Is Sinn Fein really a party of the left?


1:55 pm - May 31st 2012

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contribution by Evan O’Quigley

With polls showing support for the Irish Labour Party plummeting amidst poor performance as the junior-party of the current coalition government (akin to the liberal democrats across the sea), some in in the Republic of Ireland are looking to Sinn Fein as a credible left alternative.

A Sunday Times and Behaviour and Attitudes poll has put Sinn Fein’s support at 25%. Though, is it wise to trust that the Shinners will stick to their promises of equality and solidarity, or is there newfound commitment to equality simply for electoral reasons?

What is interesting about Sinn Fein is their ability to campaign.

They are essentially a political body in three different places. In Northern Ireland, where they are performing very well and Martin McGuiness is leading them in power-sharing with Peter Robinsons DUP, in the Republic where they have a small number of seats in Dail Eireann but whose popular support is rising day by day, and in the United States where members regularly campaign to win the support and funding of Irish-Americans (who bizarrely tend in some cases to be the most nationalist of all).

In Northern Ireland, it’s easy for them to blame all the countries woes on partition and the government in Westminster, likewise in the south they blame the current government, and often evoke the name of Thatcher to attack right-wing economic policies (whose dislike is one place who republicans and socialists share); while in the US they downplay their ‘left-wing’ policies and speak strictly about reuniting Ireland.

For this reason, the party has support from members of the ultra-right Republican party, all of whom who would most definitely disagree with Sinn Fein’s ‘progressive’ ideals.

There may be some within the party that are genuinely committed to these principals. The parties Finance Spokesperson in the South Pearse Doherty has complained about allegations in The Irish Times that the party are adhering to populism and are acting in a cynical and underhanded manner. He argued that Sinn Fein is “committed to building a prosperous and equal Ireland”, and this is the real reason for the latent success in the Republic.

However, at the party’s annual conference last weekend a motion was called to add a modest 2.5 per cent temporary levy on Ireland’s low 12.5% corporation tax. Delegates unanimously immediately rejected this motion, and finance spokesman Doherty argued against it citing that it would “increase the tax burden” on companies trying to survive.

While he may have a point the fact that, as Paul Galvin of Limerick who argued for the motion pointed out, 63 per cent of Irish companies paid no tax in 2010, and of those who did many paid as low as 4 per cent due to various loop holes and deductions.

The fact that a supposed party of the left unanimously is rejecting modest tax increases on wealthy corporations shows to this writer that perhaps Sinn Fein are not exactly as committed to equality as they claim to be.

Adams and McGuinness talk about equality and changing the status quo of neoliberalism and austerity now, but will they stick to their word and fundamentally change things in office? Some progressives may be able to look past their previous violent endeavours in hope of a change in government policy but will they be able to stick to their promise? Time will tell.

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Reader comments


This strange little article gets the award for the week’s most bizarre and vacuous hatchet job.

Strange because primarily, it neglects to mention the referendum on the ‘fiscal constraint’, i.e. austerity, budget that is taking place today, in which Sinn Fein have consistently called for a No vote. They might not be successful in calling for that rejection, but that large parts of the population are now identifying them with a constant struggle to defend working people’s living standards explains much of the reason for their rising support. But here, it goes unmentioned!

To then suggest on the basis of a single vote at the Ard Fheis that the party is, in fact, not progressive, is disingenuous in the extreme. ‘Some within the party may be genuinely committed to those principals [sic]’, you write, neglecting to mention that far from being a ‘newfound’ idea, Sinn Fein recognised and has been championing equality for decades as the only equitable future for the current partitioned Ireland and a future unified Ireland.

I expect attacks on Irish republicans from British blogsites, but they’re usually a little more robust than this. Shame.

I couldn’t really care less about what Sinn Fein say about corporation tax or how they see themselves, because they are still a sectarian party in my opinion. They are unrepentant about the IRA – and it’s the legacy of the Troubles that still divides the communities. The DUP can be pretty sectarian too, but at least they don’t pretend to be progressive.

There are non-sectarian Left Irish parties that those in the Republic or Northern Ireland could vote for, and have previously.

I notice they didn’t get mentioned.

Also Sinn Fein have voted for cuts and gone with the Liberal consensus, so no, they aren’t Left.

Tactically they should probably appear it though in order to fragment opposition to things like the Household Tax.

Interesting points, but everything is relative – no serious party in a democracy will satisfy the left all the time. Does the Irish Labour Party or the SDLP have better left credentials? (Surely not.)

A previous split from Sinn Fein (in the 60s) became the Irish Workers Party, which later merged into the Irish Labour Party.

FWIW Sinn Fein sits with the United Left group (alongside Syriza, the French Communist and Left parties, German Left, etc) in the European Parliament. Of course, I agree with the OP – it is ludicrous to say that Irish corporation tax shouldn’t be increased – but as #1 said, it is difficult to analyse things on the basis of a single vote.

Their USP has traditionally been violent extreme nationalism, hardly compatible with progresssive values. Nevertheless historically the party has a long tradition of attracting radical figures who end up splitting off as they did in the 30s and again in the 70s. We should be due another one around now.

6. Mr S. Pill

Are Sinn Fein pro-choice?

*tumbleweed*

7. Planeshift

“They are essentially a political body in three different places”

As is any political party that has seats in Parliament, the European Parliament, and a devolved body.

So thats labour, the tories, the lib dems, the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the Greens (technically), and whichever of the NI parties has MPs and Euro MPs as well as stormont seats.

@5 “Their USP has traditionally been violent extreme nationalism, hardly compatible with progresssive values.”

This is a tempting view to take, but is it really accurate? Presumably in any colonial situation, the left should be anti-colonialist and a part of the left will favour the use of force in the cause of independence. That opposition to colonialism is called “nationalism”, not to be confused with the expansive nationalism of the colonial power itself. Now, you can argue about whether Northern Ireland is in a colonial situation – indeed, perhaps that is too simplistic an analysis, especially nowadays – but what you can’t say is that nationalism in this sense of the word is incompatible with progressive values.

Of course the late Dr. O’Brien did see Northern Ireland as essentially a colonial conflict, with the northerners seeking to maintain their freedom from irredentist imperialism to the south. It’s no more or less invalid that the analysis you post here. Both tend in my view to glamorize what at base was rarely anything more than squalid sectarian terrorism. More to do with celtic and rangers than grown up politics.

@RP.

No, asshole. Murdering civilians doing their shopping with nail bombs is not progressive politics. No matter how much ‘critical theory’ bull you put in. You murder apologist piece of shit.

11. So Much For Subtlety

8. RP

Presumably in any colonial situation, the left should be anti-colonialist and a part of the left will favour the use of force in the cause of independence. That opposition to colonialism is called “nationalism”, not to be confused with the expansive nationalism of the colonial power itself.

Yes but that reflects the metropolitan Left’s obsession with themselves. Because the British Left hates Britain they tend to support anyone who also hates Britain. Or m ore widely, the European Left hates Europe and they tend to support anyone who also hates Europeans. And if that means supporting, for instance, murderous anti-Semites with a hatred of White people of all ages and genders, then that’s just fine and dandy.

So how is a Leftist supposed to react to, for instance, the Algerian FLN? Which went on to impose a military dictatorship on Algeria vastly more repressive and blood thirsty than the French colonial regime ever was. And which has continued to persecute ethnic minorities like the Berbers. And more to the point, ethnically cleansed Algeria of Jews – the vast majority of whom were not only indigenous but belonged to a community that pre-dated Islam in Algeria? Well we know. They embraced the FLN and their ethnic cleansing. Creating Judenrein countries is only bad when the Germans do it it seems.

So as far as SF goes, the majority of the people of Northern Ireland want to be part of the UK. Irish Republicanism took a Marxist turn in the 1960s but it remains one of the most reactionary political ideologies in modern Europe. It created a priest-ridden sectarian state in the South that was the closest thing Europe had to a theocracy since the Thirty Years’ War. Rights for women would have taken a backwards step if SF got their way at any time up to 2000 or so.

But they did kill British people. So it is not really a question is it?

12. Patrick James

Sinn Fein have a long history of presenting themselves in different ways to different audiences. Maybe the Lib Dems might have learned all this from Sinn Fein ?

Before and during the second world war Sinn Fein had stong fascist sympathies. After the second world war they started a move towards the left however in 1970 they split, the left leaning part becoming Official Sinn Fein, later the Workers Party and the right leaning part becoming Provisional Sinn Fein, now known once again simply as Sinn Fein.

I think Sinn Fein is a single issue party pursuing Irish nationalism, and aside from that issue it will adopt policies and presentation to suit whichever audience is listening.

13. Patrick James

Sinn Fein have a long history of presenting themselves in different ways to different audiences. Maybe the Lib Dems might have learned all this from Sinn Fein ?

Before and during the second world war Sinn Fein had stong fascist sympathies. After the second world war they started a move towards the left however in 1970 they split, the left leaning part becoming Official Sinn Fein, later the Workers Party and the right leaning part becoming Provisional Sinn Fein, now known once again simply as Sinn Fein.

I think Sinn Fein is a single issue party pursuing Irish nationalism, and aside from that issue it will adopt policies and presentation to suit whichever audience is listening.

14. John P reid

they’re A mouth piece to A terrorist organsiation

15. David Ellis

Sinn Fein makes Brit cuts in the north and prioritizes a united ireland over the struggle against austerity in the South. Not only dangerously divisive but hypocrites too.

One little trick that Republicans play to dupe people is to tie their conflict and struggle to others around the world. Anti-Apartheid, pro-Palestinian, Cuba, racial segregation in the USA, Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, Angela Davis, even Picasso’s Guernica.

Belfast’s Internalional Wall – Falls Road.

Every day tourists are taken to this site and given the story by taxi-driver tour guides.

17. Robin Levett

@Planeshift #7:

“They are essentially a political body in three different places”

As is any political party that has seats in Parliament, the European Parliament, and a devolved body.

So thats labour, the tories, the lib dems, the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the Greens (technically), and whichever of the NI parties has MPs and Euro MPs as well as stormont seats.

Not quite so. The point being made was horizontal, not vertical spread. A party can have councillors, MPs and MEPs and still be appealing at all levels to exactly the same constituency. Whether the devolved bodies are seen as co-equal with the national parliament, or as sitting at a level below them will determine whether they confuse this issue.

The point being made is that Sinn Fein is seeking to appeal to three different constituencies, and is doing so by wearing different faces to each.

18. Harriet Hume

This article reveals the silliness of trying to understand politics in terms of the left-/right dichotomy.
Patrick James is correct in saying the Sinn Fein in the 1949s sided with the Nazis and the Axis powers.
Since then they have been consistent in only two things, their use of violence and hatred of the British.

19. Jimy Hoffa

The Shinners use the language of the left and the tactics of fascism. You can’t take ‘em seriously on equality when they spent decades murdering Protestants.

Sinn Fein/IRA are a sectarian murder gang. Can’t see anything by Marx, Lenin or Gramsci about putting bombs in litter bins in Warrington and killing 2 schoolboys….

“With polls showing support for the Irish Labour Party plummeting amidst poor performance as the junior-party of the current coalition government”

That’s because the Irish Labour Party has long been far from a left wing party; nothing to do with being the junior coalition partner.

21. john P Ried

well said 19


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Is Sinn Fein really a party of the left? http://t.co/Zf8UPrHI

  2. Jason Brickley

    Is Sinn Fein really a party of the left? http://t.co/HARUYe99

  3. Robert Peter Vaughan

    Based on W.Belfast I'd sooner have Sinn Fein in Southwark than Lab. RT @libcon Is Sinn Fein really a party of the left? http://t.co/PYrFPOny

  4. leftlinks

    Liberal Conspiracy – Is Sinn Fein really a party of the left? http://t.co/yHOKjaQg

  5. BMetAlevelPolitics

    Is Sinn Fein really a party of the left? http://t.co/Zf8UPrHI

  6. Ricardo Gaio Alves

    «Is Sinn Fein really a party of the left?» http://t.co/grQievYt -> A política irlandesa não encaixa nas categorias ideológicas continentais.

  7. BevR

    Is Sinn Fein really a party of the left? | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/aviOC3wg via @libcon

  8. Evan O'Quigley

    Liberal Conspiracy – Is Sinn Fein really a party of the left? http://t.co/yHOKjaQg

  9. Evan O'Quigley

    Liberal Conspiracy – Is Sinn Fein really a party of the left? http://t.co/yHOKjaQg

  10. representingthemambo

    Is Sinn Fein really a party of the left? | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/s7OwP9Xz via @libcon

  11. Paul Anthony Ward

    Is Sinn Fein really a party of the left? | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/op1Oqhne via @libcon





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