Anti-democratic campaign against Sinn Féin wheels out the same old bogeymen

Increasing support for my party is clearly making opponents apprehensive

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald.  Photograph: Alan Betson

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Sinn Féin, led by Mary Lou McDonald – the first ever woman to lead the Opposition in the Dáil – is now the largest political party on this island.

Our vice president Michelle O’Neill serves in the Northern Executive as deputy First Minister.

Our Ministers in the North, our TDs and Senators, our MPs, MEPs and local councillors work to represent the interests, not just of the people who have voted for us, but of the Irish people.

The increasing support for my party is bringing the prospect of far-reaching and positive political change; whether in housing, health, the costs of living or a united Ireland.

Claire Kerrane is Sinn Féin TD for Roscommon/Galway and party spokesperson on social protection
Claire Kerrane is Sinn Féin TD for Roscommon/Galway and party spokesperson on social protection

It is also, clearly, making our political opponents and detractors in the establishment apprehensive.

Recent articles in The Irish Times by Joe Joyce and Michael McDowell questioning the party’s democratic credentials form part of a wider effort to hold back the tide of change. It won’t work.

The insidious portrayal of my party as less than democratic is one which McDowell has repeatedly engaged in over recent years.

Joyce and McDowell both display a distinct prejudice against Irish citizens in the North and a deeply disrespectful partitionism

Efforts at delegitimising Sinn Féin and, by extension, disenfranchising our voters, mirror the actions of the DUP in the North when it refuses to say whether it will govern with a Sinn Féin first minister, if that is the democratic outcome of May’s Assembly elections.

This anti-democratic campaign, North and South, deploys the same language, and wheels out the same old bogeymen.

Joyce and McDowell both display a distinct prejudice against Irish citizens in the North and a deeply disrespectful partitionism. They deploy the name of Belfast in a way that implies it is an insult.

Michael McDowell

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Let me state very clearly: Sinn Féin is not 'controlled from Belfast' or from Dublin or Cork, or anywhere else for that matter

They appear mystified that a party organised on an all-Ireland basis, and whose goal is Irish unity, would have its all-Ireland nature reflected in its leadership.

Does McDowell see no irony in any of this when it was a Belfast woman – former president Mary McAleese – who presented him with his ministerial seal of office?

As an all-Ireland party, Sinn Féin is proud to represent citizens in every part of Ireland, from Antrim to Kerry – something which other parties ought to aspire to.

Let me state very clearly: Sinn Féin is not “controlled from Belfast” or from Dublin or Cork, or anywhere else for that matter. We are an open and democratic political party whose leadership – Ard Comhairle – is elected annually at our ardfheis, an event covered by every major news outlet and broadcast live on RTÉ.

There are 56 members of the Sinn Féin Ard Comhairle, 37 of whom are from the South and 19 from the North. That’s a 66 per cent to 34 per cent breakdown. Thirty-four of these members (60 per cent) are elected representatives. Half are women. I should know – I am one of them.

Joyce refers at some length to the existence of a party business committee, the Coiste Seasta, which manages Sinn Féin departments such as finance, training and HR.

Despite his attempts to endow a rather mundane committee with wide-ranging powers, the reality is that this is an administrative sub-committee, with no policy role and subject to the Ard Comhairle on all matters.

McDowell states that Sinn Féin does “not hold regular meetings of their Oireachtas representatives”. We hold weekly parliamentary group meetings – in a manner no different to other political parties.

No matter how many times commentators like Joyce claim that Sinn Féin adopts contrary policies in the North and South, it doesn’t make it true.

To say that Sinn Féin “refuses to support abortion in the North” is directly contradicted by the public record which clearly shows that we have stood up for the provision of modern, compassionate abortion services for women in the North, on the exact same basis as we have in the South.

I reject entirely Joyce’s claim that, “contrary to the official party position, few in the movement think that the IRA campaign is now solely a matter of history”.

Let me repeat – the war is over, and the IRA is gone, no matter how much Sinn Féin’s political opponents appear to wish it were otherwise.

One thing that Joyce did get right was that Sinn Féin does not seek to be part of a broken political system

Indeed, the apparent pining of some for the days when they could use the IRA as a stick with which to beat Sinn Féin, calls to mind the words of former unionist leader James Molyneaux that “a prolonged IRA ceasefire could be the most destabilising thing to happen to unionism since partition”.

One thing that Joyce did get right was that Sinn Féin does not seek to be part of a broken political system that is unwilling to provide for the basic needs of our citizens struggling with unaffordable housing, rent or access to decent public services.

We want to change that system, and with the support of the people we will.

McDowell appears to continually reach for the past. One wonders, therefore, if he has any interest in building a better future. But it is the future that is our focus.

As usual, the people are ahead of the political establishment. While the old guard may band together to delay political change, they cannot stop it.

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