Difficult challenges remain for Sinn Féin party on the rise

Party is struggling to position itself and has adopted every populist position going

Sat, Feb 8, 2014, 10:23

That said, the conference will rally around Adams and bolster him in a leadership role that has never been in doubt among its supporters. But it will also defer more to Mary Lou McDonald and Pearse Doherty, its two stand-out personalities in the south.

One of the motions calls for the party not to go into a coalition with a right-wing party. The corollary is that Sinn Fein is a party of the left. But is it truly so? Beyond the ‘national question’ it has struggled to position itself and the party has rightly been criticised in the past for adopting every populist position that is going.

It opposes water charges and property tax, for example. But what are its alternatives? Caoimhghin O Caoláin has developed some strong health policies over a long period. Pearse Doherty has given much-needed credibility to its finance policies but they still include a lot of very hopeful arithmetic.

But in so many other areas - from agriculture to education to the environment - the party has not really come up with coherent through-through joined-up policies. In some areas, you sense a lack of imagination as if their hearts are not really in it.

Beyond the obvious, finance and health have become central as have governance, political reform, and a ‘critical engagement’ with the EU.

This motion on the EU, under the Ard Chomhairle’s name, sets out its opposition to any further ceding of sovereignty. Its position can be read no other way than wholly eurosceptic which sets it apart from other parties at least.

The outlook of the party is also becoming increasingly liberal and that has exposed fault lines with more conservative and traditional supporters . One motion calls for all religious orders to lose charitable status which will be controversial.

Conversely, another motion signed by 15 cumainn challenges a more liberal position and also the iron grip of obedience that stems from its leadership. Supporting Peadar Tóbiín’s position, it argues all members should be allowed to express their views and vote on the issue of abortion according to their conscience. That will prove the most divisive motion of the weekend.

There are the standard ‘solidarity’ pieces aligning Sinn Fein with a host of revolutionary movements.

Immediately preceding Adams speech there will be a tribute to Nelson Mandela, with the inference of a similarity of stature between both leaders. That will grate on too many ears.

Twenty years after the ceasefire Sinn Féin is still at least one general election away from that kind of acceptance.

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