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…

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty