendancy to try pretend the border isn’t there in how they’re organised.

    A key (but not the only) problem is that they do not have a candidate for Taoiseach in the south. They have Martain McGuinness in the Assembly but have yet to identify a leader in the Dail. That is the person who should be taking part in the debates.

    Maybe they were waiting to get Mary Lou elected but it backfired badly.

    The President of Sinn Fein’s role should be to represent and symbolize the unity of the party across the nation while leaving the politics of the Assembly and the Dail to the leaders in the two houses.

    I do have to recall for the record that people said Adams was out of touch on the economy during that debate. But events have since proved that the most deluded and out of touch person in the room was the Minister Michael McDowell of the now defunct PDs.