Sinn Féin denies internal rift over its decision to back Yes vote

Spokesman says report of a rift between members were 'greatly exaggerated'

Sinn Féin has dismissed suggestions of major internal differences over its decision to campaign for a Yes vote in the referendum campaign.

Several senior figures yesterday said there was a divergence of opinion among the members of its ruling body, the Ard Chomhairle, about what strategy it should adopt for the campaign but that nobody had implacably opposed its final decision to support a Yes vote.

The spokesman said that reports concerning quarrels between Pearse Doherty, the party's strongest advocate for a Yes vote, and other leading members were "greatly exaggerated". Those said to harbour doubts were Mary Lou McDonald, Gerry Adams and Aengus Ó Snodaigh.

Government proposal
An informed source said there were no strong arguments supporting a No vote at the Ard Chomhairle meeting that decided the strategy earlier this year, although some members "hummed and hawed" about it, concerned that grassroots supporters would feel uneasy being put in a position where they were backing a Government proposal.

“We knew there was a strong chance that we might lose,” said the source.


It is understood that Donegal TD Mr Doherty, the party's finance spokesman, argued strongly for a Yes vote to other Ard Chomhairle members. The party, in its 2011 general election manifesto, had committed to abolish the Seanad "in its present form". It also wanted the question of abolition to be put to the Constitutional Convention.

Election commitment
Mr Doherty, and those who supported his views, argued that there could be no way Sinn Féin could stand on the No side as it would be adopting a position that contradicted its election commitment that it not be retained.

Dublin TDs, the deputy leader Ms McDonald and Mr Ó Snodaigh were more caution, spelling out the possible negative ramifications of adopting a Yes position. Ms McDonald, according to those present, also contended that if the Seanad were scrapped it would leave a vacuum and might reduce the chances of people from the north of the island being allowed a vote in the South. She also referred to the lack of fora for women and for people with disabilities.

The decision received a very mixed reception from Sinn Féin supporters, with some refusing to canvass on the basis they would support a Government position. It also generated dozens of negative comments from Sinn Féin members on the social media sites of the party's TDs and Senators. A former Sinn Féin MLA Paul Butler tweeted that he would vote No if living in this jurisdiction, as the Seanad represented the only possibility of people from north of the Border to gain an electoral franchise in the south.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times