“he knew who really held the power in the party…”

BBC NI political editor Mark Devenport notes some lines of interest from former Sinn Féin MLA, Billy Leonard’s memoir, “Towards a United Ireland – an uncompleted journey”.  From Mark Devenport’s blog

The memoir is revealing on the discussions within Sinn Fein at the time of the Northern Bank robbery and the murder of Robert McCartney and, as he told me on Inside Politics, Mr Leonard believes the IRA’s tentacles still run through the party.

He writes that “when the IRA was finally disbanded in September 2008, the one remaining link that kept many in the party only relatively happy was the fact that the army council stayed in place”.

He continues that one MLA “expressed to me in very open terms that he knew who really held the power in the party, and accepted that this was the best way to get on with the work”.

In essence he knew that “the elected representatives didn’t hold the real power, rather it was held by a blend of ard chomhairle and army council members: everyone was meant to be equal but in classical terms some were more equal than others.”

Worth noting, given Mick’s recent post, that Billy Leonard left the party after what we were told was a “disagreement over his support arrangements“.  [Sandra McLelland, call your office! – Ed]  Indeed.

It’s also worth looking back at former Dublin Councillor Killian Forde’s criticism of the party leadership, made before he too left the party.

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.

Coincidentally, the party’s internal hierarchy features in Brian Feeney’s op-ed in todays Irish News.  He’s concerned at Sinn Féin’s apparent “preferential treatment for former IRA members”.

Of course there’s jiggery-pokery in all parties, especially at selection conventions but are Sinn Féin selection conventions just for the optics?  There’s no evidence it’s a democratic process.  Everyone seems to know beforehand who the candidate will be.  There’s never a closely fought battle between competing factions.  On the contrary, the replacement MLA is chosen by acclaim.  Who really takes the decision?  Certainly not the local party members in open forum.  How centralised is the decision?  The ard chomhairle?

The suspicion remains that there’s an inner magic circle whose members magically lay hands on the chosen one and their decision to favour former IRA personnel is not just to wind up poor Jim Allister, the assembly’s resident Jeremiah.  What we do know is that the process is secretive and not what happens in a normal political party.  If Sinn Féin is ever going to widen its support beyond what it calls its ‘base’ it’s going to have to demonstrate that there is an equal opportunity policy in the party and you don’t automatically get extra brownie points for having been an IRA operator. 

You might very well think that, Brian…