Sinn Fein: The Times They Are A-Changing

Two pictures tell the tale. The first was taken in 1983 in the aftermath of that year’s British general election, the second on Friday in the wake of the Assembly election count in West Belfast.

Gerry Adams is carried shoulder high by jubilant supporters after the Sinn Fein leader won the West Belfast seat in the June 1983 Westminster general election.

Gerry Adams is carried shoulder high by jubilant supporters after the Sinn Fein leader won the West Belfast seat in the June 1983 Westminster general election.

Gerry Carroll is carried shoulder high by jubilant supporters after the People Before Profit candidate topped the poll in the NI Assembly election in West Belfast

Gerry Carroll is carried shoulder high by jubilant supporters after the People Before Profit (PBP) candidate topped the poll in Friday’s NI Assembly election count in West Belfast

One thing has not changed. West Belfast is still the most deprived area of Northern Ireland, ranking number 2 for unemployment and number 1 for the poorest health.

Foyle, the other constituency which returned a PBP Assembly member in the shape of Eamonn McCann, ranks number 1 for unemployed adults and 3rd for poor health.

It is no accident that these two seats showed the same shift to the left that has been apparent elsewhere in the West, in Britain in the shape of Jeremy Corbyn and here in the States in the extraordinary electoral challenge to Hillary Clinton mounted by Bernie Sanders.

All these political phenomena have the same root cause: anger and disillusionment brought on by the excesses of neo-liberal economic policies.

We don’t know yet how the Corbyn and Sanders’ stories will end but it is very likely that politics in both places will never be the same again.

So what of the North? The two seats which moved leftwards in last week’s election were for over thirty years the engines that drove the Sinn Fein machine into power first at Stormont and then near to power in Dublin.

But just as the Corbyn and Sanders phenomena – and also Donald Trump – are symptoms of a rebellion against political party establishments which are out of touch with their own people, the setbacks for Sinn Fein are similarly rooted.

West Belfast in particular has had a Sinn Fein MP more or less uninterrupted since Gerry Adams won the seat in 1983. In Foyle, Sinn Fein and the SDLP share control of the area but it is Sinn Fein, through local man Martin McGuinness, which has access to the First Minister’s office at Stormont.

Sinn Fein control or influence has, as the grim unemployment and health statistic show, done little to better the lives of the people in these areas who have voted for them, one election after another. All the mainstream parties shed votes in the Assembly election but none more so than SF, whose vote fell by 2.9 per cent.

Bernadette McAliskey wrote recently of how there are now foodbanks in Dungannon, near her home, but there were none when she and her comrades began the struggle for civil rights in the late 1960’s. So how, Nationalist voters in particular are entitled to ask, has the Good Friday Agreement or Sinn Fein’s political adventure at Stormont made their lives better?

The setbacks suffered by Sinn Fein in both seats last week are more than a judgement on neo-liberalism or the cruelties of austerity. They are also a profound pronouncement on the failings of a party that has become complacent and out of touch, more focused on securing seats at cabinet tables on both sides of the Border, and with that their place in history, than creating jobs and better lives for their people.

For Sinn Fein, the message from last week’s election results is loud and clear – the times they are a-changing.

10 responses to “Sinn Fein: The Times They Are A-Changing

  1. PBP are a pseudo-left organisation.
    Meaning, they adopt a left stance on issues and in elections. They have no intention whatsoever in bringing down the capitalist system. They are completely enmeshed in the machinery of bourgeois rule, electioneering, protest, single-issue and identity politics.
    There campaign on water in the Republic centres on asking people not to pay their bills, organising marches and, of course, running in elections.
    They do not lead the working class in a struggle to end capitalism. Throwing the onus back on workers to make individual stands (non payment) is a con-trick that appears to indicate militancy but in fact leaves workers high and dry as individuals against a state machine that will brook no opposition. The state and it’s bourgeois parties are biding their time The intention is to crush opposition. PBP and the other pseudo lefts trick workers.
    Sanders does the same in the USA.
    The working class is moving to the left in spite of PBP et al, not because of them. The pseudo lefts, and the unions ( and in Ireland the nationalists) are the snakes in the grass that are intending to mortally wound the independent movement of the working class.

  2. Does the fact that the PUL vote for the DUP, despite their backing of the Tory Austerity agenda not say something for the mentality in loyalist areas.

  3. Following the same logic ref ‘PUL’ voting for DUP:
    the Catholic Nationalist workers vote for SF despite “THEIR backing of the Tory Austerity agenda”.
    Blaming working people for the options they are offered is a cop-out. Especially when it’s ‘explained’ using easy and trite labelling – the protestant workers are reactionaries etc, etc.
    And this is especially irresponsible given that the main plank of imperialist/capitalist oppression in Ireland is sectarian division.
    Negate sectarianism in Ireland, by means of a revolutionary socialist programme/party, and the imperialists and capitalists will be routed.

  4. In another ten to 15 years Sinn Féin will probably be a middle-of-the-road ‘anti-partitionist’ party preoccupied with day-to-day issues in the Republic. Not unlike DeValera’s Fianna Fáil in the 1950s but bored with partly governing Northern Ireland on behalf of Her Majesty (or His Majesty by then…) and still calling for all-Ireland border polls – every now and again – to reassert its nationalist aspirations.

  5. Let’s call a spade a spade, PBP is actually the SWP. No one asks them on the record why they rebrand themselves for electoral purposes. That’s yet more lazy journalism, if you ask me.

  6. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sympathetic to Eamon and to Richard Boyd Barrett down south, but I get suspicious when politicians of any hue cloak themselves in ‘electability’. The stiickies with their democratic centralism and localised ‘cells’ come to mind.

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