6/09/2009

A cross roads

Now that the Euro Elections and the local elections in the 26 counties are over I thought I'd add my tuppence worth to the debate.


As always I will be focusing on the Sinn Féin perspective because to be quite honest that's the only perspective I'm interested in.

This has been an election of mixed results for Sinn Féin and I'm left with a somewhat empty feeling; neither happy nor sad by the results.

First off let's look at the good results for Sinn Féin in these elections.

Bairbre deBrun was re-elected in the 6 counties and topped the poll as well, much to the dismay of the Unionist superiority complex.

Toiréasa Ferris had a massive vote in Munster and came very close to winning a seat; increasing our vote by 6.2%.

We also broke new ground in many areas of the 26 counties with wins in Limerick, Wicklow and Mayo amongst others.

The bad comes next

Mary Lou McDonald failed to retain her MEP seat when the Dublin constituency fell from a 4 to a 3 seater. Her vote was actually down by 2.5%

Our vote in Dublin City was actually down by 5.8% during an economic recession when people were deserting Fianna Fail in their thousands.

Our vote overall in the local elections was down by 0.7%.

We lost councillors in Meath, Dublin, Wexford and Waterford including Daithi Doolan and John Dwyer.

I next want to examine each aspect of the elections in turn and then give my opinion as to where we go from here.

Euro Elections

6 Counties

With 26% of the vote (126, 184 votes to be precise) it's pretty much as you were for Sinn Féin when you consider the reduced turnout.

The only difference this time was the introduction of the TUV and Jim Allister who split the Unionist vote and allowed Republicanism to claim the top spot for the first time in the history of EU Elections.

In reality though as this is a PR election it matters not a jot who tops the poll but I will enjoy the machinations of delusional Unionists who miss not being top dog.

26 Counties

At 11.3% overall our vote is up by 0.1%, our poor showing in Dublin and the North West masked by a massive increase in Munster.

Dublin

This was always going to be a hard election for us to win for a number of reasons. This constituency moved from a 4 to a 3 seater.

Mary Lou has also been subject to some pretty nasty press, some perhaps justified but in the whole quite disgusting and a lot of it sexist.

That said we are in the middle of an economic recession and Finna Fail have been haemorrhaging votes by their thousands yet we are actually down by 2.5%.

It doesn't take a genius to work out that something isn't right.

I like Mary Lou, she is a very competent and likeable person but like a lot of Sinn Féin candidates they are either loved or loathed and not in equal measure.

I certainly detected an anyone but Mary Lou atmosphere amongst the establishment parties exemplified by arch-Blue Shirt Gareth "Thatcher's Bitch" Fitzgerald calling on voters to vote for Pro-Lisbon candidates i.e. including Fianna Fail and Green candidates.

With all that considered I still say that it is our own difficulties that cost us this seat. The Socialist Party had a 6.9% swing in this election so other left wing candidates did do well. Just not us unfortunately.

After the Policing Ard Fheis we lost a lot of good people in Dublin. I know a lot of people involved with the party restructure in Dublin and the simple reality is that we are just not strong enough in that area.

Dublin is the lynch pin for our advance in the 26 counties and in that respect we need more focus in building up this part of our organisation.

If we don’t succeed we could be faced with the prospect of having no Dublin TD’s after the next election.

I'll return to this later in the post.

The only consolation with the result is that Joe Higgins got elected and the seat stayed with the Left. I have a lot of time for Joe Higgins personally and the Dail is a loss without his presence.

North West

At 9.2% of the vote we are down by almost 5.6% and the reason for this is quite simple. Declan Gangley of Libertas took a serious amount of Anti-Lisbon votes that would otherwise have come to us and the introduction of Pat The Cope Gallagher stopped the mass exodus of Fianna Fail Republican votes coming to us.

The election of Pat The Cope does however present us with opportunities that I will return to later.

South

This was our best performance in the Euro's for a number of reasons. Toiréasa Ferris had a fantastic election increasing our vote by 6.2% and coming very close to taking a seat that nobody expected her to take.

She also presented herself as a new Sinn Féin candidate; young, bright, articulate and in touch with modern Ireland. She also broke the old tradition of Sinn Féin candidates being transfer repellent as the early stages of the South count showed.

The By-Elections

Dublin South

No real change, a very slight change so as you were to a large degree. Celebrity Blue-Shirt George Lee romped home; I wonder how many of the Fine Gael front bench are now perhaps sorry that Labour's Alex White didn't win.

Dublin Central

With Mary Lou focusing on Europe it fell to party stalwart Christy Burke to mount the Sinn Féin challenge. I say challenge but we were never going to be part of the race.

This was a battle between the Ahern's Drumcondra machine in the form of Maurice Ahern, brudder of BBBBertie, Fine Gael's Paschal Donohue and Maureen O'Sullivan "The Gregory Candidate".

I was happy to see Maurice Ahern slapped aside, even more so when he lost his Council seat by 14 votes to Sinn Féin's Seamus McGrattan. I dare say that Mary Fitzpatrick is even more delighted.

The problems I see for Sinn Féin here lie in the future and any challenge by Mary Lou for a seat.

Paschal Donohue looks set for a seat for Fine Gael. Maureen O'Sullivan will be hard to shift. Joe Costello looks even more secure of a seat when you consider the Labour gains in Dublin. Mary Fitzpatrick is almost assured a seat for Fianna Fail so where does that leave Sinn Féin and Mary Lou?

With our vote down by 5.8% in the city and the tide being with Labour and Fine Gael has our ship sailed?

The Local Elections

Overall our vote is down by 0.7% and when you consider our gains versus our loses it’s pretty much “as you were” in terms of local government.

This is not a good result by any standard during our current economic circumstances.

People are deserting Fianna Fail and the Greens but they are not coming to Sinn Féin on the whole. They are going to Fine Gael, Labour, Independents and other smaller left groups.

In effect they are going to anyone but Sinn Féin.

I said after the last election that we would need to make changes before these elections if we had any chance of clawing back support in the next general election.

Serious change has been made in terms of organisation, structure and leadership issues.

To borrow a phrase from Fianna Fail; a lot done but more to do.

It's hard to know where to start when you consider the challenges facing us. The main thing to say is our lack of media access.

The loss of the technical group was a hammer blow to us after the last election in terms of getting our message out and left the field open to Fine Gael and Labour to mop us disaffected government voters.

Despite being integral to the Anti-Lisbon vote the hostile Southern Media sought to give all the kudos to Gangley and Libertas as a way of stifling the growth of Sinn Fein.

Where do we go from here?

Onwards and upwards is my initial hope. Too much rests on the Republican project for us to continue to stagnate.

Core Values

We need to continue our work in espousing key Sinn Féin values

1. Popular Republicanism
2. Left Wing Values
3. Community Activitism

Within these values we need to balance a host of interests. We need to be seen as an All-Ireland party as opposed to a Northern Based party.

This means promoting key people, based on talent and not geography. I'm talking about people like Toiréasa Ferris, Pearse Doherty, Padraig MacLoughlinn, Daithí McKay and other young, educated and articulate candidates.

I'm talking about people who your typical voter can relate to in this modern era of apathy and cynicism.

We need to move on from the leadership of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness and focus on a younger and more diverse leadership team.

Now before anyone goes nuts or media commentators start quoting me as calling on Gerry and Marty to go let me explain.

I'm not talking about replacing Gerry or Martin in the short term but neither is getting any younger. Sinn Féin has always prided itself on being the party of the youth but their are quite a few on the Ard Chomhairle who are no spring chickens.

We need to be succession planning for the future the same way that any company would and that means the older generation across the country creating space for the younger members.

We need to focus on our policy substance or lack thereof and our lack of a short term strategic vision. As Republicans we are great at seeing "the bigger picture" as a man I know likes to say but some times the short term is just if not more important.

-What are our plans for getting the country out of recession?
-What plans do we have around job creation?
-If we were in government what cuts would we make and where?
-Where would we raise taxes to cover the deficit?
-What's or transport policy for the next 10 years?
-What's our policy for strategic planning and the urban sprawl?

These are the types of questions that people have. A United Ireland is important but for the vast majority of people it is not the burning question at the dinner table.

The burning questions are around mortgage payments, interest rates, affordable childcare and how people are going to put food on the table.

Unless we are able to provide people with a strategic vision for the short to medium term we are going nowhere, it's that simple.

That leads very easily on to my next point, ideological placement. What this election has shown is that there are votes out there for people across the ideological spectrum so long as voters of whatever percussion believe what you are saying.

I believe that we damaged that position at the last election. We lost trust and that's something that is very easy to lose but harder to win back

It's my belief that we should place ourselves left of centre in order to tackle the labour vote while leaving us open to attracting the Fianna Fail Republican vote.

Our main concern should not be about trying to run before we can walk. We need to break the 10% barrier. I've always believed that if you get the small things right the big things will follow.

In that respects we need to work on the following four areas and I already accept that a lot of good work has and is being done in this respect.

1. Organisational Review
2. Party Building
3. Strategic Policy Formation
4. Communication


1. Organisational Review

Are our structures fit for purpose? If the answer is no, and in my view that is the answer, then they need to be changed. Our internal structures are not conducive to streamlined efficiency; they are overloaded, inefficient and lead to people working harder as opposed to smarter.

Cut the red tape, increase transparency and political governance, simplify the structures and you will decrease burnout and increase productivity. It may sound business like but in some respects that is how we need to be.

We are involved in lots of activities and organisations that while admirable and noble provide us with no electoral or political advantage.

My simple rule is thus, if you don't accrue political capital either electorally or advance the ultimate goal then that activity is a drain on resources and should be stopped.

It may sound cruel but people have only so much time they are prepared to dedicate to Republican issues and we should be funnelling that time in the most productive fashion.

To that fact I would like to see an internal audit actioned to determine this issue and make recommendations to the Ard Chomhairle.

2. Party Building

The simple fact is thus, we are not big enough to be able to expand in the ways we would like. In that respect we need to build the party. We need to bring people back if we can and we need to bring new people in and that means being pro-active.

In areas like Dublin there is a massive job of work to do here and it should be led by those in the locality.

As a general rule we should nurture home grown talent as opposed to flying in someone else.

3. Strategic Policy Formation

More needs to be done in this area and while we have some excellent policy documents these are only the skeleton. We need to bring in outside experts in this respect and we need to pay.

Yes I know in Sinn Féin that is a dirty word but it's necessary. My father always said if you work for nothing you'll have plenty of work but that is not the philosophy we should have to policy.

We need to focus on 5 key areas of change and we need to arm all our activists with this information once it has been formulated.

We should produce literate and publish it through every door. We should also seek feedback from the public.

What issues are most important to you and what would you like Sinn Féin to do about it.

This would be a volume of work but it would be time well spent.

It would show the general public that we are committed to change and determined to better their lives. It would also allow us to engage with the public in a way which is not possible during elections.

4. Communication

I know that we face a hostile media and there isn't much we can do about that. We need to think outside the box and that means using new media and self publishing.

Now I know lots of areas have their own local publications but how many of these are read by the average Joe?

We need to look at the print media, why do people buy certain newspapers and what makes them successful.

We need to get strategic in terms of communication and this again costs money.

If you can't get your message out there and get at least a section of the public to buy into it then you can't grow.

This blog isn't meant to be critical; it is supposed to be a discussion piece and a formative tool in order for us to advance.

With the election of Pat The Cope we have an instant opportunity to highlight ourselves. Pearse Doherty should be blooded and allowed to show his considerable skills and talents.

I have serious concerns that unless we continue to change we will stagnate.

The Republican project is too important for any of us to allow that to happen

No comments: