An Insider’s view: Sinn Féin has become “bloated, slow and predictable…”

The excellent Sinn Fein – Keep Left blog has (see also Neil at The Beautiful Room) published a document prepared by Killian Forde and sent up to the leadership after the local elections in June last year… It was, we understand, completely ignored by the party’s leadership… Which is a shame for them, because instead of it remaining a private report, it has gone public…

In essence, he argues that the party is driven not by an independent party structure, but by a series powerful individuals… It looks like an earnest attempt to try and modernise the party from within. For his sins he is now being denounced as a careerist (which is Connolly House speak for anyone with talent, ambition and drive)…

On structure:

Sinn Féin, it appears to me, does not even have a basic organisational chart for employees, elected officials, candidates and cumman members to be able to refer to. The power and associated decision-making in the party lies with individuals not embedded structures.

This means that those seeking to question or contribute to decisions, policies or strategy have to try and negotiate through a maze of offices, titles, committees, working groups and individuals to try to get their voice heard. The structures that do exist have not the confidence to make decisions, meaning that even minor matters get funnelled up to a small amount of the same people in the party.

These people then end up with an effective veto on everything. This practice makes the party bloated, slow and predictable.

On personnel (or more accurately, internal clientelism):

People are routinely appointed to positions in the party with no experience in the role. This must end. In the period preceding the 2009 election we have had the appointment and employment of a Head of Publicity that has no experience in PR and as far as I know no specific experience on brand management or marketing. It also appears that the post was never advertised and the person selected was chosen for reasons unknown.

The Director of Elections appointed to oversee Mary Lou’s crucial European campaign had never even participated in any form in any election before, anywhere. Managerial appointments in Leinster House include people who have never managed people before. It appears that we have a reoccurring approach of training people “from the top”.

From now on all employment for posts must be publicly advertised and people interviewed for the post by members of the party with experience of HR interview skills.

Policy Development (an indication why Catriona Ruane ended up borrowing British direct rule minister’s cast offs rather than making up her own):

Policies are our tools and, still, our development of same is far too slow. Our response to the economic crisis was glacial. The bank guarantee happened in September, our economic policy was launched, way too late, in March or April.

My own experience trying to engage was irritating. I submitted a contribution to the Chairperson of the Economic Strategy Group who forwarded to the Secretary General. I never received any feedback from either and I know my paper was never distributed to other members of he Economic Strategy Group.

In short, the time I spent in researching and writing it was a complete and utter waste of my time. Time that I could have spent canvassing or organising my election.

I recommend that we need to look at policy development from two parts. One is by ensuring that the TDs and their PA’s are given the autonomy and trusted to issue statements and brief positions papers for public consumption in response to ever changing events and so compete in the publicity battle.

The policy development department needs to be allowed to develop their work and that work signed off rapidly.

An outdated and outmoded party culture:

Sinn Féin and republicans value loyalty and obedience, probably above any other virtue. This was an understandable position when the republican movement was at war. It has now become the greatest hindrance to us developing as a dynamic, interesting, vibrant, creative party.

There is little tolerance for dissenting opinions and nowhere for people to take those opinions. Criticism and accountability of the leadership has been discouraged for so long that simply put there is a culture of fear and misguided loyalty that militates against empowerment and people taking responsibility with their work and the development of the party.

Politics is about the battle of ideas. We need to facilitate and positively encourage the frank and open exchange of ideas. People need to be ambitious, hungry for positions and impatient for chance. Competition for candidatures need to be encouraged, policy should be developed to allow for a frank exchange of ideas.

The leadership of the party, both elected and those on the National officer board must decide what they want. Their style of operations and management are not appropriate and unhelpful if they really want the emergence, nurturing and development of new leadership and electoral talent.

Dublin Sinn Féin should endorse candidates to run for all A/C positions at the 2010 Ard Fheis. This gesture will send an important message to the ordinary party membership, namely that it is ok and normal for leadership positions to be contested.

Dublin Sinn Féin can play a positive role in influencing change in the party culture. The Dublin officer board can provide the leadership needed in our party so that it’s ‘corporate culture’ becomes one in which the vital checks and balances needed to keep the organisation fresh, vibrant and evolving are mainstreamed.

He finishes with bullet point recommendations (which gives a good estimation of just how deeply screwed the party is in Dublin at Oireachtas and council level):

  1. Contest a maximum of five constituencies in the next GE.
  2. Do not contest Dublin Central.
  3. Cumann who are not in areas selected for contesting the next GE are put into hibernation and the personnel redeployed to the target constituencies.
  4. Organise a convention and select candidate to stand in next years Dublin Mayoral Election by October 2009.
  5. Dublin Sinn Féin should encourage prospective candidates to put their name forward to ensure there is a healthy debate and competition internally for the Mayoral position.
  6. Ensure an experienced DOE is appointed by October 2009 for the Mayoral election.
  7. Provide appropriate targeted and tailored training for the candidates selected to run in the next GE.
  8. Monitor the employment of personnel to ensure that all posts are publicly advertised and the hiring process transparent and fair.
  9. Encourage the TDs offices to develop a quicker and more autonomous response to political developments.
  10. Allow policy sub committees to do their work and drafts to be presented to the membership, not the A/C or General Secretary’s office, first.
  11. Dublin SF should put forward candidates for all A/C positions for the 2010 Ard Fheis.
  12. Start challenging decision making by the national officer board, because it now seems obvious that no one else will.

This will no doubt be hard for some party followers to take. But it will also be familiar to those inside the party who have experienced the same kinds of irrational breaks and blocks imposed on their ideas and their progress within the party… More associated thoughts on this later…

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  • John O’Connell

    I think he was was actually in the wrong party.

    He must have believed the spin and thought that he was in the SDLP.

  • Garza

    Gerry Adams is killing the party in the south. Simples,

  • I’m surprised that this has been published on that website, and wouldn’t be surprised if someone was disciplined for publishing an internal document (although in fairness parts of it were published on another website by a Labour Party member, and its authorship was fairly obvious from the fact some of the same phrases appeared in his resignation statement). I’m tempted though to see this as a list of things keeping Forde from being as important as he’d like to be.

    Interesting too that he says it is powerful individuals and not embedded structures controlling things. Unless powerful individuals is a code for another embedded structure, this goes against a lot of people’s assumptions about that organisation.

    And Mick, shouldn’t it be number 44 rather than Connolly House seeing as this is a Dublin production? 😉

  • scruff

    This guy is going to feel right at home in the Labour Party and here’s why :
    An extraordinary meeting of the Administrative council was called in the 70’s ( they were almost weekly events then ) to ” save ” the party after a poor election result.
    Frank Cluskey was the leader. Before it started , it was noted that Michael D.Higgins ( one of the greatest debaters ever in Labour ) was missing.
    When Cluskey was asked where the comrade was , the reply was :
    ” Ah , Michael had to choose between a conference abroad about saving the planet and this meeting, he chose the easier option “

  • Henry94

    It’s good stuff and Sinn Fein should start thinking seriously about it. The Democratic Centralist model is completely out of date and is holding back the left. By the way it’s not just Sinn Fein. The SWP and the SP are both Leninists in terms of party structure.

    FF FG don’t have real democratic structures either but they do have a kind of informal consensus based system and enough TDs to make it kind of work.

    Sinn Fein should be a mass democratic party run from the bottom up for people who believe in the project of an all-Ireland republic. Talented people should flourish and thrive in its atmosphere. Trust the people.

  • Kensei

    With some of the earlier defections I felt they were more marxist elements that SF were always likely to shed, and probably had too. But this one is a complete disaster, because you have someone young, ambitious and who cared cared about the party forced out by neglect. Awful, awful, awful. That kind of complacency exposes issues that will eventually begin to hit home North too.

    Given they can’t get him back, they can at least try to take the lesson and look at some of the things said. Can’t see it though. The energy is just sapped right out of SF at the mo, and probably will be until Adams goes.

  • My own post which published excerpts from this document earlier today, and led to the publication of the full document can also be found at:

    It’s unfortunate that some people have responded to this by slagging off Labour, who aren’t at all relevant to this document. My views, as well as those of SF Keep Left and Slugger have sought to examine the issues raised in Killian Forde’s document, and I think any public debate should be focused on the viability or otherwise of the recommendations, or on the accuracy of the claims made therein.

  • Alias

    That isn’t so much a review of the party but a total damnation of it! What was he doing in the Shinners since he evidently didn’t belong in that party and obviously didn’t have a clue about the party when he joined it. I’m surprised that he lasted this longer after presenting that document to the party leadership.

  • Mick Fealty

    Alias, you are not reading the same document I am then.

    There is a difference between a policy critique and the problem of structure within a party. There’s virtually nothing in that document that talks about the politics.

    It’s all about the readiness of the party to do modern politics. It’s clearly a view from the limp end of the party in the south. But they seem to be of a piece with some of the endemic problems in Northern Ireland too.

  • For me (and again, I emphasise that I’m an outsider – members and activists within SF will naturally have a different view to mine), there are 4 key questions asked by this document:

    1. Should SF consider contesting only 4-6 constituencies in Dublin in order to better target resources?
    2. Should SF be contesting the Dublin mayoralty in 2010, and if so, how should the candidate be selected?
    3. Are SF employment practices appropriate (they are the only party in the south, if this document is true, who do not publicly advertise positions), and are suitably qualified candidates being chose to fill senior party positions?
    4. Does decision making by the national officer board need to be challenged by the membership or local organisations (ie – is power currently overly centralised, and is it appropriate to begin devolving some of this power to TDs, councillors and local members)?

    Of course, if SF members feel that the above 4 questions have been raised invalidly, and don’t represent challenges to their electoral prospects, they are free to dismiss the entire document. If not, they are 4 questions worthy of consideration.

  • Alias

    “Alias, you are not reading the same document I am then.”

    Obviously not. Which document did you read then?

    The one I read damned the party on every level, from the low quality of personnel to the modernity of policy, and from the structures which lack fitness for purpose to a culture that values blind obedience to the party above ability.

    [i]”Sinn Féin is an appalling run organisation. Its structures are opaque, its personnel management non-existent, there is little accountability on the senior leadership and people are appointed to important roles without any experience.”[/i]

    I could extract a dozen of these quotes from that short critique that basically describe the Shinners are being a bunch of dumb goons run by dumb goons for the benefit of the dumb goons at the top.

    Can he even mange to say one complimentary thing about the party? Not a bit of it. It is an utter damnation of it.

    In this instance the Shinners were quite correct to point out that he had joined the wrong party.

  • Alias

    Neil Ward, why would they bother? According to Forde they don’t even have a set of policies that are relevant. Why would anyone advance the electoral interests of a political party if its policies are irrelevant? There could be no purpose to the activity other than persuit of a career. The example he gave of the Shinners’ response to the banking crisis in Ireland really gives the game away. A party that produces too little too late would be destructive to a national interest, so they could only support it if their own selfish interest takes precedence over that national interest.

  • could someone fill in the names

  • Aldous Duke

    Most of these points made by Forde hint at some of the things which have been obvious for some time. Sinn Fein are not a modern political party and justify such centralist control by identifying themselves as a movement rather than a party, hence rewarding loyalty over talent or ability.

    I have given my vote to SF in the past, but have been reluctant to do so of late. I have frustratingly watched the conveyer belt of Unionism nurture political talent while Ogra stand out in the cold holding banners for Basques and commemorate dead Republicans. They are perfectly entitled to do so and I am not condemning such activities but it leaves young activists distracted from a political reality they should be training and being prepared for.

    Sinn Fein’s present electoral tactics may guarantee seats, but what use are they with ineffective occupants.