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Whip system February 9, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, European Politics, Irish Politics, The Left.
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Reading about the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis, and very interesting it is too – and well worth returning to during the week ahead, I was struck by the debate on SF taking a position on a free vote on abortion. In essence it boiled down to whether the party could or should take a position which its representatives had to abide by. I’ve no problem with the latter, on any issue. More broadly I dislike intensely the idea – for example – that there are some issues which are ‘conscience’ votes and others, usually on matters economic, which are not. The very public spectacle of politicians wrestling with the former and waving through the latter is deeply unattractive.

To my mind, party discipline alone as well as communicating a coherent position – even if others disagree or find that position inadequate – requires a degree of acceptance of central positions democratically legitimised.

Anyhow:

Meath West TD Peadar Toíbín, newly returned to the parliamentary party after losing the whip by voting last year against the party’s position on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, supported the motion.

Mr Toibin said it was the last debate he wanted to have on his first week back in the fold.

“I’d rather nearly wear a Dublin jersey on the streets of Navan at 3 o’clock in the morning. But the motion is there and I believe in it with all my heart.”

But he said “the whip system in Ireland is an oddity, exists nowhere else in western democracy. It’s illegal in some and anti-constitutional in others.”

Is it though? Not so sure about that.

Just on the debate, this from Mary Lou McDonald gets to the heart of it:

“we cannot accept as a political party that we would not have a considered policy position on the matter”.

She said “we have to be in a position, notwithstanding the diversity of view and the passion within our ranks, to come to a considered view, and we have done that on this issue. The issue of protecting a woman’s life is not just a conscience issue, it’s a public health issue, it’s a social policy issue as is the issue of abortion itself.

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Comments»

1. ivorthorne - February 9, 2014

I would suggest the following whip system might be adequate:

1. Party members vote to accept the election manifesto. If accepted by a majority, those who wish to run for election agree to abide by it. This would mean that manifestos would need to be more detailed.

2. If the party leadership agree to a programme for government, that includes items not covered in the party’s own election manifesto, the whip cannot be applied to them on those specific issues.

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Jack Jameson - February 9, 2014

But you might not be able to cover everything in a manifesto.

And what happens in SF’s case, when it has not signed up to a Programme for Government in the South and has the peculiar situation in the North of a forced coalition with the conservative DUP?

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WorldbyStorm - February 9, 2014

It’s a balance, isn’t it? Part of it is about policy and part of it about trust in leaderships and representative structures inside a political party.

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ivorthorne - February 9, 2014

Sinn Fein often end up talking out of both sides of their mouth when it comes to adopting different policies in the North and South. Powersharing is a peculiar situation. I think that it genuinely restricts SF’s ability to practice certain policies but I also think that it is often used as an excuse.

As for the manifesto, I think that in the 21st century, there is no excuse for not including a link or reference to another policy document. If it is a new policy on an issue that has not been covered elsewhere, then I don’t think a TD should be bound by the whip.

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Ceannaire - February 9, 2014

Rather than the manifesto becoming more detailed, would you not risk the manifesto becoming more vague in order to appeal to as broadly as possible?

That said, I support the idea, although in the run-up to an election huge pressure would inevitably be put on the membership not to show the party as divided in the run-up to an election and so accept the manifesto even if they dislike it.

Also, I don’t think most government legislation is specifically enacted with reference to either the manifesto or the PFG, so this proposal would hardly be comprehensive.

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EWI - February 24, 2014

Those are a couple of good ideas, Ivor. I like it.

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2. Justin Moran - February 9, 2014

I think there’s an element in the commentary on this issue in the media that is often ignored.

The whip in this case, and in most cases, within Sinn Fein is not being applied to a policy or a position chosen by the party president, nor by the elected representatives, but agreed at Ard Fheis by the party’s membership.

Rather than see such motions as a call for ‘freedom of conscience’, for me they have always been profoundly undemocratic, arguing that the authority of the members to set democratically set policy can be ignored by elected representatives.

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WorldbyStorm - February 9, 2014

Entirely agree. Often these appeals are the opposite of democratic.

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ivorthorne - February 9, 2014

There is a tension between the TD’s responsibilities to the party and their constituency.

If a TD campaigns in their constituency and is asked if they are pro/anti-X and they give their position on the issue (in accordance with the current policy or in the absence of a party policy) and the members of the party later adopt a new policy that is inconsistent with the TDs previous promise to the electorate, then what should they do?

I would probably argue that their promise to their constituency voters tops party policy – regardless of whether the policy comes from the top down or the bottom up.

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Ciarán - February 9, 2014

for me they have always been profoundly undemocratic, arguing that the authority of the members to set democratically set policy can be ignored by elected representatives.

Elected representatives, those who lead the party at any rate, already ignore any decision of the Ard Fheis that doesn’t suit them, and have done for many years.

Take last year’s BDS motion on Palestine as an example, with its specific reference to Caterpillar, and how bound Martin McGuinness was to it.

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3. Liberius - February 9, 2014

I think if you look at this as a matter of personal conscience then you’re already doomed to disregarding the political party as an important entity. All you’d end up with if the whip was disallowed is an incoherent group of independents grandstanding on ‘conscience’ when needed and then using parties to provide the electoral machinery to guarantee re-election; the parties in Ireland would become as facile as parties have in America, but then I suspect for some in Irish politics that wouldn’t be considered a bad thing…

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4. Rob Fraser - February 9, 2014

The modern whip system comes from Parnell and the Home Rule Party – its effectiveness was eventually adopted by the other parties in the house of commons – but the whip system, along with the boycott and paid salaries for MPs, are all legacies of Irish nationalist politics in the House of Commons.

All well and good for national sovereignty in the eyes of Peader Tobin, but not so good when it comes to a woman’s sovereignty over her own body.

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5. JOEKERMAN - February 9, 2014

Once I saw one of the delegates wearing a Dickie Bow I turned off . That was when the whip was really needed .

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6. Brian Hanley - February 9, 2014

Nothing to do with whips, flogging or anything else, but I noted how Gerry Adams dated the Free State ‘counter-revolution’ from after the death of Michael Collins. Interesting timing.

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EamonnCork - February 9, 2014

It’s a bizarrely ahistorical thing to say, isn’t it? Based on the notion that Collins has to be the ‘good Free Stater,’ because he was famous enough to have movies made about him.

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Brian Hanley - February 9, 2014

Yep. There’s loads of reasons for it of course- northern nationalists believe Collins had a great plan to rescue them, almost everyone loves him (or the Liam Neeson character at least) the fact that most of the worst atrocities of the Civil War happened after his death (though they were mainly carried out by people very close to him), that republicans find it hard to imagine such a great ‘operator’ could have really settled for the Treaty etc etc…
There was an article in An Phoblacht about a decade back that went through in great detail how in fact Collins had never sold out at all. Easier to blame it all on Cosgrave I suppose. Nobody makes films about him.

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CL - February 9, 2014

Maybe Adams is manuring the ground for a F.G.-S.F. coalition?

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Garibaldy - February 9, 2014

Funnily enough, it was around the time of the movie that the provo shop on the Falls Road stuck a plate with Collins’ face on it in the front window. Good job Ó Brádaigh had already gone, otherwise he’d have had a heart attack.

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Ramzi Nohra - February 10, 2014

Unrelated to SF, I remember seeing some FG-er wear a tee-shit with a picture of Collins in it. Underneath were the words “You’ve seen the movie, now join the party”.

Arguably the best thing someone from FG has ever done.

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7. CL - February 9, 2014

The whip system has its origin in fox hunting; ‘the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable’-G.B.S.
If blood sports are abolished maybe the whip system will go also.

http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/1945506?uid=3739832&uid=2129&uid=2&uid=70&uid=4&uid=3739256&sid=21103477176323

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EamonnCork - February 9, 2014

The system in action.

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EWI - February 24, 2014

The whip system had its origins in the Irish Party, I thought.

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8. hardcorefornerds - February 9, 2014

I’d like to offer a critique of your social/economic issue distinction, wbs. To me rather than sheer hypocrisy it seems more like a strong belief that there are certain ‘moral’ issues that the government shouldn’t touch, or rather maintain the status quo on, whereas in economic issues, or public spending at least, the attitude is (regrettably) more ‘the government giveth, and the government taketh away’. Although even on that issue I believe Denis Naughten lost the whip originally over the issue of downgrading hospitals?
It’d be interesting to see what would happen if FG (and/or Lab) somehow decided to push through legislation restricting private property rights (arguably this has already happened with NAMA, but not to the extent of provoking a populist backlash) – I’d imagine plenty of conservative TDs would see that as unconscionable.

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WorldbyStorm - February 9, 2014

I don’t think I’d hugely disagree with your critique, because I wouldn’t call it hypocrisy exactly, andhow you frame it is probably precisely what they think if it is considered at all. But I think the distinction that they make between the two is fundamentally meaningless.

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hardcorefornerds - February 9, 2014

well, objectively perhaps not – but perhaps part of the problem then is that society in general is set up to make us think we have agency on civil issues but not (ultimately; beyond the “constraints of the globalised economy” as I saw Stephen Collins put it at the weekend) economic issues.
I’m doing a module (and hopefully a thesis) on economic & social rights currently, so the – often spurious – distinction between those two sides of politics is on my mind a lot.

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WorldbyStorm - February 9, 2014

That’s a great way to put it re the agency for civil but not economic. I think there’s a lot in that and it accounts for the peculiar societal passivity we’ve all seen in the last while in relation to the crises.

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9. steve white - February 9, 2014

so what is SF position on abortion? it seems they decided not to not have one but havn’t said what it is

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10. roddy - February 9, 2014

Aye right enough Garibaldy ,that was a bad carry on in the front window of “the provo shop”.A couple of years before that the sticks were putting historical photos on newly printed tenners at the BACK of their shop.(Lest anyone think I am getting revved up again ,I told Garibaldy that I would call a ceasefire with him on a basis of “defence and retaliation only”!

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Justin - February 9, 2014

It’s a school-day tomorrow, Roddy. You should save up those clever observations for break.

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11. roddy - February 9, 2014

Tell him to give over about “provo shops” then.

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Garibaldy - February 9, 2014

How about the shop in the Provisional Sinn Féin office? Would that do instead? It’s just it takes much longer to type.

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12. Garibaldy - February 9, 2014
JOEKERMAN - February 9, 2014

Hypocrisy , lying , careerism . All that I could ignore …but the Dickie bow ? Will RTE pay out to me for making me witness that sight ? My potential for ever enjoying a Pee Wee Herman movie again has been seriously diminished .

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WorldbyStorm - February 9, 2014

It’s some dickie bow. It really is.

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Tomboktu - February 9, 2014

No it’s not. It’s rather plain as bow ties go. ;)

(Ruairi Quinn has worn more horrendous full-length ties — what are they called?)

However, the name ‘Jonathan’ and a bow tie suggest a candidate one would not traditionally associate with Sinn Féin.

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WorldbyStorm - February 9, 2014

Well, I’m probably ruined by wearing ties for decades now. :)

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Séamus - February 10, 2014

It’s not just the dickie bow, it’s a full three-piece suit.

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Liberius - February 10, 2014

Maybe not so convincing as a representative of the working-class but definitely has got the chic sartorial sensibilities to make a fine Nobel prize winning economist…

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Ceannaire - February 10, 2014

I think it’s a clip-on! If you’re going to cause a media storm by wearing a bow, at least use the opportunity to show you know how to tie it!

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ivorthorne - February 9, 2014

I’m sure it was left over from his Debs.

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Jack Jameson - February 10, 2014

I asked my 14-year-old son about young Jonathan’s attire and he said it was considered stylish. He was most impressed.

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13. people beyond sense - February 9, 2014

Jonathan is pure Sinn Fein – look at the brave Mary Lou windbaging about a ‘war’ she experienced through channelling the thoughts of her great Aunt or something. For a Socialist the Ard Fheis was a sickening affair – that the biggest debate envoled reining in a right wing God botherer speaks of the career vehicle, establishment party SF is.

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Jack Jameson - February 10, 2014

PBS, Serious question – did you watch all of it online or were you there?

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14. roddy - February 10, 2014

PBS ,you are obviously anti SF and that’s fair enough but if you are claiming that SF is a good career move you are talking nonsense.SFs wages policy is a deterrent to anyone thinking of making more out of politics than they would in an everyday job.AIW is strictly enforced and at least one MLA left the party because he was not allowed to keep his salary.Since 1998 up to half a dozen MLAs have left the party on bad terms ,many of them reinventing themselves as super republicans,If the average industrial wage policy didn’t exist these people would have been shouting it to the rooftops for political advantage but they cant because it most certainly exists.If you want to make high wages join any party in Ireland only SF.If you are referring to Peadar toibin as the”god botherer” ,I recall a long time member of this site and WP election candidate who held similar views but was not subject to any vitriol.

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Bob Smiles - February 10, 2014

Good points roddy

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WorldbyStorm - February 10, 2014

+1, that’s a very good series of points roddy.

I’d also echo Jack Jameson’s question. I was surprised recently talking to someone from a party that would be different to and antagonistic to SF to discover how little they knew about elected reps of the party. It suggested that there was a lot of second hand and received information floating about. Sure the more the knew the less they might like (from their perspective) but it made their antagonism look oddly shallow, not least because the SFers are close enough to national figures in this state. Now people can like or dislike that but not to know… it would point to a complete detachment from actual Irish political activity, dynamics and the centrality many of these reps will have in communities up and down the state (and the island).

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EamonnCork - February 10, 2014

Plus 2 (bit of a Roddy love session going on here).
When we’re finished having fun with the dickie bow, not that there’s anything wrong with that, PBS’s comments, ignorant and all as they are (what is ‘envoled’? it summons up images of someone doing something unspeakable with a small field creature) aren’t untypical of a certain mindset among anti Sinn Fein people.
To wit, SF are slagged off if their representatives were involved in the armed struggle, ‘murderers,’ or if they’re working class, ‘dutch gold’ and much other hilarious stuff. Yet they’re also slagged off if they weren’t involved in it or if they’re perceived as middle class, pace Mary Lou.
For example one would imagine that PBS’s criticism of Mary Lou means he’d find her a better candidate if she’d actually been involved in the armed struggle. Yet I somehow doubt that’s the case.
The critics of SF want to have their cake and eat it. It reminds me of something John Mortimer, I think, once said. If you’re working class and criticise capitalism, the right wing media say you’re envious. If you’re middle class and criticise capitalism, they say you’re a hypocrite.
There are grounds on which SF can be criticised but a lot of what’s said about the party seems to stem from the notion that the party itself and its voters remain somehow illegitimate.
Yes, they do have a problem with Toibin but every other party, outside the former ULA parties, is also riven over social issues.

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Pasionario - February 10, 2014

I don’t think careerism is just about money. Careerists are attracted to politics primarily because of the opportunity to wield power for its own sake which can be a far more enticing and satisfying reward than just a bit of extra lucre. By that definition, I would say Sinn Fein has not a few careerists in its ranks; it’s inevitable for any political party. What else can one say about Mr. Andrews for instance? Or was it his principles that kept him rooted to Fianna Fail for all those years until he got caught out on Twitter?

About the AIW thing, there are two problems with this:

Firstly, it seems clear that Adams in particular is not living on anything like an average wage. How, pray tell, can he afford two houses on such a salary? (I also remember being amused by McGuinness’s rather bogus-looking bank statement which he decided to publish during the presidential election.) Adams is also prepared to accept a gift of private medical care from a benefactor in America. Now, I couldn’t give two hoots about whether he does so or not but there is a great deal of sanctimony involved in preaching about living on an average wage whilst actually availing of benefits which no-one else on such a wage has access to. It would be more honest to say: hey, an average wage is insufficient for my needs and I happen to be in the fortunate position to meet those needs because of my highish salary and the kindness of friends. I continue, meanwhile, to work towards a society where such things are more equally distributed.

Secondly, there are strict limits on how much any individual can donate to a political party. Something like six or seven grand a year. Now, if the AIW is circa 30,000 and a Dail salary is around 70,000, this raises the question of what is done with the 30,000 plus that cannot legally be donated to the party. Obviously, Sinn Fein have, erm, accumulated some experience over the years in dealing with unticipated cashflow.

But, presumably, the money is given to various front organisations and “independent” campaigns, but that doesn’t really seem to be in accordance with the spirit of the law given that such bodies are usually wholly-controlled subsidiaries of the party.

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Ramzi Nohra - February 10, 2014

Not a fan of Adams but his obvious wealth was, I heard tell, down to book royalties.
Of course one may wonder therefore if AIW is worthwhile as a policy if other income is allowed. I personally think it is a worthwhile gesture.

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WorldbyStorm - February 10, 2014

AIW was I think around 41k a year or so back.

To be honest there could be numerous reasons for having two houses, one could be inherited, etc, etc. But obviously book sales alone aregoing to get a reasonably good additional income for someone like Adams. I’m with Ramzi on this, an AIW is a good and worthwhile gesture.

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Pasionario - February 12, 2014

Ah the books. Like reading a biography of Field Marshal Montgomery which never mentioned the British Army, as someone once put it. I would have thought that he would kick back the royalties to the movement as well but I suppose not.

On the other hand, he hasn’t written one in a while and there is no mention of any royalties in the Dail Register, or indeed any other external income bar a few newspaper articles and I doubt the Andersonstown News pays Conde Nast rates.

I was indeed out on the figures a bit. The average industrial wage is over 43000 while a TD’s salary is 87000.

After tax, the AIW works out at about 31000. That leaves about 20000 for the good of the cause.

But the donation cap is in fact only 2500 per year. So that means about 17000 is being funneled back into the organisation indirectly. It doesn’t seem kosher to me.

If they so wished, they could presumably forego the balance of their salary entirely and return it to the exchequer but that’s clearly not what’s going on here. In fact they’ve basically just decided to spend the money on posters and leaflets rather than, say, a holiday. That’s their prerogative but I don’t see why it makes them any more virtuous than the average hack.

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Lightweight - February 12, 2014

AIW – more SF bullshit some people are only to happy to fall for.

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15. Roger Cole - February 10, 2014

I attended the SF Conference as an observer from PANA to which SF is affiliated, and at the international debate section the party made it clear that it
opposed the process of the militarisation of the EU and the use of Shannon Airport by US troops as they pursued the doctrine of perpetual war. SF also called for the immediate release of Margaretta D’Arcy. On Sunday members of Sinn Fein attended the Shannonwatch protest.

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EamonnCork - February 10, 2014

Yeah, but what did you think of the dickie bow?

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Bob Smiles - February 10, 2014

SF foreign policy unfortunately subject to whims of real politicking.

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16. Roger Cole - February 10, 2014

I say DICKIE BOWS OF THE WORLD UNITE

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EamonnCork - February 10, 2014

You have nothing to lose but your ties.
Good luck with the Margaretta D’Arcy campaign by the way Roger. It’s shocking that she’s still locked up.

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17. roddy - February 10, 2014

Adams has an income from book royalities,speaking engagements at colleges and articles he is asked to contribute to newspapers ,magazines etc which would boost his income somewhat.McGuinness,s wife runs a café in Derry which would contribute to a comfortable lifestyle for 2 people in their 60s with no family to support at this stage of their lives.McGuinness could not be accused of living extravagantly by any means.

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Bob Smiles - February 11, 2014

I don’t think anyone believes McGuinness and Adams are rich. But the movement has very large property and business interests – and many prominent activists are successful businessmen – before any one asks I am talking about the ‘movement’ not SF

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Joe - February 24, 2014

Bob. Any chance you could give details of pubs in Dublin controlled by the ‘movement’? Names I mean. It’s just that I often find myself enjoying a nice pint in pubs in town only for the thought coming into my head out of nowhere that the provies might own the pub. Lessens the enjoyment for me, might increase the enjoyment for others, I’m sure.

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Bob Smiles - February 24, 2014

Don’t go drinking in Belfast is my advice – even the tourist traps. Dublin’s fair city i haven’t a clue

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18. roddy - February 12, 2014

I did not see Jonathan Grahams speech but my brother who did told me that it was delivered in a Dublin working class accent.I now see on another site that he is in fact not of the usual “Trinners” background at all but is from a disadvantaged area of Clondalkin.This would run counter to the allegations of “careerism” and as far as I see the only crime he has committed is adopting some new trend in fashion that us old fogies would run a mile from.!

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Jack Jameson - February 12, 2014

Naff or not, Jonathan Graham has raised his profile considerably wherever he’s standing and where most of his critics do not have a vote, I’d guess.

BTW: I think we should be well past judging people by their accents.

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WorldbyStorm - February 12, 2014

Yes, it probably won’t have done him any harm.

Re the accent entirely agree, but it is interesting how accent functions as badges of authenticity, etc.

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Michael Carley - February 12, 2014

Fado, fado, in the last century, when I was involved in anti-refuse charges work with the SP, a leading (non SP) representative was working on the acquisition of more proletarian vocabulary. He was very taken by the phrase `wide to that’ and began working it into speeches.

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