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Peter Hadden

Sinn Fein – activists oppose shift to the right

(April 2000)

From Socialist Voice, No. 22, April 2000.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

That there has been growing discontent among republican activists and former activists with the direction in which the leadership is taking the republican movement has been a poorly kept secret for sometime.

Now these divisions are so acute they have risen to the surface, visible for all to see. The significant dissent is not that of those who defected to the Continuity IRA and the Real IRA. Their call for a return to armed struggle is not seen as a credible option by the majority of republicans and is opposed by the vast majority of people in Catholic areas.

The new criticisms are from those who supported the turn to politics, but who are asking whether the political road chosen by the leadership is the one they wanted to go down. The sight of Sinn Fein leaders comfortably mixing with the right wing political establishment and with business leaders in the south, the US and across Europe has been too much for many.

Former prisoners like Tommy Gorman and Brendan Hughes have openly articulated what up to recently had been the half-formulated doubts of many republicans. In a recent interview with Radio Free Eireann, Brendan Hughes explained that when he came out of prison the only work he could get was on a building site in West Belfast where he worked for people who “called themselves nationalists” but who “were paying people £15 to £16 a day. I see the working class being exploited again, and being allowed ... the republicans allowing people to exploit the ordinary working man and woman. ”

Hughes is also scathing about the new bureaucracy of community organisers that has been deliberately financed in the working class areas. “They (the British) have pumped millions into here. I mean there’s centres all over the place in West Belfast and North Belfast, people have gone into these centres and become career people and they are being paid very decent wages ...”

The disquiet is not confined to the North. The speeches of the leadership at the April Sinn Fein Ard Fheis leave no doubt but that their ambition is to hold the balance of power after the next election and then negotiate their entry into a coalition government.

A majority of delegates – well over 60% according to some surveys – were unhappy with this. Instead of putting the matter to a straight vote that they might lose, the leadership proposed that the matter be left to a special post-election Ard Fheis and managed to swing delegates to this view.

There is no difference between this and the ploy that was regularly used by the Irish Labour Party leadership in the past to engineer their way into the corridors of power. Those who vote for participation in government believing that radical or even socialist policies would result would quickly be disappointed. Sinn Fein, like Labour in the past, would be there to implement capitalist, pro-market policies.

This would be no about-turn by the leadership, but a direct continuation of the rightward political path they are on. From their point of view there is little argument against taking part in government with right wing parties in the south when they are calling on people to take to the streets to get them back into government with the Unionists and SDLP in the North.

The problem for those now moving into opposition to all this – as they themselves admit – is that they do not have an alternative to what Adams, McGuinness and others are proposing. And they will not find an alternative until they begin to move beyond the limitations of republicanism and look to a socialist solution. The basis of republican thinking, left and right, is that all should unite to end partition. Once Ireland is united the question of whether there should be a socialist or a capitalist Ireland can then be faced.

The issue needs to be reversed. The key question is to get rid of capitalism, to begin to build socialism north and south. Then the national question, insoluble under the present system, could be peacefully resolved.

In other words, better to unite working class people, Catholic and Protestant, north and south, to struggle for a decent society, than to unite Catholic businessmen and working class Catholics to extend the poverty, inequality and injustice that exists in the northern and southern states onto a 32-county basis.

Tactics are secondary to politics. Whatever tactic the Sinn Fein leadership adopts it will be a dead end if it is in pursuit of capitalist objectives. Advocating a change of tactics without changing the ideas and goals is merely proposing a different road to the same destination.

But if a socialist objective is suggested – not after the national question is resolved but as the immediate goal – the tactics begin to suggest themselves. Neither individual terrorism nor coalition with right wing politicians offers a way forward.

Only the working class, using the methods of mass struggle, can change society. Should the current dissent end with influential republicans drawing this conclusion, it will be the most positive development in the peace process so far.

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Last updated: 27 March 2015