Sinn Féin might have to choose between pleasing its donors and its voters

The scale of party’s US fundraising came as a surprise to most people in Ireland

‘Most of the money raised is spent within the US and the most important advantage Friends of Sinn Féin offers the party is in building a network of support that could influence US policy towards Ireland in the future.’  Above, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams. Photograph:  Alex Wong/Getty Images

‘Most of the money raised is spent within the US and the most important advantage Friends of Sinn Féin offers the party is in building a network of support that could influence US policy towards Ireland in the future.’ Above, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams. Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images

 

If you want to watch an Irish-American’s eyes glaze over, start telling them what a nefarious influence Sinn Féin represents in the Irish body politic and go on to list the ways in which the party doesn’t share mainstream American values. That glazed look fell over an entire dinner table in Washington a few weeks ago when a prominent visitor from Dublin launched into a detailed exposition of the latest Sinn Féin outrage – opposition to water charges. “We don’t know anything about your water pipes,” one leading Irish-American snapped later. “And we’re not interested.”

Sniping about Sinn Féin strikes many Americans not just as parochial but also as condescending, implying that US support for the party is rooted in ignorance or a lack of sophistication. And grumbling about its fundraising success sounds to most American ears like nothing more than sour grapes.

Sinn Féin’s fundraising in the US is legal and above board, even if the scale of it, as documented by Pamela Duncan and Simon Carswell in The Irish Times this week, came as a surprise to most people in Ireland. Sinn Féin has sought to dismiss the story, telling us to move along swiftly because there’s nothing to see and suggesting that all the information was freely available to anyone with a computer and an internet connection. But while each individual filing by Friends of Sinn Féin can be viewed on the US Department of Justice website, it took an analysis of 14,879 data entries to produce a clear picture of the cumulative sums given by individual donors and how various economic sectors are represented among the donors. The picture that emerges is of a highly professional fundraising operation and a vast and diverse donor base that reflects Sinn Féin’s appeal among Irish-Americans of all social classes. The party has retained its support among traditional Irish communities and within organisations such as the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the county associations, as well as in the trade union movement. But it is also popular among Irish-American professionals and business people and among more recent Irish immigrants and it appeals to both Democrats and Republicans.

Defiance

Gerry AdamsState DepartmentNorthern IrelandCongress

Much of the commentary on Sinn Féin’s US fundraising this week has focused on the financial edge it might give the party in Ireland. Although none of the money raised in the US comes directly to the Republic, some of it is used to pay bills for the party in the North. Given the all-island structure of Sinn Féin, this subsidy could in theory free up resources for use in political campaigns in both jurisdictions, although the impact is likely to be modest.

Most of the money raised is spent within the US and the most important advantage Friends of Sinn Féin offers the party is in building a network of support that could influence US policy towards Ireland in the future. And despite the best efforts of the Government and the Irish embassy and consulates general in the US, Sinn Féin is well placed to capitalise on next year’s centenary commemorations of the Easter Rising throughout America.

If other Irish political parties are looking for someone to blame for Sinn Féin’s success in the US, they should look no further than themselves. Other parties have raised money in America and Fianna Fáil once had a huge network of donors across the US. Scandals surrounding Charles J Haughey’s personal finances reinforced doubts among some American Fianna Fáil donors about how effectively their money was being used, however, and the donations petered out more than a decade ago.

Rhetoric

Sinn Féin’s American donors demand little in return and few seek to influence the party’s policies in Ireland. Some of its American business supporters would, however, like to see the party shed some of its leftish rhetoric and embrace more robustly pro-business economic policies. If Sinn Féin succeeds in its stated ambition of leading a left of centre government in the Republic, it may have to choose between pleasing its donors and keeping faith with its voters.

Denis Staunton is Deputy Editor

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.