SF adopting the Bertie Ahern ‘whatever you’re having yourself’ approach to policy?

There’s a lot of interesting response to the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis, but one of the most intriguing was this from Liam Clarke

The snap survey of 50 members, conducted by the ‘Belfast Telegraph’, shows surprisingly sharp divisions on several key issues. On dissidents, a picture emerged that showed grassroots attitudes are not as strongly opposed to such republican terrorism as the party leadership.

Party members were asked if an armed campaign was justified while British rule remained. Some 26pc agreed it was, while only 66pc disagreed. Only 12pc agreed with the North’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness’s statement that the dissidents were “traitors to Ireland”, while 72pc disagreed.

This disjuncture between leadership and grassroots in one of the most disciplined and authoritarian party structures is intriguing. It may be reflective of a party leadership which has raised creative ambiguity to an artform…

Martin McGuinness’s words after Massereene were bold, unambiguous, brave, even. But there’s been little in the way of confirmation that that viewpoint has played any active role of the party’s own wider narrative… which may be even whilst Mr Adams is calling for a border poll, some 23% of the party’s wider support suggest they would not vote for unification now

Fintan O’Toole once wrote of Bertie Ahern that “not worn out by pursuing high ambitions, he preserved his political stamina”. Rather he was seen as a…

…a character in a long-running soap opera. Such characters are meant to be people like us, except that an absurd number of dramatic things happen to them. Their marriages break down, they have complicated, drawn-out love affairs, their children marry pop stars and have twins, or become famous novelists overnight.

Their careers follow strange paths, with incredibly dramatic twists in which the job they want is suddenly snatched from them before, following further trials, they finally get it. But they themselves remain solid, reliable, familiar. The things that happen to them are functions not of their character, but of the plot.

Asked at the weekend by RTE’s Sinead Morris for This Week about Sinn Fein’s record of government in Northern Ireland I could only think of two things, both of them negative: the suspension of water charges (in lieu of preventing the privatisation of NI Water) and the abolition (or de facto privatisation) of the 11+.

Everything else has been provisional (excuse the pun) or more often reactive… The education policy which Conor Murphy cites, are cast offs from British Labour and consistent entirely of administrative changes effected by senior civil servants rather than political analysis.

Like Ahern and Haughey before him, the only serious objective appears to be the acquisition and retention of power… Otherwise it is a bit of ‘whatever you’re having yourself’…

In this schema divergence between the leadership and the base does not matter, so long as proposed actions are loose and pushed to the longer term and longer distance of an unknowable future

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  • Blissett

    There might be some point to this article if, y’know, the figures actually supported the argument made, rather than illustrating a party membership largely happy with the party’s position (and direction).

    Let’s look at this.

    ‘MORE than a quarter of Sinn Fein members still back an armed struggle so long as British rule remains over Northern Ireland.’

    The question is clearly in the abstract – not currently. So given at least a quarter of those present have in fact supported armed struggle during the course of their lives, maybe even gone to prison for it, I would say that’s not very surprising. It clearly is a question of circumstances.

    “And almost half say they don’t feel a civic duty to report the activities of dissident republicans to the police to prevent an attack.”

    So 7 years after a bruising debate on policing which near tore the party apart, more than half are happy to ‘tout’ on dissidents. For such a divisive issue, I think that’s rather remarkable, don’t you?

    “There were other worrying signs for the PSNI. More than half of those questioned (54pc) felt that they were not “an impartial force” as against 36pc who felt they were.”

    Again, this is 7 or so years after recognising the police at all at all, and in the context of some questionable responses by the police in the last few years. I think delegates have been quite generous in many ways.

    The survey showed delegates willing to make some concession to unionists if Irish unity was agreed. Nearly two-thirds (64pc) felt that the Stormont Assembly should remain with power devolved from Dublin.

    “And 58pc also favoured Stormont-style assemblies in other Irish regions with just one in five opposed to the idea.

    Nearly four out of five (78pc) felt citizens of a united Ireland should be allowed to hold UK passports if they wished.”

    Very little comment on the obvious willingness to make concessions to unionism, and to be generous and accommodating to the British identity. Seems fairly in sync with the leadership to me now, I have to say. And augurs well for how any initiatives in that regard would be received by the membership.

    And for what it’s worth, as one of the people who participated, the person undertaking this survey was evidentially surprised and disappointed at the uncontroversial answers being given the majority.

    Still, I suppose they had to get some kind of article out of their efforts.

  • Mick Fealty

    Thanks Blissett… Though there is quite a distance between Martin’s statement re Massereene and the ‘poll’…

    What do make of my own point that the lack of action in government facilitates such divergences?

  • Sir Ike Broflovski

    Hello Mick

    A notable republican (and flag salesman) once said;

    In the existing circumstances of the country, an excitement to arms would be senseless–and wicked, because irrational. To talk nowadays of repealing the Act of Union by force of arms would be to rhapsodize….. There might be a riot in the street–there would be no revolution in the country. The secretary, Mr. Crean, will far more effectually promote the cause of Repeal, by registering votes in Green Street than registering fire-arms in the Head Police Office. Conciliation Hall on Burgh Quay is more impregnable than a rebel camp on Vinegar Hill.

    That gentleman might also have described armed action which undermined the democratic process of the time as “treachery” to the people of Ireland and perhaps treachery to the republican cause. Let’s not dismiss a considered response to changed circumstances as hypocrisy or inconsistency. Some other, rather horrible, people are using that logic to justify continued violence today.

  • mac tire

    Hmmm, Mick, you used “Liam Clarke” and “intriguing” in the same sentence. That alone is…intriguing.

    I’ll just rewrite the an article based on the same poll.

    “Almost three quarters of SF members do not back an armed struggle so long as British rule remains over Northern Ireland.

    More than half say they feel a civic duty to report the activities of dissident republicans to the police to prevent an attack.

    72% agreed with the North’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness’s statement that the dissidents were “traitors to Ireland”, while 72pc disagreed.”

    What really is intriguing here is a non-story being made into a story.

  • mac tire

    Sorry, the last point was meant to say:

    72% disagreed with the North’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness’s statement that the dissidents were “traitors to Ireland”, while 12pc agreed but 66pc disagreed when asked if an armed campaign was justified while British rule remained.

  • Mick Fealty

    Okay, lads, I’ll bite (if only gently)… Here’s how your partner’s in government are dealing with it. Arlene Foster:

    Issues were raised in the Assembly today by the First Minister seeking clarity on the views held by the Sinn Fein candidate for the position of Deputy Speaker. Whilst these assurances were forthcoming they were only necessary because of the issues which arose from Sinn Fein’s own conference.

    The lack of leadership at the top of Sinn Fein has been evident in the absence of any effective response to nightly attacks on vulnerable communities such as those on the Fountain Estate in Londonderry.

    Republicans are always more than willing to pass comment on others, but this may simply be to distract from their own inaction and the clear splits they obviously face despite continual micro-management of their own party structures.

    The responsibility falls to those at the top of Sinn Fein to step forward and offer some leadership, not just to the entire community of Northern Ireland or to nationalist/republican voters, but to Sinn Fein’s own membership and activist base.

    The difficulty they appear to have in convincing their core supporters does not point towards an ability to move forward and deliver a better future for everyone in Northern Ireland.’ [emphasis added]

    Now of course opponents will always try to detract, but I’d extract that ‘does not point forward’ as the critical descriptor.

    Leadership implies forward movement, and as you can tell from my interview on RTE above, I see no evidence of such…

  • Brian Walker

    I’m not close to the topic but a few points strike me about Sinn Fein from the recent record.

    Climbing the extra mile into coalition in the south is a steep ridge too far. More than ever since the great collapse, government is about trust, a quality in short supply. Their oppositionist role is pretty effective but the wider electorate sense it’s on very thin ice. Would they really trust guys like these with the actual scarce money?

    For the next coalition who would be the senior, even the junior partner? Fianna Fail are back on the slow march. The old SF role as FF’s stalker has been reversed. The leftish element in Labour is not strong enough to counteract the party’s fiscal rectitude in government. Any other combination of parties is more likely than a coalition with SF. Despite the polls, I predict a coalition’s re-election – narrowly – for the first time.

    In the North Sinn Fein are currently showing more emotional intelligence and self confidence than the DUP. Not that that ‘s saying a lot. The self confidence from Mc Guinness is impressive and pretty convincing to me. A case of relative gain in a state of near- absolute stasis?

    Is there really such a gap between the rank and file and the leadership over the dissidents? Don’t the rank and file instinctively understand the creative ambiguity of power sharing you identify? I don’t know what anybody can do about attacks on the Fountain or other interface problems. It requires better cross community monitoring and liaison than any side is prepared to offer. The high wall there with union Jacks peaking out acts as a magnet for aggro. Deplorable but sort of understandable.

    Adams is less sure of himself in the Republic but is not performing as badly as his critics would like.. Not quite played out yet but you can see the end coming and his replacement by more or less ordinary politician without both the positive and negative baggage of the Troubles -a big,big watershed for SF

    . Neo Connollyite “ socialism” is basically sentimental populism so what else have they got to offer? On the traditional questions they have a vision and a distinctive cultural policy that still gives them some traction and confidence. But do many people even among their own supporters really care about this stuff any more, now that it’s half attainable?

    Does SF have the effect in southern politics of still putting a break on revisionism? They seem to act as if they do, assuming a cheeky moral authority over the main parties whenever they see an opening.

    My own hunch is that The Past is all but dead in the Republic, is slowly fading in the North and is certainly a diminishing political asset.

    So what pray is the next New Departure?

    In the North, it’s intriguing to see that absolutely everybody is now spouting the language of a shared future without feeling under pressure to say what it might mean. Much of society may be ahead of the political parties but how to turn that to political capital? Sinn Fein don’t seem to know any more than anyone else. Political craftiness is no substitute for a political strategy that really resonates.

    Were Sinn Fein to discover a real progressive social and economic agenda, risks and costs upfront and calculated, then they’d surely deserve – dare I say it – serious support from the agnostic middle class who still stand largely apart from politics holding their noses.

    I say it reluctantly but in the North they may be the best of a poor lot, if you’re not too worried about their background. All that undirected energy! Apart from the richly deserving Alliance party, who sadly still seem well short of breakthrough.

  • Neil

    If leadership equates to whipping up a frenzy by printing off 40,000 leaflets spinning a Unionist victory into a Unionist defeat for blatant political advantage then the less, the better. Seems like projection. They’ve seen Martin stand front and centre while Peter’s tucked tail and run when the flag fun and games got going, and I wonder are they starting to question the wisdom of the whole leaflet idea.

    And, by the way, a poll size of 40, nice one, any mathematicians in the house to work out what size ‘population’ that would be effective for? A very small one would be my guess.

  • Mick Fealty

    Touche Neil… thats a fair cop… also I agree with Brian that in NI MxGuinness wins the emotional intelligence game hands down… but it does not detract from the point above which is message wise the party is all over the place… and therefore can be all things to all.men..

    at some point the party needs – if serious about the south – to articulate something more than “we oppose”…

  • Gingray

    I kinda expected a higher standard of reporting than this from you Mick, you should know much better. As pointed out above, you have only taken the points relevant to your argument, while ignoring so much else. It’s no surprise to see Arlene and Edwin rehashing your article (or have you copied their statements?).

    It’s a worthless poll.


  • Neil

    Smyth Jr, from Rockfield Heights in Connor, had pledged to make Antrim a “better place for everyone to live” during his bid to become a councillor, less than six months before the attempted bomb attack.

    But Judge Marrinan said the crime was motivated by “naked sectarianism”.


    Now, if he had a been a Shinner? Oh boy. No this silence from the DUP is real leadership alright, I do not know what the Shinners are going to do. They’re disintegrating in front of our eyes.

  • observational

    Lets see a statement and some indication that the DUP does not condone and is not associated with violence, as per their regular press releases about the world at large.

    moral support?