Next Sinn Féin 10 year plan crucial

Posted By: August 10, 2016

Brian Feeney.Wednesday, August 10, 2016

On July16 in Ballyfermot Civic Centre Gerry Adams launched Sinn Féin’s review of its strategy with the aim of developing a 10 year plan for the party.

Ballyfermot has a symbolic importance for Sinn Féin in the Republic because it was there in what was then called the Ballyfermot Community Centre that Sinn Féin held its ard fheis in 1992.

It was that ard fheis which published Towards a Lasting Peace in Ireland which was in effect the party’s manifesto for that year’s general election in the north. The document became the basis for what emerged publicly as the ‘peace process’. Few people knew at that point that Adams was involved in talks with John Hume much less that Martin McGuinness and Gerry Kelly were in talks with officials from the NIO.

Why Ballyfermot? Well, it was the only venue willing to host Sinn Féin. Dublin corporation had refused the Mansion House and nowhere else was willing to risk the wrath of the government by allowing Sinn Féin to hire a hall. They’ve come a long way since then.

One of the reasons Sinn Féin has made such startling progress in the last 25 years is because they’re willing to develop policy and change with the times. They set ambitious targets and timetables. This year’s review and 10 year plan is not the first time they’ve carried out such an operation. They went through a similar process after the 2007 election in the south but few people paid any attention. It’s just that now whatever the party does automatically gains more publicity.

2007 was a deep disappointment. They went down from five to four TDs. Twenty years after the decision to take seats in the Dáil which split the republican movement the prognosis was not good. The major decision after 2007 was to pivot towards the south after 15 frantic years of the peace process ended with sharing power with the DUP in Stormont. Now it was the south’s turn. That’s still the case since the party is so dominant in the north and sitting pretty for the next five years.

Following about 50 meetings in local cumainn, taking soundings from members across the Republic what’s the plan this time? Yes, the obvious stuff like doubling membership by 2020, using social media better, though it’s reckoned Sinn Féin are already the best at it on the island.

The big idea is to get into government in Dublin. A no-brainer for a political party you might think but that’s to underestimate the antipathy republicans in the south feel towards Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. It was southerners in 1986 who most bitterly opposed the idea of taking seats in the Dáil (which republicans still call ‘Leinster House’).

There’s still some disagreement about the idea of going into government regardless if the numbers are right. Mary Lou McDonald says they want ‘to be in government north and south’. Pearse Doherty says not necessarily if the price of having four or five ministers ‘means sacrificing our policies’. It’s also a tall order given that neither Fianna Fáil nor Fine Gael will contemplate a deal.

It was a blow when the combined Trots in People Before Profit opposed Adams for Taoiseach and Independents abstained. The 10 year plan therefore addresses the problem of finding political allies. That’s going to mean compromise and it will happen. One of Sinn Féin’s great strengths in the last 25 years has been to convince hardliners who would repetitively recite republican dogma like the rosary that it’s folly to erect a tactic into a principle. Instead, to quote Doherty again, the one overriding aim is to acquire ‘real political power and then use that political power’.

If acquiring political power means changing policies, appealing to a wider public and becoming more like a normal political party then that will all be done. What the 10 year plan addresses is how to go about achieving those aims. The plan does not shy away from the fact that Sinn Féin is in transition as it moves from the margins of southern politics to the mainstream and that the end of that trip will be a new leadership, north and south.