1/11/2009

Sinn Féin-Change needs to happen

The last time I did an in depth and somewhat critical blog about Sinn Féin it created a bit of a fuss and some negative reaction, though on the whole I still believe it was a positive piece.



I see that Eoin Ó Broin has created another piece designed for conversation amongst the Republican base. As always I find great realism and common sense in his articles.

I also came across an excellent article from fellow Sinn Féin comrade Chris Donnelly across on Slugger. It's a very straight to the point article that should be read by as many Sinn Féin members as possible.

It's summed up quite effectively by Chris in his last paragraph

"In sum then, my proposals are simple. The party needs to invest in expertise and innovation, free itself of the shackles of laudable but otherwise counter-productive party rules and conventions and in the process equip itself with a refreshing and attractive policy platform to not only earn a place in government across the country but to utilize that position to transform the political scene in Ireland, in the process shifting others onto the ‘all-Ireland’ platform."

For my own part I am hoping this blog piece will give a general overview of where I see the party lacking as a whole. These suggestions for improvement are for the party as a whole, North and South.

Over the next week I intend to submit two further, more in-depth, articles in relation to the party in the North and the South, what's going well, what needs to change etc.

As I see it the party lacks in four general but key areas

1.Structure
2.Policy
3.Engagement
4.Professionalism


It is my belief that these suggestions cover most of those areas and while not exhaustive and not gospel are a reasonable beginning to a future conversation that must be had in order to advance both our movement and our goals.

1. Bottom-Up

It has long been my belief that as a movement we are too focused on what the leadership are doing, what they are going to do and what their strategies and plans are.

This is not the usual and tired critique that we always hear from the usual suspects about Sinn Féin being a leadership led organisation.

I have been a member of the Republican Movement for close to 10 years now and when ever we have a get together, discussion, meeting or whatever the topic invariably always comes up in relation to the leadership and what they are doing with regard to certain issues.

The leadership of Sinn Féin are only human and they don't have all the answers and never claim to have all the answers.

I also feel that too often the base don't exercise the initiative and demonstrate a bit of critical thinking by coming up with their own plan to resolve a certain issue.

We need to motivate the general base of the movement and make them a more politicised and engaged tool in our political arsenal instead of a reactive one.

The base must take the lead in this new phase of struggle.

To that end we need to radicalise the base, we need to energise the activists, politicise the community and the youth in particular. We need to ensure that a healthy stream of information and ideas flow up as well as down stream.

2. Community Engagement

This for me is highly critical and your Republican bread and butter.

We need to liberate and empower our communities. We need to be the lightning rod for change, both socio-economic and political, within our communities. This should not be about us providing them with solutions but about empowering them to come up with the solution themselves.

The first question that I ask when I hear about Republican involvement in the community is thus

"How are we advancing Republican objectives?"

Republicans should be at the very centre of the community. We should take lessons from the Catholic Church and the GAA in particular. Too often Republicans and Republicanism in general in not accessible to the people.

There is a world of difference between electoral and political power. I'm taking about community groups, PTA's, School Board of Governors, Public Funding groups etc

Our enemies dominate these positions despite the fact that in large areas of the country we are the dominant political force. This reality needs to change and change quickly.

We need an aggressive policy of engagement. We need to get out on the roads, in the community halls, in the pubs, in the houses. We need to be advancing these objectives at every turn.

3. Republicanise our way to glory

It's a very simple fact that we need to make more Republicans in the future. We need to foster and develop a Republican ethos in as many people as possible.

This can be achieved by many different and varied ways

In the media, both local and national, we need "Less Potholes and more Revolution".

I say this as any stoop or Fianna Failure worth their salt has that market covered and will claim credit even when the credit is not theirs. They also have their hands on the levers of power within the established media. This means that what media attention we do get needs to be focused, pro-active and above all "political".

We can spread the pothole stories through community engagement because we have one thing our opponents don't have, a very dedicated activist base.

Education must become our top priority both internally and externally. First of all we need to change our internal attitude towards education as just something for new recruits. Thomas Davis said "Educate so you may be free" and so must it be with us.

Education is our new weapon and every one of our activists must be highly skilled in this art in order to be effective within the community. They need to be able to present our arguments to both friends and foes alike. That means being more up to date on our political progress, activities, policies and positions.

We also need to educate our base and our communities so that they can identify with us and our objectives.

I hear a lot of talk about Unionist Engagement but I don't hear much about other types of engagement. I'm talking about engagement out of own area but still with the general Nationalist/Republican/Catholic/Progressive community.

We need to reach out to other elements of the Republican community. There will always be former comrades that are only motivated by hatred of personalities but a lot of former members simply differ from us on key areas. We need to find common ground where we can and develop that so as to advance our objectives.

We need to be challenging the Yellow and White voter at every turn. We should be engaging with them and challenging their perceptions about us in a proactive and positive manner.

We also need to reach out to new communities like the Poles, Latvians, Chinese etc. The first reason is because it's the right and Republican thing to do but also because it's an untapped resource.

In short our outreach needs to be more than just Unionist.

We should Republicanise every institution at every opportunity; every parish, every club or just one at a time if needs be.

3. Modus Operandi

The question I often ask myself is "Who are we?"

I know who I am; I am a Socialist Republican with a strong Catholic ethos. I also accept that what I am is not necessarily what the movement is or should be.

Socialism is more than a word and when you are implementing PFI's and PPP's those words ring hallow. If we are a Socialist/Left wing movement then we need to start acting like one, no matter if we suffer short-term setbacks as a result.

There is a sizeable left wing constituency out there but they expect and demand a lot more than words, they demand actions to back it up as well.

We need to have a serious and mature debate about who we are, where we have come from and where we are going.

4. Sinn Fein Structures

I'm talking about the Cumann, Chomhairle Ceantair, and Cuige structures that we currently have.

Are they working or are these types of structures holding us back in the 21st Century?

I have long argued that we should departmentalise our structures. Not everyone likes delivering papers, writing press releases, selling raffle tickets, canvassing etc. We need to have an internal audit of our people, their likes and dislikes and their general abilities and strengths.

To this end I would like to see us set up different groups inside the party to handle the different issues that we face.

So for example different departments to handle the following; Finance, Media, Local Govt, Political Action, Policy Formation etc.

In that way we encourage our people to give their best and lessen the likelihood that we lose people.

5. Professionalism

This is an area of critical importance and an area I believe that we are lacking in most in all aspects of our political activities.

To that end policy formation, media, legislative and other aspects of our political discourse must be looked at.

We need to end our long held suspicion of external bodies in this field. If an external body can help us in a certain area then we need to grasp that opportunity with both hands. The fact that they may not be Republican matters not, if they help to advance our objectives then that is all that matters.

University Members is an area that I have long felt we underuse and under develop. We have people in all disciplines that could be contributing so much to our development and we are not using them properly.

As such there is no such thing as a free lunch and as we strive to professionalise our movement, policies and our message we can no longer do that on a shoe string budget. The adequate resources must be made available.

6. Upcoming Opportunities

-Euro Elections
-26 County Local Elections
-Lisbon 2


All of these arenas provides us with an opportunity to advance on our current position. The changes that I suggested need to be looked at shortly in order for us to be ready for bigger and harder challenges.

Since I last posted about the party after the 26 County General Election I have observed a lot of changes but there are more that need to follow.

I'll leave specific Northern and Southern suggestions for my future articles.

We have a unique opportunity to grow and develop but as I see it we are limiting our development.

We can't do much about factors outside our control but we can do lots about those inside our control.

Are we ready or willing to make the necessary changes? Only time will tell!

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