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Sinn Féin show a progressive, left way forward

The recent article ANC and Sinn Féin: when radicals move to the right cannot go unanswered. I would not wish to comment on its assertions about the ANC, and indeed to conflate the two is both simplistic and wrong. But on the issue of Sinn Féin and the political struggle in Ireland, it is both factually incorrect and devoid of serious assessment of the struggle in Ireland.

Sinn Féin have not ‘moved to the right’, but have led a political struggle which has brought the prospect of Irish unity and self-determination a much closer reality. They have delivered a peace process and a political strategy which maps a real way forward, something that many in the left in Britain could do well to learn from.

For a start, the article only focuses on the north of Ireland. Sinn Féin are an all-Ireland party, and are in fact leading a struggle not only to unify their country, but are opposing austerity, inequality and proposing a very clear economic way forward, in a nutshell, based on investment to stimulate growth. Again, the left in Britain should take note. Sinn Féin is in a power-sharing government in the six county Assembly. The article failed to even try to understand why such power sharing arrangements are in existence. The piece simply swallows the analysis of one individual – Tommy McKearney – without looking any further into the issue.

Prior to the current political process, there existed one-party unionist rule and domination. The current power sharing arrangements are there for a reason. People were no longer willing to be forced to be second class citizens in their own country, denied representation and facing discrimination in every aspect of life. As Declan Kearney, the Sinn Féin chairperson, put it quite succinctly in his recent London speech, these arrangements are enforced because the unionists cannot be trusted to share power without them.

Sinn Féin has not ‘come to terms with partition’. Leaving aside the clear fact that Sinn Fein fights for the reunification of Ireland at every opportunity, it has in reality mapped out a way to get there. The Good Friday Agreement itself provides a way for that to actually take place, through a referendum. The political, economic and demographic dynamics all point to this being a real prospect in the not too distant future. Indeed this prospect is something the British government – and the left – needs to think about now.

And to say that Sinn Féin ‘happily sign up to orthodox neoliberal economic policy prescriptions’ is a travesty and a lie. Sinn Féin advocates the strongest opposition to austerity and cuts not just of those parties in Ireland but of any party anywhere in Europe. Just take a look at their policies on the economy. In the south, Sinn Féin forms a strong opposition to the austerity Labour/Fine Gael coalition government. They put forward a clear programme calling for state-led investment as an alternative, fairer taxes, investment in infrastructure and public services and for workers rights. In the north, the story is the same. The difficulty is that Britain still has jurisdiction in the six counties, and the Tory coalition, which won not one vote in the north of Ireland, is imposing huge cuts. Currently Sinn Féin is challenging these cuts at every turn, most recently over the Welfare Reform Bill. Obviously in a united, independent Ireland, a British Tory – or any other – government would not have this unelected power.

Apparently, according to the piece, Irish political leaders are unable to experience ‘the prospect of high office’ (whatever that means –getting elected, presumably?) without having the effect of ‘sterilising many people who were once ready to put their lives on the line for the cause in which they believed’.

It fails to notice the number of Sinn Féin elected representatives who did indeed step forward and put their very lives on the line in the past, including those who stood in elections and faced assassination attempts, and who are still involved in struggle in new times for republicans.

Sinn Féin’s electoral support has grown and grown, north and south. Is the author really saying that people should not try to get elected, that to win power of any kind is always corrupting? Is opposition preferable? Does the author believe this is the case in Britain, and that there shouldn’t be a Labour government rather than a Tory government, or that left wing people should never try to win elections anywhere because of the ‘sterilising effect’? Or does that only apply to Irish people in politics. Of course, the reality is that it has been a huge advance for Ireland and for the left that Sinn Féin’s support has risen. They have achieved this because increasing numbers of people see that they have a clear and progressive way forward, including on economic issues which affect ordinary people of all communities.

Far from ‘entrenching and extending’ the sectarian state, as asserted, the Good Friday Agreement, and Sinn Féin’s leadership, has challenged this sectarian state more than anything else in the past period. It has taken a huge struggle and immense skill, in particular through the past four decades, to achieve that. It is still an ongoing process. The people Sinn Fein represent clearly do not feel ‘wiped out of the equation’, on the contrary, despite problems and obstacles put up by unionism and the British government, their vote continues to grow.

The left in Britain should do far more in solidarity with Ireland’s right to unity and self determination. It should be in an alliance with parties like Sinn Féin in support of that, and in opposition to austerity and the cuts. But unlike Ireland, Britain doesn’t have a party like Sinn Féin. More’s the pity.


  1. Dave says:

    With the editor’s leave, I will respond to this when I am able, Jayne. And I accept the point that SF represents something different in the South than in the North.

    But in the meantime it is worth noting that sections of the left – including some within the same tradition from which Socialist Action emerged – that have reached a similar assessment to mine:

  2. Peter J Finn says:

    To be free to comment on such a spin would offer the way to each and everyone who has suffered at the hands of Republican hedgmony of life both North and South.
    I will speak solely of their dominance of the Irish Republican ideal which is neither theirs to bestow nor theirs to dictate . To understand the basic concept of dominance of ideas is paramount to the extremes of Chinese Communism where their understanding of the outcome is imposed because others will be lost in the marisma of history and the political importance of Irish Unity as a banner for the undecided and inarticulate. SF has never been right or left in the wider political sense and their adherence to a geopolitical concept of a united ireland surely avoids the need to adopt any conceptual answer to social consensus . As long as the geopolitical aspirations of SF as expressed and reinforced by its fundamental military ordinance offers the glory concept hidden behind force and dominance.
    To try to align Sf to either the right or the left is almost akin to the application of a plaster not to stem the flow of blood but to hide the wound . This denial of history and its lack of political will in either direction known to your writer hobbles along on a half-baked sentiment of social interaction with the deprived and the downtrodden which suits a reborn SF in desperate need of image making after their evident self centred outrages and terrorising within their communities.

    The idelal of a United ireland with a republican distribution of wealth, power health care and housing with full employment is not the proper ownership of the Shinners and its well overdue that they are informed of their non singularity in such an aspiration. The fear still exists that force is still being exercised or a very peculiar Irish sense of brotherhood where the Brotherhood do not think for themselves but react as PolPotian death roundup squad .
    As long as fear of free and open expression is within the earshot of those once used to no subversive thoughts and blackout for the exponent of such subversion then to speak of the rightness or the leftness of Sf is not plausible nor credible They have never expressed generic ideas other than those based around the geopolitcal aspiration and kenny may well be right in absurdum that ireland will be unified perhaps not in our lifetime and why should it
    The Protestant colonists with ideas of doing business with local indigenes will continue until their acceptance of their colonial role forces them to leave the island and do business elsewhere on the bigger island of England. Proponents of a United ireland without violence do exist have existed and will always exist as long as the sentiment of division exists
    Can Sf provide enough colateral maquillage to mask that one single aspiration dear to so many people from the North and indeed those informed in the South I doubt whether Sf now carry the banner for this priordial aspiration having destroyed their copy somewhere between Claudy and Oxford Street

  3. Miles Parks says:

    Thanks to the author for a very sensible article.

    As for the comment by Dave: linking to an article by some sectarian website whose politics do not resemble in the author’s in the slightest, proves nothing at all.

  4. andy newman says:

    Very good article by Jayne .

    I.must admit that Left Futures allowing Dave Osler to publish his jaundiced nonsense on here does make me feel uncomfortable.

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      I wouldn’t want to be forever out of our comfort zone as Progress would have us be, but I’m no so sure that a bit of discomfort is such a bad thing. I often disagree with things Dave says but a bit of provocation helps the thought process and the Left without debate will not get it right. In his piece, I agreed with him more on South Africa than Ireland and judging by the comments, others may well have done too.

  5. Michael Fisher says:

    What nonsense from Jayne Fisher (no relation). Her article reads like a Sinn Fein press release.

    A few points:

    The notion that Irish unity is a ‘real prospect in the not too distant future’ is self-deluding nonsense – not least because fewer than 50 per cent of Catholics want a united Ireland at present.

    SF in the North have been enthusiastic supporters of privatisation and PFI. Here is Martin McGuinness, then minister for education when he announced a raft of new PFI contracts in 2000:

    ‘The award of these PFI contracts highlights the opportunities for partnership with the private sector in the pursuit of good value for money and the effective use of resources.’

    This statement could have been made by any neoliberal education minister in any country at any point in the past 20 years.

    When a so-called ‘efficiency drive’ across the public sector in the North was launched in 2008, did SF ministers refuse to participate? No. Did they vote in favour of the resulting 1.7 billion in cuts? Yes.

    Who brought forward proposals to end the statutory right of all children with special needs in the North to receive centrally funded teaching support? A Tory minister in London? No. It was SF minister Caitrona Ruane in 2009.

    And who has been pushing for the right of the Assembly to lower corporation tax? Well, many of the richest business people in Ireland have been. But so have SF. The reasoning behind the push is pure neoliberal hogwash: that lower taxes on companies increases the tax-take. It does nothing of the sort – as many economists and tax experts now admit.

    If a party opposes cuts then it should vote against them – not cry about ‘having no choice’. That is what distinguishes genuine radicalism from rhetorical posturing. But then, as the history of SF has shown over many decades, it has always been comfortable combining radical stances with reactionary political practice.

  6. andy newman says:

    To be fair Jon, Dave Osler’s comments about South Africa are equally lazy and ill informed. It is not as if in this age of the Internet it is hard to do basic research on the political debates, for example from Pambazuka or Amandla.

    Osler implies that political corruption is at the heart of Zuma’s project. But in fact the alignment between the ANC, govt and mining interests- whether right or wrong – stems from an opportunity for national economic development due to an expansion of demand from the BRIC economies, which would allow much needed capital for overcoming some of the economic distortions in SA’s economy that aare a legacy of apartheid.

    Oslers account also judges south african politics entirely from a european perspective, for example, support for Mugabe is far from universal, but is embraced by part of the left and pan-Africanists due to support for the land seizures ; but also is an example of SA exhibiting regional leadership to act as honest broker in seeking a peaceful resolution in Zimbabwe.

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