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“This ‘change’ you talk of Captain Kirk… I do not understand it”… or perhaps I do. The Sinn Féin meeting at the weekend. December 12, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Sinn Féin, The Left.

Sort of busy right now, so only a few brief words on something that struck me as I read the Irish Times yesterday reporting from the Sinn Féin meeting at the weekend… (at least as soon as I picked my jaw up from the floor after the Waters article)…

Mark Hennessy wrote that Gerry Adams had said…

Highlighting the need to broaden its appeal… “We need to be as comfortable with words like “prosperity” and “economic opportunity” as we are with “equality” and “independence”.

Republicans, he said, “need to present relevant, modern politics and policies to meet the needs of Ireland in the 21st century,” he told a special party conference in Dublin.

I don’t know. On one level I agree. There is no point in continually locking oneself into a discourse that appears utterly at odds with the broader environment within which a party operates. At the same time if there was one massive failure on the part of SF at the election it was the inability to project and promote a coherent economic policy. But here… for leftists… there are problematical aspects of the second sentence in particular.

There is more.

Emphasising the need for Sinn Féin to be seen as more pro- business, Mr Adams said it must “develop a new working relationship” with small and medium-sized business owners.

“We need to work together to deliver the next generation of jobs that will drive the economy forward and sustain economic prosperity,” he said.

Over coming months Sinn Féin TDs will organise regional meetings with local chambers of commerce, business people and other social partners.

Again, I agree. There has often been an uneasy tension on the left as regards engaging with the smaller economic formations. And locking into social partnership structures – or at least engaging with them, which is not entirely the same thing – seems sensible.

To my mind SF was in recent years the only significant party cogently arguing a politics which did stress some degree of equality. And I can’t help turning back to the document posted on Monday in the Left Archive, a document that for obvious reasons did not emphasise the economic, but looked to sustain a very political argument about abstentionism. And that raises questions as to the essential core of Sinn Féin, the nature of its ideology and philosophy and how those translate into policy and actions. And that is – of course – an age old debate about the relationship between the Left and Republicanism.

Still, there’s a fine line between changing a line because it is the right thing to do and changing it because of defeat or because it appears that something, anything, has to be done. If SF can sustain other elements of its approach over the past decade in terms of a general philosophy while broadening its engagement with areas hitherto untapped that would be a good thing.
And yet, it is not as if Republicanism hasn’t gone down this route before. After all, one might cede first mover status in this area to Fianna Fáil or even Clann na Poblachta which both contained more than a smidgen of left populism even if they never declared for ‘socialism’ (and as time goes on I can’t help feeling that CnaP might well be a closer precursor of this Sinn Féin in 2007). Well those both worked a treat…

So all told a fascinating time, one which has potential, but which is also fraught with danger. That SF is examining itself is good. The outcome of such introspection is crucial to the left project. And that too is interesting because all three of the major left/centre-left parties are having to reassess themselves at the moment. The Green Party is mapping its radicalism to the rigours of government – with greater or lesser success. The Labour Party seems to be weighing up a slight turn to the left. And Sinn Féin seems to be heading is in a more broadly social democratic direction, perhaps not entirely dissimilar to Labour.
Another couple of soundbites are telling.

Sinn Féin is “not in favour of an ‘open door’ or ‘open border’ policy”, the party’s Dublin MEP Mary Lou McDonald told a special conference to conclude the party’s lengthy review of its general election performance.

That’s something to think about and perhaps the right person to say it. MLM’s bona fides on this topic are above question, but a clear and distinct message is sent. I doubt very much that the perception that SF was ‘soft’ on immigration had any effect at the last election. The point is that few are in favour of an open door policy. I’m not either, but I am for a fairly liberal immigration regime. And there’s a long way and a large distance from that point and adopting an anti-immigration stance. Still… as with all else some rigour – or even failing that a readily comprehensible approach – in terms of policy on the area is no harm.

So what are we seeing? Perhaps a clearer message, one that isn’t afraid to face up to some realities. But… also the troubling thought that without a more clearly enunciated core message of beliefs and values this ship could go in any number of directions.
Finally, interesting too to see that there is a rapprochement between Sinn Féin and the Gardai.

Mr Ferris told delegates that the Garda had his support, as well as the support of his party and republicans across the island.

Well, yes.

“I am a republican all my life and like many republicans have been at the receiving end of political policing, particularly the ‘heavy gang’,” he said.

“But I am unequivocal in saying that the Garda need and deserve the support of local communities, elected representatives and everybody else in the fight against crime, particularly the scourge of drugs.”

Not the worst message in the week that is in it.


1. Pidge - December 12, 2007

Crypto provo.


2. WorldbyStorm - December 12, 2007

Yes, clearly… 😉


3. Wednesday - December 13, 2007

Speaking as the only actual ‘provo’ that posts here regularly, I’m of two minds about the things said at the conference. On the one hand I agree that the language used does seem to indicate a shift to the right which I would obviously not be happy with at all (and I would note that it would also strongly contradict what the majority of the membership has been saying since the election, i.e. that we need to stake out a clear left-wing position). On the other hand I think a lot of it was fairly vacuous waffle-speak that didn’t really say a whole lot about actual policy…and it’s the policy that really matters.

We’ll have to wait and see what kind of motions the Ard Chomhairle tries to get through at the next Ard Fheis before drawing any firm conclusions.


4. WorldbyStorm - December 13, 2007

You know what really got on my goat, so to speak. The bloody location… Of all places! Gah!


5. Michael Taft - December 13, 2007

It is a dubious exercise, at best, to ‘engage’ with the business community when you have nothing to engage with. If it is an exercise to discover what business wants, then that is easily accessible through represenative organisations’ websites, submissions, articles and statements (like the demands to cut, if not abolish altogether, the corporate tax rate and cut employers’ PRSI). If it is a PR exercise to show that Sinn Fein is not ‘anti-business’, fair enough; but don’t pretend its anything more. Progressives must construct their own critique – or at least begin that process. Then engagement makes sense. And what would make more sense is to detach the more progressive elements of the ‘enterprise sector’ from the traditionalists that dominate the business lobby. But to find out what business lobbyists want in order to dovetail one’s economic programme into those demands – well, there are already a couple of political parties that do that much better than Sinn Fein ever could. As they say, its a crowded field.


6. splinteredsunrise - December 13, 2007

I have a lot of sympathy with Wednesday on this… even if it’s just waffle more than substance, I think one of the big SF selling points down the years has been looking young, hungry and aggressive. The move to rhetorical blanditude might mean (or might not) an easier ride in the media, but how it’s supposed to energise the wretched of the earth in Tallaght or wherever beats me.


7. ejh - December 13, 2007

I think the point of pro-business politics is that the wretched of the earth should not be energised. Or perhaps that they be energised literally, with some sort of crude electronic attachment.


8. WorldbyStorm - December 13, 2007

Well, we’re all of one mind. It’s the sort of thing that makes us worried about the future. There is a lot to be said for a strong explicitly left (be that democratic socialist/Social Democrat/Marxist) ideological core of some kind in a party. Interestingly one might draw a parallel with the Green Party who also have an existential ideological component that permits varying emphases on the political spectrum. I’m not saying SF isn’t explicitly leftwing, but the actual location of that point is a bit too nebulous… It’s problematic. And ironically there are points it could occupy – such as a sort of Old Labourist approach which would neither scare the horses and yet be significantly more left wing than other larger formations on the island…


9. Mick Hall - December 14, 2007

So Gerry has made up his mind to winkle out the petty bourgeois from under Berties nose, in his dreams. WBS you have not got the whole Irish Times article you could email me, if so it would be appreciated?

All of what you have posted are directed at people with awful prejudices and to be blunt could not come out of a socialists mouth, unless they are of the national variety.


10. Mark P - December 14, 2007

This speech, like Adams speech a couple of years ago at his “business breakfast” with the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, isn’t significant because some huge change in detailed policy was announced. It’s significant because it sets out in clear terms what the general approach Sinn Fein will take is. And, again as with the “business breakfast”, this stuff should come as no surprise to anyone who has kept their critical faculties intact.

After the setback of the last election there was some talk in southern Sinn Fein circles about refocusing on grassroots activism and developing radical policies. This was only to be expected from people like O’Broin, who constitute what passes for a “left” in Sinn Fein. But it was never the most likely course. Sinn Fein are part of a right wing coalition government in the North. Their further progress there depends on their ability to continue to displace the SDLP by presenting themselves as the party for Catholics. Why would anyone expect such a party to draw the conclusion from a setback in a Southern election that a turn towards radical, pro-working class, politics was a good idea? They were always going to step up the business as usual, responsible party of capitalism, approach not abandon it.


11. Sinn Féin’s nine months of madness continues « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - December 26, 2007

[…] has already looked at the coverage of the Sinn Féin conference and the only thing I would add to that is […]


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