Sinn Féin is now out of touch with its own supporters, claims Aontú leader

Mary Lou McDonald ‘wrong-footed’ on major issues as party seeks centre ground to secure majority, Tóibín tells podcast

Sinn Féin has become a deeply centralised party that is now out of touch with many of the communities in the Republic which had previously backed it, Aontú leader, Peadar Tóibín has said.

“It is a very centralised, managed political party. It has a small number of people at the top who make the decisions, and decisions are rolled out from the top,” he told the Irish Border Poll podcast.

Tóibín said hard-left socialists and traditional, more conservative republicans were kept together during most of Gerry Adams’s leadership of the party of which he is a former member.

“There was always those two wings within Sinn Féin. They were fairly balanced for long periods of time. Whatever your critique of Gerry Adams was, he was the gravity that held those two wings pretty much together fairly solidly,” he said.


However, that position began to change a decade ago, he told presenters Kevin Rooney and Kevin Meagher, when it began to move to the left on social issues “and holding back those with different views”.

Today, Sinn Féin has moved to the centre and has become “a catch-all political party’ in the South in a bid to win enough support to be the largest party after the next general election, he said.

Though Mary Lou McDonald is undoubtedly “a very talented leader’, Mr Tóibín went on: “There’s absolutely no doubt that she has been absolutely wrong-footed significantly over the last at number of years on a range of different issues.”

The recent referendums, heavily backed by State-financed non-governmental organisations, were the latest example of the “political bubble” that exists in politics in the Republic, he said.

Such support affected the stand taken by political parties: “I spoke to people in Sinn Féin and the Labour Party, and I said, ‘Why did you support those amendments?’ And they said, ‘Well, because we didn’t want to come out against the NGOs.”

That left Sinn Féin in the “insane” position where the party’s leadership “find themselves significantly adrift from their membership”, the Aontú leader told the podcast.

Illustrating his point, Mr Tóibín said Ballyfermot voted 90 per cent No in the referendums, while “most boxes” across working-class Dublin ran between 80 and 90 per cent against both wordings.

Speaking about his support for Irish unity, the Aontú leader said he believed a referendum had to happen in the coming years, but proper all-island planning and spending should happen now.

He said he saw the Border “as a thousand blocks”, representing elements of society, whether it is cancer services, air ambulances, planning, the Irish language, or any other aspect of society.

Planning together to deal with each of these “blocks” should happen now: “That’s obviously not a massive threat to anybody to do that because, first of all, planning together for this kind of delivery together will be efficient.”

It would provide better services, be cheaper, too, he said, so the idea of unity would be less threatening to people as they see useful co-operation taking place, though some people would be “freaked out about change in any way”.

Meanwhile, the economic paper produced by economists, John FitzGerald and Edgar Morgenroth which put the costs of Irish unity at up to €20 billion a year for 20 years was “a document of fear” designed to “scare the bejakers out of people”, he said.

He disagreed with Sinn Féin’s proposal that Irish unity should be discussed by citizens’ assemblies, preferring a formal 1980s-style New Ireland Forum that would draw deeply on opinions across the island.

In the meantime, Stormont needs to be made stable and to be given far greater powers, including over corporation taxes, alongside greater decentralisation across the island, he said.

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy is Ireland and Britain Editor with The Irish Times