“Sinn Fein’s northern operation risks becoming an under-performing branch office in a Dublin-led organisation”

Interesting piece by Patrick Murphy in the Irish News on Saturday (it’s well worth reading in full).

Not least because he lays out some of the key assumptions of Sinn Fein’s plan to re-unite the island, some of which, like “cross-border bodies confirm the legitimacy of the border” demonstrate the party’s enduring disdain for a pragmatic to the matter.

But I think this is the key passage:

The party hopes that Stormont’s future style and content of governance will reflect an economically unified, post-Brexit Ireland.

Of course, all of this depends on Sinn Féin doing well at the polls, something which is not as certain as previously. It stands to lose a second seat to People Before Profit in West Belfast (where shaking hands with the Queen did little to alleviate child poverty).

They may not do just as well in Derry with Martin McGuinness not standing and risk losing a seat (possibly Conor Murphy’s) in Armagh, if the turnout in Newry does not increase.

In a society which has been hard done by, SF now claims that it is a victim of a system which it helped to create and which, until two weeks ago, it and others were praising as a wonderful success.

But just as those who advocated war subsequently claimed to have invented the concept of peace, those who helped to operate a rather dubious form of government may now re-write the party’s Stormont history as a heroic defence of truth, beauty and all things Irish. (Watch the Queen being quietly removed from the pages.)

We have seen history repeat itself here, first as the tragedy of violence and then the farce of Stormont. If Sinn Féin gets it wrong again this time, its northern operation risks becoming an under-performing branch office in a Dublin-led organisation.

In February 2009, Richard English highlighted how the complexity of Sinn Fein’s north-south strategy made for huge managerial costs, and underperformance in the south.

At the time the party’s southern strategy was taking second place to managing the devolution of policing and justice row with their erstwhile partners in Government, DUP.

Within a year the strategy (and most of its internal resources) had shifted to the Republic, leading to that breakthrough election in February 2011, and subsequently built upon (more modestly than hoped for) in last year’s southern general election.

But it is hard to remain an insurgent force in the Republic and keep the plates spinning in a plan that leads to responsible government in Northern Ireland. In this respect, Murphy’s point about the sub-office is well made.

Today Sinn Fein announce Martin McGuinness’s successor. Since Martin stepped down as dFM, whoever it is will not have to compete since it’s by appointment rather than election. Without an official appointment, it’s a ceremonial or office lite position.

Adams told RTE yesterday the plan was always for Martin to retire after a couple more years. His enforced early retirement at a high point of tension (after just 7 months of facing the first official opposition) leaves a double vacuum: a lack of leader, and office.

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  • Jag

    With respect to the last part of the above, and the new SF leader (NI branch), again from the Irish News:

    “Sinn Féin would not confirm last night if Michelle O’Neill was to be announced as the new leader in the north, nor would the party disclose how such a decision is made. It is unclear whether votes were collected from each cumann, or what processes were followed to elect Mr McGuinness’ replacement.”


    Queen Elizabeth would be impressed at that sort of monarchic carry-on!

    To hear the commentary over the weekend about Shelle “taking a prominent position” being seated beside Gerry Adams at a SF event on Saturday and how that is a good portend, you’d be put in mind of the Chinese communist party, maybe Cuba or North Korea.

  • ted hagan

    I’d be thinking more Vatican than Buckingham Palace, if it weren’t for the small matter of gender, however.

  • babyface finlayson

    Did Martin not say he had planned to step aside in May of this year rather than after a couple more years as Gerry is saying.
    Maybe he meant to step aside is DFM but continue as an MLA for a bit, to keep an eye on Michelle.

  • Granni Trixie

    So far a transparency deficit has focused on the DUP but obviously it is more broadly based.

  • Brian Walker

    Yes Mick, an interesting piece but for me the most interesting aspects of it are (1) it shows that no independent reporter or commentator has an inside track on Sinn Fein. This is all Kremlinology and questions. Party governance by politburo still lives. But in slight contradiction (2) the “ next generation “ personified by Mary Lou (without the slightest experience of the North) bangs on all the time now about a changing of the guard.

    I’ve no idea what it all means. Do they? Is there a tussle to get rid of Adams, quickened by McGuinness’s forced departure? Too soon for him to quit for the Assembly election but he couldn’t go soon enough for an election in the south in a year or two?

    In the North SF’ is currently all business in the dying days of the Assembly ( inquiries etc), just as much as the DUP. Electioneering of a kind maybe. But if you want to lead a clean-up of “corruption” you have to around in the Assembly to lead it. How does this governmental activism square with “a fundamental rethink” as a result of Brexit bringing back the border and “ destroying he Agreement?”

    Being a more prosaic soul than you I’d cut and paste from Murphy slightly differently

    Murphy writes:

    “Twenty years later, ten as senior partners in government, Sinn Féin has now opted for a carefully managed walk-out from Stormont, abandoning its failed politics in a dramatic gesture almost as significant as the military ceasefire.”.

    A very big claim. Is it justified coming after the earlier hesitations? The ceasefires, I’m sure, were decided rather less hastily

    Murphy asks:

    “The party also now realises that Stormont cannot deliver on public services (insufficient funds from Westminster) or on progress towards a united Ireland (cross-border bodies confirm the legitimacy of the border).”

    So on public services they eat their words about their “ victory” over the face saver of mitigation welfare and their “ wellbeing” budget they were proclaiming only a fortnight ago? What alternatives do they have for the voters other than limited success?

    Murphy concludes:

    “The third, and perhaps the most important reason for walking out, is that SF could not reasonably sit in Stormont as Ireland becomes economically re-partitioned, under Theresa May’s Brexit process.
    So Sinn Féin’s post-election strategy will attempt to merge negotiations with the DUP on Stormont’s future (if it has one) with wider talks on a solution to the Brexit dilemma, involving the British and Irish governments and the EU. A successful outcome would leave the party with enhanced electoral appeal for a second assembly poll and a likely Dáil election.
    So although SF has steered its pre-election message away from Stormont’s failure on social and economic issues and towards more emotive subjects such as the Irish language, its post-election talks are likely to focus on avoiding the embarrassing re-emergence of visible partition”.

    This is the heart of the matter The big question is whether Sinn Fein makes Brexit the existential question over the Assembly’s future. Even with a transitional Assembly after the election they have only a few months to decide. How even in their own interests can they get it right in such a tight time frame when the outlines of Brexit are so vague?
    They have to take the most pessimistic view and stick to it for years.
    Meanwhile is the Irish language etc much of a diversion from the perceived horrors of Brexit and “ re-partition?

    “The party hopes that Stormont’s future style and content of governance will reflect an economically unified, post-Brexit Ireland.”

    Maybe, but that’s a dream not a policy.

  • On the fence!

    A consequence of hitherto unchallenged power in the assembly for both surely?

    Can see it changing much this time around either.

    Although one must live in hope!

  • Anthony O’Shea

    Murphy’s article reminds me of that old saying where even the Devil himself can find a quote in the bible to support his point of view.

    Very A typical Anti-Shinner upending of the facts to try and Frame Unionist culpability as Nationalism’s failure. I wonder do such Authors blame the citizens of Hawaii for ‘failing’ to prevent the Japanese assault on Pearl Harbour, or has a victim of assault ‘failed’ because he or she was in the wrong place at the wrong time?

    These days we need a little bit more than just insults from a commetariat that simply does not understand how SF works and who have failed miserably to establish an inside line. Insults of course can be an interesting read but without any clear analysis or intelligent empirical back up it really amounts to nothing more than vacuous subjective opinion. And sure we can all do that.

  • murdockp

    If a political party wanted a united Ireland, it has to align expenditure and public services in both countries to create the conditions for alignment.

    SF are doing the opposite in refusing to cut £2,000 per capita from budgets and cutting the public service staff numbers back to levels that are sensible and making these departments more efficient.

    Likewise policy should be All Ireland as well. In short SF needs to move towards the centre ground on the Island as unpalatable as this is to their hard core hard-core support.

    How can you ever have unification of a country which one part of the country wastes £2k per capita per man woman and child per annum?

  • J D

    Sounds like SF have the right plan and should stick to it. Unionist advice should be ignored, as always, it isn’t intended to be helpful at all. It’s intended to get SF to waste time, effort, resources.

    Nope, the north is now a side show, there is nothing to be done until the DUP are replaced with a Unionist partner that has honour, and keeps their word. Which is not going to happen.

    So now Stormont goes into the deep freeze and Brexit sends the glaciers rolling over the land 🙂

    Buh bye UK, buh bye NI, hello re-unification and independent Scotland!

  • Donagh

    Just face it lads, you’re just pissed-off Sinn Fein won’t behave like nice little partitionist poodles. Maybe when we get a chance to elect the Secretary of State, SF will allow a members vote on who should be their senior Minister in the north. Though such a vote of members in 32 counties probably wouldn’t satisfy you either.

  • Brian Walker

    So lack of transparency is a good thing?

  • Brian Walker

    Well Granni, not really. SF’s lack of transparency is hardly new. The lack of it alongside the DUP’s is a major reason for Executive failure.


    Sinn Fein obviously do not care what you or i think.Adams and
    McGuinness built the party in the North,just look where they are
    regarding the S.D .L.P, Adams is now doing the same in the South.
    Fianna Fail and Fine Gael hate his success. There is an election in
    about 5 weeks, the electorate are the rightrful judges, they will decide if their methods are right or wrong, they can hire them or fire them.

  • Donagh

    Sinn Fein elected their Ard Chomhairle including Officer Board on live telly last April, how much more transparency do you need?

  • Anthony O’Shea

    Where did i say that?

  • mac tire

    That recent Conservative leadership tussle was the epitome of transparency, wasn’t it?

  • Brian Walker

    Here… among ” insults” ……

    “These days we need a little bit more than just insults from a commentariat that simply does not understand how SF works and who have failed miserably to establish an inside line”.

    So the entire media are at fault, Mr Trump?

  • Anthony O’Shea

    Its hardly innacurate to say that mainstream media dont apply much in the way of balance or fairness when commenting on SF. “Fault” doesnt come into it, its just the way it is at the moment. The party refuses to play along and thats the price it pays. But what has that got to do with your transparency quip.

  • the keep

    Buh bye UK, buh bye NI, hello re-unification and independent Scotland!

    Amusing but wrong.

  • Katyusha

    I don’t get the issue. I thought SF’s Northern operation was supposed to be a branch office of a Dublin-led operation? Doesn’t that fit with their entire worldview?

    In any case, why would you waste your best people, or a significant amount of your resources, in a branch office dealing with about 5/6ths of the island, with no room left to grow, no real democratic process, no sovereignty of its own (can always be overruled by the SoS and Westminster), and where the Assembly is locked into eternal stalemate by abuse of the PoC system?

    Would seem like a rather poor direction of effort, no?

  • mickfealty

    Yes. But to be fair there’s no job here other than leading the election campaign, is there?

  • Ciarán Doherty

    In a world where a the survival of a major world currency and the constitutional status of Britain itself is uncertain, it’s incredible to see NI unionists still so sure their own dysfunctional little statelet will last literally until the end of time.

  • John Collins

    Well the election of Jeremy was transparent anyway and look where that got us

  • Nevin

    Katyusha, isn’t it strange that some folk can’t grasp the simple notion that SF is an all-island organisation which seeks unity of the two jurisdictions? Dublin will automatically be HQ and Belfast, a branch office.

    SF has plenty of support from other nationalist parties when it pokes unionism in the eye but can expect a good-kicking in the Dáil from the majority of the same parties in the competition for vote share.

    SF flip-flopping on a range of issues IMO can be put down to a lack of internal competence following the departure of external advisers around 1998 and again in 2007.