5/26/2007

Sinn Féin: What went wrong?

I wanted to wait until all the results were in before I posted about the outcome, and the outcome for Sinn Féin was not good!



We are left in a situation were instead of doubling our number of TD's, as we expected, we are going into the 30th Dáil with one less TD.

The loss of Seán Crowe in Dublin South West is a huge blow and a hard one to take. It's a loss that nobody predicted and came totally left field. Seán is a seriously nice guy, a hard worker and a dedicated Republican. I have no doubt that he will be back next time out to reclaim the seat.

What makes this all the harder to grasp is that Seán topped the poll last time and the person who took the Sinn Féin seat is uber blue-shirt Brian Hayes.

Some, especially in Fianna Fáil, are making the mistake though of overstating the failure of our campaign.

We came very close in a lot of constituencies.

Padraig MacLoughlin came within inches in Donegal North East. Pearse Doherty, Dessie Ellis, Larry O'Toole and Mary Lou McDonald all came very close to taking seats for Sinn Féin in Donegal and Dublin.

On top of that we have made huge advances in other constituencies and with 5 more years hard work will hopefully yield seats.

-I am thinking of Jonathon O'Brien in Cork North Central, who with 8.2% increased our vote by 2.5%.

-Joanne Spain in Dublin Mid West, who with 9.3% increased our vote by 2.6%.

-Martin Kenny in Roscommon-South Leitrim, who with 8.4% increased our vote by 3.4%

We also saw strong showings in Waterford, Wexford, Laois-Offaly, Sligo-North Leitrim and Meath West.

It should also be born in mind that our share of the vote actually increased in this election despite the squeeze on the smaller parties.

Now I am going to try and work out firstly what went wrong and how we can improve for the future.

What went wrong?

1. Fianna Fáil Vs Fine Gael

The last week of the election saw a change of focus away from the issues and onto the debate of who would be the next Taoiseach. It became a straight fight between Bertie Ahern of Fianna Fáil and Blue-Shirt Enda Kenny.

The results bear testament to that with all the smaller parties, including Labour, doing badly yet with Fianna Fáil holding and Fine Gael advancing by 20 seats.

Fianna Fáil voters who would have came to us in our key constituencies stayed with Fianna Fáil in the hope of staying off the blue-shirt axis of evil.

2. All fur coat no knickers

That's the only phrase that I can use in relation to our campaign. I am not blaming our candidates or our party activists who busted their balls night after night, I am placing this blame directly at the foot of the leadership.

I will explain why

Let's have a look at our manifesto, or lack there of, for example. I want to make it clear that I don't blame the people who drafted it, there is a serious problem within the party with policy formation.

That being said the manifesto was the biggest pile of watery, airy fairy, head in the fucking clouds, not a notion of what is going on, bullshit that I have ever had the misfortune of reading!!

Yes, we identified the problems in health, in lack of childcare, in housing, in public transport, in inequality, in lack of all-Ireland co-operation etc

What we didn't supply to the electorate was an answer to these problems! To say that our "policies" were vague in the extreme would be spinning to the nth degree. All we provided to the electorate was pub talk, nothing more.

We did not supply clear answers that would solve the current problems, it's that fucking simple!

Our back flip on Corporation tax so close to an election was suicidal, it looked like we were running scared and unsure of our own position. I have often heard it said that a dog can sense fear in a person, well an electorate can sense fear in a political party.

It's about time we got off the fucking pot and decided who we are and what we hope to achieve. Let's drop this pretence and say to the electorate very clearly.

-Yes, we want a 32 County Socialist Republic!

-Yes, we want a secular state where all forms of discrimination be it race, sex, creed, sexual orientation etc are consigned to the past

-Yes, the rich should pay their fair share

-Yes, the private sector has no role in public services

-Yes, the most vulnerable in society should be protected

-Yes, housing are for living in not for speculators to make money off

You can't be a catch all party, we are not like Fianna Fáil. We are an ideological party and we should stop trying to court a vote that we can never get!

3. Too much focus on the North

That has been a mistake by the party. The simple fact is that the vast majority of people in the 26 counties want a United Ireland but as the vote for such is not up next month it is not the major issue. The major issues are health, education, crime, the economy, transport etc

We have relied too much on our Northern reps and I have felt that they sometimes overshadowed our own candidates. In a way it seemed like we were babysitting our Southern candidates and while that was not the intention that's how it came across.

Too much time spent on the peace process!

You can't live off past victories and past successes, eaten bread counts for nothing. Why would I vote for someone because of what they did in the past? I want to know what are they going to do for me in the future!

4. Mistakes at leadership level

I said yesterday to JG that if we failed to win Dublin Central that I would place the blame for that squarely at the foot of the Ard Chomhairle, that position has not changed. This talk of the smaller parties being squeezed does not hold true in Dublin Central, in others constituencies yes but not Dublin Central.

We threw everything and I mean everything, including the kitchen sink, at Dublin Central and we failed to win a seat. This was a seat were Nicky Keogh came within a 100 votes of winning it last time and yet this time our vote was down 5.4%.

Tony Gregory said last night that had Nicky stood again he would have won, I concur with Tony. I don't hold Mary Lou responsible for this failure, she did everything in her power to win a seat here for Sinn Féin and I would like to express my commiserations.

I do however hold the view that this was the wrong constituency for her to stand in, I said it at the time to party comrades and I am saying it again. Working class areas are less disposed to perceived parachute candidates than other areas. They like to see one of their own representing them and righly so, all politics is local afterall.

What the Ard Chomhairle did here, in my opinion, was to look for the best possible chance that we had at a seat gain in Dublin and said right, we'll stick her there.

It doesn't work that way.

The ignored the fact that the reason why we were so close to a seat there was because of the serious hard work by local activists on the ground and by Nicky himself. The evidence of this was born out by the vote we achieved yesterday in Cabra.

The Ard Chomhairle are really going to have to look at their all-too-often temptation to interfere with the workings of local Sinn Féin areas.

I understand that they have these powers and responsibilities to ensure local areas are singing off the same hymn sheet however in my opinion their interference cost us a seat yesterday.

Now I am not the type of person who gives out about problems without offering my humble opinion on how we can rectify the problems.

What do we do?

1. Policy and Development

We need to have a serious and I mean serious look at this department within the party. I personally never want to read the garbage that I read this election ever again.

The problem we have is that we have a serious issue with the use of our resources. Policy formation is often ad hoc and airy fairy or not at all. This is no longer acceptable in these changed times.

We must also remember that the electorate in most of the 26 counties are not as trusting as the Northern voters. They require and demand proper policies and proper strategies from us. It's not like South Armagh or West Belfast where you could stand a donkey with a tricolour and they would get elected.

What we did to our candidates in this election was to send them out unarmed, an unusual thing for Republicans. We left them without the answers to many key questions and I think for that we owe an apology to them.

They were sent out like lambs amongst the wolves and that must never happen again. This result should be used as a wake up call for us.

We need to spend a year, at least, developing policy and we need to widen the scope of people who contribute to policy formation. I have been saying that since University!

We have people in every sector of society within the movement, be they plumbers, doctors, teachers, lawyers, community workers etc. Not to mention the students that we have all over this island studying and researching these areas

Do we use that talent which is open to us??? You must be joking!

To the great and the good they are more use putting up posters than helping us destroy the one stick the establishment have left to beat us with, our lack of credible policies.

Unless we make a credible attempt at developing clear, concise and developed policies on a whole range of issues then we can expect this result to occur again.

You only have to look at the leaders debate to see how Gerry got hammered on this issue.

2. Internal reflection

We need to have a look at these results and try to determine where we went wrong. We need to look at our slavish adherence to discrimination when it comes to the selection of candidates.

We need to decide which is more preferable, a credible and strong male candidate who can win a seat or a female candidate who can't.

It's that simple!

People will be aware of my opposition to Sinn Féin's, what can only be described as discrimination, gender policy.

I fully support the move to get more of our female members elected, you can't however secure that goal by the use of discrimination. We need to address the fundamental problem that exists within the party when it comes to advancing women.

We need to work on getting more women to take up positions of responsibility within the party. That means Chair and Secretary of local Cumann, Chomhairle Ceanthair and Cúige .

We need to change the way we do business in order to facilitate more of our female members.

I've lost count of the amount of times that I have attended meetings, at ungodly hours or inappropriate hours for women with children. They don't start on time because some people work off "republican time", they last for hours on end and we have meetings about meetings.

We need to create space for some of our female members to take up the mantel of responsibility. That can't be achieved by having, what many female comrades have said to me, patronising "gender quotas".

I know female members of the party that have outlined their utter contempt for our gender polices to the senior people concerned because I was there when they did it.

There is a perception that should they get selected it isn't on merit and it's because they are women, it's tokenism at it's worst!

You could have the entire Ard Chomhairle elected as women and all of our elected reps and women would not enjoy equality because that is not were the power lies.

Who are we?

I don't write these things out of anger or bitterness, I write them as a concerned and loyal member of the Republican movement. I think we need to face up to these problems and deal with them accordingly.

We are not beat, we are still going strong and headed in the right direction. We have local elections in 2009 and all of our energy must be focused on that.

The fight back starts now and our challenge for the 31st Dáil starts now!

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