Sinn Fein failed to register for the EU referendum (ie, it took no part in preventing Brexit)

This is just weird. The new leader of Sinn Fein in the Assembly Michelle O’Neill had this to say:

Brexit is not just an issue for the north.  It will be a disaster for our economy north and south. Jobs are at risk, investment is under threat and our agricultural community faces new tariffs and an end to crucial subsidies.

As it happens, I agree with her. What’s odd is that when the chips were down in the Referendum, Ms O’Neill and her party chose to take no part in preventing it from happening.

Where you expect Sinn Fein’s name to appear alongside UK Labour, the SNP, Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru and the SDLP and other Remainers officially registered with the Electoral Commission, there’s nothing. Why does it matter?

It allows a party (or individual) to become a ‘registered campaigner’ letting them spend more than £10,000 on referendum campaigning during the referendum period, between 15 April and polling day, 23 June.

It means, no activists on the ground, and no party workers in the count centres watching the tallies getting together with others on the Remain side to demand a recount. In other words, for all their concern now, they sat back and let it happen.

Sinn Fein’s non-participation might explain why Northern Ireland’s turnout was lower overall than many other parts of the UK. Drop in turnout in West Belfast was from 57.6% in May to just 49%. In Foyle where there’s an even split between SDLP and SF turnout dropped by just one point.

The comparison with Unionist areas is startling. East Antrim which had a turnout of just 51% in May rocketed to 65% in June. Overall (serviced in large part by Sinn Fein choosing to rest its impressive electoral machine) turnout bounced from 54.9% to 62.69%.

A large unionist vote bonus? That’s something analysts might want to consider when they think about turnout and the 60,000 voters who’ve left the register.

No one knows for certain if Brexit will be a disaster for the Irish economy, north and south. It will need grafters and builders to prevent the worst from happening. Not just easy talk about some rare and undefined stádas speisialta no one is likely to give us.

How? Nothing will come of nothing. Speak again.

– William Shakespeare, King Lear, Act 1, Scene 1

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  • Brendan Heading

    I don’t think it’s that “weird” in context.

    Recent strides in the Dáil and the Assembly aside, SF still consider themselves as orthodox republicans who do take no part in decisions that determine the course of what they see as another country that they want nothing to do with. Accepting money to participate in a referendum campaign whose outcome would be fundamentally decided in Britain runs counter to that orthodoxy. This is closely related to SF’s ongoing policy of abstentionism at Westminster. This same orthodoxy sees Northern Ireland’s exit from the EU as evidence of further undemocratic and unwarranted interference in Ireland by the UK.

    I wrote in an article the day before the referendum that some nationalists and republicans would actually consider voting “no” in the EU referendum, knowing that the turmoil, and tensions around the border, could create the stability that they believe a united Ireland could flow from. They know, as most sane people do, that it is the UK’s presence alongside Ireland in the European Union that softens the border and makes it look like a technicality. The UK’s departure from the EU means that the border will cease to be a technicality.

    I would highlight that the above is certainly not my view, we are heading for a desperate and dangerous place. But I can see the logical consistency on the republican side; they won’t lose any sleep over it at all.

  • Jim M

    What you say makes sense. It does however irritate me intensely to see Shinners on social media castigating PBP for being pro Brexit, when SF did so little to push for Remain.

  • mickfealty

    I’m certain and sure that they won’t Brendan. But that’s hardly the point of the post. We should know they did nothing to prevent it, not least because it’s so informative to the debate raging today.

  • Brendan Heading

    I’m sure one of their number will be along shortly to point this out, but it’s pretty clear that the Remain campaign within NI had no effect at all on the national result, and with hindsight there was no way it ever could have.

    I don’t agree with SF’s perspective on this and many other things, which is one of the reasons why I can never vote for them.

  • mickfealty

    If that’s true, and I don’t quite accept it is: then why are “we” blaming “the unionists” for Brexit? Because it’s a convenience?

    I say again, it’s important we know they did nothing. [See the quote in the footer.]

  • file

    Maybe they were saving their efforts for this election campaign? Do the numbers anyway. If all of NI had voted for remain, would that have changed the UK result?

  • mickfealty

    That’s very likely file. Party before country, as one friend once put it to me. Only not getting your vote out whilst your opponents get there’s out is not always good politics.

    Turnout is habit forming, as is non turnout.

  • Ciarán

    ‘Why are we blaming the Unionists?’
    How about because the DUP campaigned in Britain taking out a front page advert in the Metro (which as Brian Feeney pointed out was probably one of the most expensive adverts ever taken out by an Irish political party).

  • mickfealty

    Just that one thing? I don’t hear those sorts of clauses and conditions put on it normally.

  • Fear Éireannach

    Even someone who didn’t push hard to Remain is entitled to criticise someone who promoted Leave, and who did not vote for special status for NI.

  • file

    Look, we all sort of thought Brexit would not happen, and hindsight bias is a great thing. And anyway, if would have taken the whole of the NI population to a) turn out, and b) all vote for remain for the NI vote to affect the overall UK result. Voting is an insidious habit not cured in any way by elections.

  • mickfealty

    Try, did not push at all. This is one of the biggest and wealthiest parties on the island. Would 10k have broken the bank?

  • mickfealty

    Thanks as ever for the crack. I’m off for the night…

  • Brian Walker

    Ah but Mick, the party of revolution doesn’t mix with the despised bourgeoisie…. unless ????…But I agree. And as I say talking concrete about Brexit serves no useful purpose even as a political feint. Hints about a gracious willingness in principle to join a southern coalition suggests solidarity over Brexit with the other Dail parties might be a better course . It would be absurdly at odds with a long Assembly boycott – to which hypothetical Dail partners are in any case opposed.

  • Brendan Heading

    For my part I don’t blame the unionists for brexit.

    What I blame the two unionist parties for is abandoning their role to fight for the best interests of this region within the context of brexit, and instead slavishly throwing their lot in with the folks in the southeast who couldn’t care less about constituencies over here, pro-union or not.

  • Brendan Heading

    Money is nothing whatsoever to do with this. As I tried to explain, this is about abstentionism.

  • mickfealty

    And yet FST and EL went Remain on Unionist votes?

  • Roger

    how silly their abstentionism looks now; committed to the unionist veto/principle of consent and providing Crown ministers…yet being sniffy about turning up to represent their voters….

  • mac tire

    10K? How much did that DUP leaflet in London cost? And why did they do such a thing; certainly not for votes.

  • Karl

    Win win for SF. NI with overwhelming nationalist and sensible unionism was always going to carry the remain result. All the better if it differed from the overall result and the DUP.

    Why waste money, time and effort?

    “Never interupt your enemy when he is making a mistake” Napoleon

  • mickfealty

    Whatever they answer to that is, at least they worked at their end.

  • mickfealty

    There’s economy of effort, and then there’s straightforward ‘collusion’?

    As the only southern Irish party with the capacity to put their shoulder to the wheel in NI, they didn’t just put a bad campaign in the field (that happens in referendums), they complemented the DUP’s campaign with nothing.

    I’m not sure what licence that has gifted them to tell us solemnly that we’re now facing an economic disaster? “Yer having a laugh 😂” is probably the most appropriate response. I mean, not even 10k?

    I’m listening to Michael Lux on GMU repeating DUP talking points about why NI cannot remain inside the European customs union, and you think this is a win?

    Saints preserve us!!

  • Karl

    I didnt say it was a win. I said it was a win win situation for SF.

    Big change doesnt happen by maintaining the status quo. By accident or design SF, thanks to the result which they couldnt have changed, have a revitalised electorage, conversation about the border and possible unity, a British government actively ignoring the will of NI people, DUP choosing flag-waying over NI and FG, albeit briefly, fluttering coalition eyelashes at them

    SF had their own EU history to deal with. Coming out with over the top pro EU stance would have left them open to commentators playing up their anti EU stance in 11 ROI referendums. They played their hand pragmatically with minimum effort and got the result they wanted. I get the feeling if they had thrown 10K at it, you wouldnt be penning an article praising them anyway.

    The real issue is not why SF did not put more into the ‘Remain’ fight but why the DUP chose a route contrary to the benefit of NI and may have received money to be seen to play with the big boys in London. Its one thing to passively argue against shooting yourself in the foot – its quite another to actively campaign for it. Thats not collusion, thats betrayal.

    Although its a long shot, it is not inconceivable that the outworkings of a hard Brexit will lead to a border poll. Once that genie is let out of the bottle there will be active southern political engagement and the possibility that soft unionists who wouldnt touch SF with a barge pole, may be open to a FG vision for UI.

    All changed, changed utterly.

  • mickfealty

    Thanks for this. I’ll come back to it later this am (I hope).

  • nilehenri

    abstentionism. google it mick.
    why should they give a to55 about the incredulous decisions taken by titled politicians in another jurisdicion? brexit is middle-england’s bastard, let them take care of it.

  • Ciaran O’Neill

    I don’t think any of us can be in any doubt that the good folks in DUP HQ take more than a passing interest in Slugger O’Toole. As someone has already mentioned, the main reason for SF not formally registering is the same reason why their MP’s don’t take seats in Westminster. It’s what some would view as traditional Republican principles. It was a British election that would have went down like a lead balloon amongst their support had they formally registered. I know lots of people who voted PBP then refused to vote in the referendum, despite PBP encouraging people to vote leave. They wouldn’t vote in what they saw was a British election. SF weren’t on the fence at all about where they stood with Brexit. Rather than dig about for a £10k stick to beat people with, let’s tickle the vote leavers with £350 mil per week for the NHS feather dusters. That had a much much bigger impact on the election outcome than anything SF did or didn’t do.

    Myself and the other nationalists on this site are still waiting on the thread to start up which covers the DUP’s lack of formal response to Brexit and their strategy document on it. If we could use Diane Dodds’s question (and the response she got) that she asked in the European Parliament recently that would be a good starting point. It’s only fair given the wall to wall coverage that other parties get on here.

  • mickfealty

    Nile, what use is abstaining as principle when nobody knows you’re doing it until everyone finds out you were. Sounds like newspeak for “tactical and unprincipled”.

  • Gopher

    Thats the SDLP up .3235% in the Lucid Talk polls. Everybody knows SF were just gaming the referendum. They have no more interest in the EU than Jeremy Corbyn. The question is not that why they would do such a thing as we already know the answer but what PBP, Alliance, Greens and more importantly the SDLP will do to present that information to those that vote SF. I’ll make a prediction, SF are everyday distancing themselves from the fact they were incompetent in government by next week no one will believe they were actually in government! With everyday that passes the fall guy in those nationalist constituencies is looking like the SDLP. Alliance, Greens and SDLP really need to up their game instead of letting it look like SF were the principle partner in the opposition and you were bit part players.

  • mickfealty

    Ciaran, I’m interested in your second point, especially re Mrs Dodds, but to the first point: this is not 1973. Or is it?

    It’s odd to suggest that running for British trinkets in Westminster is more important than building a broad consensus in NI against leaving the EU, surely?

  • WindowLean

    Slugger getting a bit het up about this. The words of John O’Dowd spring to mind.

  • Simian Droog

    Sinn Fealty hasn’t been writing about anything else for days.

    Meanwhile “Documentation shows that Mrs Foster’s officials in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) made the proposal in July 2013 – just months after the non-domestic scheme had been launched in November 2012. The July 2013 document shows that even at that point the department was acutely aware of the possibility that the costs of the RHI scheme could balloon out of control and they proposed measures to prevent such a situation developing. Last month Mrs Foster referred to the situation in 2013, telling the Assembly: “I did not receive any indication that cost control of the Non Domestic scheme was an urgent priority at that time.”

    Read more at:

  • mickfealty

    So what? 😜

  • mickfealty

    One topic at a time Simian? If it’s not too much to ask?

  • Reader

    Karl: NI with overwhelming nationalist and sensible unionism was always going to carry the remain result.
    Well, any number crunchers want to calculate the proportion of ‘sensible unionists’ in North Down, then extrapolate that to the other constituencies, then work out how ‘overwhelming’ the nationalist vote was?

  • Katyusha

    There’s a very good reason why FST voted remain despite the best efforts of the DUP. The Single Farm Payment is a big deal. There aren’t many people that will vote to lose 85% of their income. Factor in the looming prospect of the border being reestablished and the possibility of a free trade deal to flood the UK market with cheap imported meat, and Brexit isn’t exactly the most enticing prospect.

    If anything, its a perfect example of how the DUP acted directly against the interests of Northern Ireland.

  • David McCann

    Just a few comments;

    In terms of not putting your shoulder to the wheel that is true for most of the Remain parties, aside from Claire Hanna I cannot recall any other local MLAs here making any convincing case to stay. Many people in the SDLP were out and about, but aside from that I cannot recall any. The criticism set at SFs door could easily be put down to others and indeed even in parts of England where this was always going to be decided parts of the REMAIN campaign were complacent.

    The day after the referendum I heard several stories of people struggling to get people from across parties motivated to come out and help, that problem is not isolated to just SF (who did have some posters up in places in Belfast and Derry).

    Overall, NI represented just 0.5% of the final result, even on a higher turnout we would have represented no more than 1% of the final outcome. We were 0.3% of the final Remain vote and 0.2% of the Leave vote.

    The real story about this referendum is that no matter how much effort would have been put in by SDLP, APNI, UUP or SF we still would not have made a difference to the final outcome. Look at the wider referendum coverage, we were always going to be the region most impacted by this and we literally factored in none of the coverage. Just a month after the vote I sat with a journalist friend in London who had no clue about the border issues here.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    I’ll let you into a wee secret on that score ! Boris paid for that Ad ?

  • WindowLean

    Maybe that list isn’t exhaustive but I don’t see Alliance or the UUP on it either??

  • mickfealty

    UUP were like the Tories, they were given a steer from the head but given leave to vote with conscience. Alliance, not sure what the story is there.

  • mickfealty

    I agree with that David. Unless this was heading to another Florida 2000, we can be wise after the fact and agree the numbers afterwards left the gap unbridgeable. But, 1 it could have been hanging chads time; 2, an opportunity was foregone to build a genuine consensus in NI in favour of close relations.

    From my experience, the polarisation of things like calling for a border poll (writing the role played by Remainer Unionists completely out of history) has the effect of pressing those same folk into a less than sullen acceptance of the (hideous, my word) new status quo.

    So we should be a little wary of blindly accepting the kinds of false narratives (ie, those not actually underwritten a decently close reading of the facts) being generated (by no less a liberal personage than Fintan O’Toole) in pursuit of the idea that Brexit was a Tory/Unionists conspiracy against the Irish national interest.

  • mickfealty

    I guess that’s all correct. But it’s the classic need to have different messages for different folk. I worry we’re getting conditioned to read defeat as victory and that over time we may lose the ability to distinguish between one and the other.

    A pint of Orwell is yer only man…

  • Ciaran O’Neill

    It’s not 1973 Mick but it’s a bit far fetched to assume that SF could have had a big impact on the final outcome of the referendum. This referendum was always going to be won in the English heartlands – hence the DUP’s Metro ad. For parties here in the north, it was better to simply just set your stall out and stick by it. By and large the referendum was an English vote for English people and more and more people in Scotland and Ireland also are beginning to realise that even if they didn’t at the time

  • mickfealty

    I go along with that up to a point. But there is also a touch of post hoc propter hoc. See my response to David elsewhere?

  • Jollyraj

    Interesting. In essence SF lent a helping hand to the Leave camp – and are now crying foul that the Leavers won.

  • David McCann

    No harm, had that been the case it would not have been won or lost on the actions of one party. The Remain side were complacent across the board about this and as I said we were detached somewhat from the campaign in other parts of the UK which saw turnout surge.

  • Karl

    And sometimes a cigar is just a cigar

  • Jollyraj

    “I don’t think it’s that “weird” in context.”

    If you mean the ‘context’ of Sinn Fein being nothing more than a party of protest then, yes, it isn’t at all weird that they did nothing at all to influence the referendum – and are now bitterly protesting the result.

    Makes you wonder if they would have bitterly protested a Remain-winning vote, too. After all, they’ve been pretty anti-Europe until now…

  • nilehenri

    i wouldn’t say it was abstaining, more so not particularly involving themselves in a tory power infight. kudos to all who saw/see through the sham. brexit is a direct result of the fight for the tory leadership baton.
    live with it england, you deserve them.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Orwellian from SF as ever.


    All this reminds me after the last election when John Bruton said the Shinners should take their seats at Wesminister. Just silly talk.