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Irish Left Archive: Sinn Féin Ard Fheis 1986 September 21, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Left Online Document Archive, Sinn Féin, Uncategorized.

SF Cover 86


So, here it is. Another pivotal document from the the history of the Irish left. This document, perhaps above all others from Sinn Féin during this period, symbolised the shift in their political direction and an arrival at a position, which while not identical was not entirely different to that taken by Official Sinn Féin in 1971 (for ironically abstention was not successfully carried in 1970 – and indeed there remained a rear-guard action by some of those who stayed with OSF against it thereafter).

It is arguable that along with the question as to the relationship with armed struggle abstention has been one of the key primary defining aspects of Irish Republicanism, at least as that is perceived by Republicans.

And the issue of abstention weighs heavily upon these pages.

Turn to page 83… Constitution/Electoral Strategy and one will see multiple motions in favour of or against abstentionism.

Consider these two examples, one from each position…

164: That paragraph 1b of the Constitution, which holds Sinn Féin to an abstentionist policy in the 26 Counties, be replaced by the following:
“No person who is a member of any political party organisation or who approves of or supports the candidature of persons, who, if elected, intend to take part in the proceedings of the British or Stormont governments by which the 6 Counties is ruled, or who approves of or supports the candidature of persons who sign any form or give any kind of written or verbal undertaking of intention to take their seats in these institutions, shall not be admitted to membership or allowed to retain membership.”


170: That Sinn Féin contests the next general election in the 26 Counties on the understanding that it will take its seats if so elected, if the collective leadership of the Republican Movement decides it is tactically advantageous to do so at the time.

But, the key motion is:

THAT this Ard-Fheis drops its abstentionist attitude to Leinster House. Successful Sinn Fein parliamentary candidates in 26-County elections:
a. Shall attend Leinster House as directed by the Ard Chomhairle.
b. Shall not draw their salaries for personal use. (Parliamentary representatives shall be paid a Sinn Fein organiser’s subsidy, and the Leinster House salary shall be divided at the direction of the Ard Chomhairle to defray national and constituency expenses.)
To accommodate this change, the Constitution and Rules be amended as follows:
That Section 1b of the Constitution be amended to read:

“b. No person who is a member of any political party organisation or who approves of or supports the candidature of persons who, if elected, intend taking part in the proceedings of the Westminster or partitionist 6-County parliaments or who approves of or supports the candidature of persons who sign any form or give any kind of written or verbal undertaking of intention to take their seats in these institutions, shall be admitted to membership or allowed to retain membership.”

That Section 1f of the Constitution be amended to read:

“f. No member of the British armed forces shall be eligible for membership.

“No person who has taken an oath of allegiance to the Westminster or partitionist 6-County parliaments shall be eligible for membership so long as he/she retains the office or position involving such oaths or until he/she repudiates the oath of declaration in writing to a cumann.”

That Section 5 of the Constitution be amended to read:

“5. Sinn Fein candidates in Westminster or partitionist 6-County parliamentary elections shall, on selection and before nomination, publicly and solemnly pledge themselves, as follows:-

I …………. freely and solemnly declare:
“a. That, if elected, I will not sit in, nor take part in, the proceedings of the Westminster or partitionist 6-County parliaments.
“b. That, pending the establishment of the parliament of the Irish Republic, in all matters pertaining to the duties and functions of a parliamentary representative I will be guided by and hold myself amenable to all directions and instructions issued to me by the Ard Chomhairle of Sinn Féin.
“c. That, pending the establishment of the parliament of the Irish Republic, I will, at any rime, if called upon to do so by a majority of the ,members of the Ard Chomhairje of Sinn Fein, resign my seat as a parliamentary representative of the constituency of…
“d. That I take this pledge voluntarily, of my own free will.
“That Sinn Féin candidates in Leinster House elections take pledges 5b, 5c and 5d.”
It is this that was eventually supported, precipitating the withdrawal from Sinn Féin of Ruairi O Bradaigh and others to reform as Republican Sinn Féin.

There are other motions that are of a part with the general issue, take 152 (p.79) which proposes that:

…at future Ard-Fheiseanna resolutions relating to sensitive internal issue be discussed in private session, in order that delegates be able to express their opinions openly.

And what of 150…

That all motions of national importance be discussed at prime attendance time.

Both of which suggest a certain degree of unease at the structural aspects of the movement.

But there’s much more here for consideration. There is the impact of social issues, note the debate over the approach to abortion which is particularly heated. There are Foreign Affairs motions… Number 61 is particularly interesting…

That this Ard-Fheis supports the following socialist countries and the aid many of them give to Third World countries engaged in struggle:

a. The Republic of Cuba, and the aid it gives to the people of Angola and Nicaragua;
b. The Peoples Democratic Republic of Korea, and its aim of uniting all of Korea under socialism;
c. The Democratic Republic of Vietnam, which has united its country after years of struggle and foreign interference;

h. That the Ard-Fheis recognises the governments of the Soviet Union, Poland, GDR, Czechoslovakia, Rumania and Bulgaria as being progressive countries, with good socialist policies int he way of housing, health care, job creation, etc. Recognises the suffering these countries endured during the last world war at the hand of fascists and collaborators. Sinn Féin recognises that it was the Soviet army and its people which broke the back of the Nazis. Sinn Fein is totally opposed to the anti-Soviet policies of the Washington, London and Bonn governments. That Sinn Fein in recognising the above does not in any way compromise its position on neutrality and non-alignment.

Now that seems oddly reminiscent of another party I can think of.

In sum a document that manages to demonstrate the multiple strands within Sinn Féin during this period and the debates and disagreements that characterised its political development.


1. entdinglichung - September 21, 2009

That the Ard-Fheis recognises the governments of the Soviet Union, Poland, GDR, Czechoslovakia, Rumania and Bulgaria as being progressive countries, with good socialist policies” ;-( … they forgot Hungary … why?


2. WorldbyStorm - September 21, 2009

More irksome at the time to their fraternal comrades in CPI-ML would be the exclusion of Albania.

But that’s a good question.


3. Garibaldy - September 21, 2009

Shame we don’t know how many of these were passed. I note that the international motion can’t even get the name of the DPRK right. 🙂

I was also struck by the small number of cumainn actually putting forward political motions, unlike the constitutional issue, understandably enough.


4. P Cullinan - September 21, 2009

They didnt mention a certain country which still today has a communist party in power….the latter with 63 million members!


5. Garibaldy - September 21, 2009

Yeah noticed that. Maybe they thought the fact that it had good relations with the White House meant that it wasn’t revolutionary 😉


6. Jim Monaghan - September 22, 2009

On motions. Remember that is still early days. Like in the Officials the leadership did not controll motions for good or bad from Cumainn. An interesting parallel with the Officials is that after a certain period conferences were totally stage managed.Also, in the early days you did not get the control freakery where every motion that did not follow the line was considered a threat.Those who stayed in the Officials from say 1972 might tell us how ard Fheiseanna comapred as regards openess and say quirky and unexpected motions from Cumainn.
Mind you the Marxist sects are worse. Imaging a motion at an SP or SWP conference calling for unity that was not prompted by the leadership.The proposers would be out on their ear with their feet not touching the ground.


7. Mark P - September 22, 2009

Actually Jim, there have been a number of motions proposed at Socialist Party conferences arguing for various unity initiatives and the like which certainly didn’t have the backing of the elected leadership. It hasn’t to my knowledge ever effected anyone’s continued membership, and why would it? Such tactical disagreements arise regularly.

Contrary to the belief apparently widespread amongst the small crew of long-time independent socialists in Dublin, you’d really have to go out of your way to make yourself obnoxious and break party rules to get disciplinary action taken against you in the Socialist Party and it’s well-nigh impossible to get yourself expelled. The traditional response to that factual point from cynical sorts is to make some vaguely ominous noises about party leaderships having ways and means of “forcing people out”, which is suitably non-specific and allows people to make insinuations without being called on to actually back them up with examples.


8. NollaigO - September 22, 2009

So,Mark P, the internal regime in the SP has changed substantially since this document was written?

I was amazed reading Motion 61- a Stalinist motion in the 1980s Provos!
Then Jim’s post pointed out that
the leadership did not controll motions for good or bad from Cumainn.
Then I saw that it was from the Casement/Nolan Cumann, Dún Laoghaire.
Any information on that Cumann? An bfuil siad i Sinn Féin fós?


9. Brian Hanley - September 22, 2009

Motion 61 was not that unusual. At the 1987 Ard Fheis a motion pledging Sinn Fein to support the Polish government against counter-revolutionary forces was passed.


WorldbyStorm - September 22, 2009

I don’t suppose anyone here has the 87 Clár?


10. Seán Ó Tuama - September 22, 2009

At this stage the Provos had for some time already been friendly with the Russians and part of the quid pro quo for Russian help was this kind of motion.

Somebody who was at that Árd- Fheis told me that Motion 61 was actually passed with very little discussion and only one delegate speaking against.

The Provo left which had until then been to some extent influenced by far-left views became fairly Stalinist in this period. On Poland they explicitly renouned an earlier prp-Solidarity position.


11. Mark P - September 22, 2009


I presume that you meant to link directly to one of the articles linked to in that page, probably the Marc Mulholland one. That article is a moderately entertaining jab against the very idea of Marxist or as he terms it “ultra-left” politics from a softer left political position, combined with some less interesting meanderings about the national question. As such, I don’t see much of particular note in it. He doesn’t say a great deal in it about the “internal regime” of Militant, and I wasn’t around then so I can’t take him up on the detail of what he does say (which mostly concerns rather minor debates, probably unremembered by anyone but a handful of participants).

On the few concrete claims he does make about the “internal regime” of Militant, I can categorically state that the Socialist Party doesn’t operate in the manner he describes. For instance, the idea of “committee discipline”, the leadership presenting themselves as a unified force to the membership regardless of disagreements within the leadership, does not exist in the Socialist Party and indeed would be considered fairly obnoxious within it. We also don’t elect our leadership by slate. And he says at one point that some document he wanted circulated wasn’t circulated when he submitted it (although it was circulated later), which again is not how the Socialist Party operates. If there is some other specific point he mentions that you want me to address, feel free to point it out.


12. Seán Ó Tuama - September 22, 2009

Correction to 10. above. My source was at the 1987 Árd-Fheis and the remarks above about the discussion actually refer to the anti-Solidarity motion in 1987.


13. Ramzi Nohra - September 22, 2009

What help did the Russians give the Provos?


14. NollaigO - September 22, 2009

The 1986 Árd-Fheis also had a motion against Solidarity – Motion No 60 also from the Dún Laoghaire Cumann. The Árd Chomhairle motion, on the other hand, ..Recognises the legitimate struggle of those people in Europe who strive for autonomy and self-determination….. One could argue that this refers to Brittany and the Basque Country but no concrete states are listed.

“Material aid” a bhí i gceist i 1987?
As WbS remarks “.. oddly reminiscent..


15. Seán Ó Tuama - September 22, 2009

Judging by rumours I heard at the time relations had certainly become closer by the early eighties. I have no more info than that.


16. Ramzi Nohra - September 22, 2009

thanks Sean


17. Garibaldy - September 23, 2009

Doesn’t Sean O’Callaghan claims that the killing of Mountbatten was to prove their anti-imperialist credentials to the DDR with whom they were getting closer? Who knows whether that is true or not.


18. Neues aus den Archiven der radikalen (und nicht so radikalen) Linken « Entdinglichung - September 25, 2009

[…] Independent Socialist Party, 1976 – 1978/Independent Socialist, Mai 1978 * Sinn Féin Ard Fheis 1986 * Eamonn Smullen: Things Can Change in order to Remain the Same […]


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