From Socialist Voice, March 2010

Sinn Féin—a party at the crossroads

The recent ard-fheis of Sinn Féin was a somewhat quiet affair, with not a lot on the agenda to stir interest other than two motions, from Waterford and from Drimnagh, Dublin, dealing with possible participation in a coalition Government after the next general election in the Republic.
     The motion from the Drimnagh cumann stated: “This Ard Fheis calls on Sinn Féin not to go into power with other parties in government such as Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael, as this would be incompatible with our politics and would damage the party.” But the Ard-Chomhairle put forward an amendment that effectually leaves the door open for participation in a future Government, and this was overwhelmingly carried.
     The arguments made by those supporting the two motions drew on experience from previous coalition Governments and the consequences for the junior parties in those Governments. Underlying the debate—not mentioned during it but certainly part of the subtext—was the fact that many members in the Republic are greatly concerned that if the Sinn Féin leadership get an opportunity to join a coalition Government they will do so. The experience of the dumping of central policies just before the last general election is still a painful memory for a large number of Southern members.
     The position of the Ard-Chomhairle was that any decision in relation to joining a Government would be taken by a special party conference. Given that Sinn Féin is in effect a Northern party, controlled from Belfast, its priorities are shaped by political developments and the priorities surrounding the Northern situation. The majority of delegates to the recent ard-fheis, as with previous ard-fheiseanna, were from the North. If the opportunity arises to enter government in the Republic, the likelihood of their joining a coalition is very high—simply because the political priorities are determined by that relationship.
     What is also obvious from the speeches during the ard-fheis and in media interviews afterwards is that the Northern leadership has little more than a superficial understanding of the political, economic and social situation in the Republic. When it comes to the nitty-gritty of the political and economic questions, they flounder—which is quite understandable, given the nature of the conflict in the North over such a prolonged period and the preoccupation with the peace process.
     If the opportunity arises of entering a Dublin Government, a majority at any special conference for taking that decision will be Northern delegates, who will approach such participation from an entirely different set of political priorities.
     Yet the agenda of the ard-fheis shows that the majority of motions down for discussion came from branches in the Republic, while those dealing with the Northern situation came mainly from the Ard-Chomhairle, with very few from individual cumainn in the North. There were no significant motions dealing with the social and economic situation in the North, and those that there were were devoid of any real depth.
     This reveals a number of possibilities: that there is complete unity on the economic and social strategy of the national leadership; or they have no clear idea of an alternative strategy; or the leadership brooks no criticism of its attitude to government; or if there is criticism it is muted or corralled, in the interest of sustaining the unity of the organisation and a united front against unionism.
     Another area that shows how far Sinn Féin has shifted politically was the section dealing with “European affairs.” Motions 11, 12 and 13, all again from the Ard-Chomhairle, show a further diminution of opposition to the European Union. There was no indication of the nature of the European Union and what it represents; there was no challenge to the view presented by the media or assessment of the effect of the Lisbon Treaty. All three motions were full of woolly thinking and pious aspiration. “Bring information on the EU back to different sectors and local communities in Ireland through a programme of outreach . . . Engage on the basis of our progressive policy positions on issues within EU’s competences . . . Promoting democratic change in the EU.”
     What is ignored is the fact that the policies of the European Union itself have contributed to the crisis and have a major bearing on the measures that member-states can introduce to overcome the crisis.
     The question is, How can you call yourself a republican and support the European Union? Republicanism is about democracy and the sovereignty of states, equality between states as well as equality between peoples, and the centrality of the people in democratic and economic policy and decision-making.
     The European Union has been deliberately constructed and is treaty-based to ensure the very opposite, by removing the people from the whole process and actively discouraging their involvement, undermining national democracy and national accountability, making all political and economic decisions subservient to the needs of transnational corporations, and all this backed up and imposed by the main imperialist states at the heart of the European Union.
     There is a token throwing in of the idea of using the European Union to “raise the issue of Irish Unity, and other issues related to the peace-process.” It is not clear what “Irish unity” would mean, considering our inability to change or do anything independently of what the European Union will allow and what is possible within an imperialist superstate.
     A revelation of the pretence at being some sort of radical party while hiding this from some of those it believes are allies in the struggle for Irish unity is the fact that there was no criticism and no indication of their understanding of the role of the United States in global politics, or its central role in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
     In relation to the coup in Honduras, the motion from the Ard-Chomhairle “condemns the coup d’état in Honduras which resulted in President Zelaya, who was democratically elected, being removed at gunpoint. This act undermines democracy in the region.”
     The coup in Honduras was planned, organised and supervised by the CIA and the US State Department. No calls for President Zelaya to be allowed back; no expression of support or solidarity with the democratic forces now engaged in an intense struggle with the puppet government; no acknowledgement that a number of leaders of the democratic opposition have been assassinated.
     From reading the motions and the speeches of leading figures in Sinn Féin one cannot help seeing that it is a party moving steadily to the centre. It is caught up in electoral politics and is prepared to make whatever compromises are required to secure participation in government. It will surely end up in government but with nothing radical to bring to the table.
     At this stage, what separates Sinn Féin from the Labour Party is that it still has a commitment to Irish unity; but its attitude to other central questions makes the achievement of that goal unrealisable. As for the rest, the establishment can rest easy.
     The question now is, Where will those in Sinn Féin who believe in a radical republicanism go from here?
[EMC]

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