Making Sinn Fein’s message relevant
Making Sinn Fein’s message relevant

Eoin O Broin last week replaced Aengus O Snodaigh as the chairperson of Dublin Sinn Fein. In this article for the Irish News, he denies the party is suffering from an identity crisis.

In the immediate aftermath of this June’s local and European elections there has been much debate about the future of Sinn Fein. Unfortunately a good deal of the analysis has been widely off the mark.

In some cases, commentators have clearly lost the run of themselves, salivating over their own political fantasies, with talk of crisis, splits and meltdown.

So let’s deal with some hard facts.

Sinn Fein remains the third largest political party on the island of Ireland.

In the European elections we took 331,797 votes, 115,545 less than Fianna Fail.

Despite some high-profile losses, particularly in Dublin, the party broadly held its own in terms of votes and seats.

The party is not in crisis and our continued role in and relevance to the future of political life in Ireland is not in doubt.

However, the party did have a poor election. The loss of Mary Lou McDonald as MEP for Dublin and the defection of a number of councillors post-election has forced the party to ask some hard questions.

Writing in An Phoblacht a few weeks ago, Sinn Fein Euro candidate for Munster Toireasa Ferris struck a chord with many activists when she said: ‘Sinn Fein simply means nothing to the bulk of people in the south’.

Her prognosis that the ‘party is suffering an identity crisis’ may have been harsh but her call for Sinn Fein to clarify what ‘we are trying to achieve in the 26 counties’ was timely.

In the view of this writer Sinn Fein is not suffering an identity crisis. However, in the south we are in a period of transition and have yet to find our feet.

You could call it party political growing pains.

Toireasa Ferris is right when she says that Sinn Fein means little to the bulk of people in the south. The challenge, therefore, is to clarify our left republican message and to ensure that it is relevant to people in their everyday lives.

So what does Sinn Fein stand for? We are a left republican political party committed to ending partition, creating a national democracy and building a society based on social and economic justice and political and cultural equality.

However, we have to constantly ask ourselves whether the tools we are employing are fit for the job and whether we are using those tools to their best effect.

The key to our success is what we do locally - being embedded in our communities and empowering local people to take control over the decisions that affect their daily lives.

Only through such local activism can we convince a growing section of the electorate that Sinn Fein is committed to delivering real political, social and economic change.

We also need to acknowledge that Sinn Fein alone does not have the political strength to achieve the degree of change Irish society requires. We need to build alliances for change with other political, social and civic forces locally and nationally.

In the north, this demands that we build a real and sustained working relationship with civic and political unionism. In the south it means ending the political dominance of both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.

In both jurisdictions it will eventually require progressive coalitions in local and regional government implementing real alternatives to the failed right-wing social and economic policies that are the cause of our current economic malaise.

It will also require a vibrant and independent civic society, bringing together the community and voluntary sector, trade unions and concerned citizens, acting as a social guarantee for any progressive coalition’s promise of change.

Irish society needs change.

The challenge for republicans is not only to build an alliance for change with others but to demonstrate that social and economic change goes hand in hand with political and constitutional change.

Notwithstanding the poor election in the south this writer is optimistic about Sinn Fein’s immediate future. We have a lot of hard work to do and a lot of weaknesses to correct. But the strength and relevance of Sinn Fein’s left republican message of social, economic, political and constitutional change, north and south, is as relevant today as ever before.

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© 2009 Irish Republican News