Tag Archives: gerry adams

Sinn Féin is not so much a “party in transition” as it is “transitioning into a party”

26 Sep

This is my Broadsheet column from last Monday (Sept 19th) and appeared online here: www.broadsheet.ie/still-behind-you/

——————-

fu

Yesterday was a busy media day for Sinn Féin’s Deputy Leader, Mary Lou MacDonald. Within the space of an hour she had appeared on RTÉ’s The Week in Politics and BBC 1’s Sunday Politics.

Mary Lou was doing what she does better than anyone else in Sinn Féin: taking no prisoners, firmly holding the party line and all without seeming unduly hostile or aggressive.

During the course of her one-on-one interview with BBC Northern Ireland’s Mark Carruthers; Mary Lou described Sinn Féin as being a party “in transition”.  Given the context this was a reference to either: the potential for generational change in the Sinn Féin leadership or, to Sinn Féin’s ambition to be more seen as a potential party of government.

Perhaps it was a reference to both – either way, I am sure Mary Lou meant the phrase to convey the sense of a political party undergoing change and development.

I happen to agree that Sinn Féin is “in transition”, except that the transition I believe it is undergoing is into becoming a normal political party. It is a transition that it has been undergoing for some time, with varying degrees of success, but it is still an ongoing process.

Sinn Féin is not so much a “party in transition” as it is “transitioning into a party”.

The party leadership is an obvious example. It is not the only example. Normal political parties do not have T.D.s collecting convicted Garda killers from prison upon their release, nor do they hail convicted tax evaders as “good republicans”, but for the purposes of this piece, let’s just focus on the autocratic nature of Sinn Fein’s leadership.

Though he is over thirty-three years in the role, we are expected to believe that no one over that time in Sinn Féin has ever been unhappy with Gerry Adams’ leadership or ever willing to challenge openly it.

For most of those 33 years obedience to the leadership of Adams and McGuinness has been a core principle – one that seemed to trump everything else. But as the fictitious Chief Whip, Francis Urquhart, observes in the opening sequence of House of Cards: “Nothing lasts forever. Even the longest, the most glittering reign must come to an end someday.”

The blind obedience has started to slip over recent years. From the resignations of various Councillors North and South in the years after the 2007 election to more recent murmurings, including the resignations of 18 SF members in North Antrim in protest at the manner in which a replacement MLA was appointed and the Chair of Sinn Fein’s Virginia-Mullagh Cumann writing to the Irish News to say it was time for Adams to step down.

Even the most disciplined and united of political parties have various groups or factions not entirely happy with the leader. Our post popular and electorally successful party leaders like Jack Lynch, Garret Fitzgerald or Bertie Ahern have had their internal party critics, even at times when their leadership seemed at its most secure and assured.

They either feel the leader is too progressive or too conservative, too weak or too strong, or they believe that their personal talents and skills may be better recognised if there was a new leader in place.

These stresses and pressures are customary in a normal political party. They are the forces that keep a political party democratic. They are also forces that grow over time, particularly after a leader has been in place for a decade or more. They

Now, after over three decades of Gerry Adams’ leadership, it seems that Sinn Féin has a plan to do what other political parties do routinely and relatively seamlessly: change leader.

Except in Sinn Féin’s case it is a “secret” plan. Even the current Sinn Féin Deputy Leader concedes that she does not know what precisely is in this plan.

In most political parties the process for electing a new leader is transparent. People can see how potential leadership candidates are nominated and who has a vote in electing the new leader.

In some cases, this is done by an electoral college such as in Fine Gael where members of the parliamentary party have 65% of the votes; party members 25% and county councillors 10% or, as in the case of the Labour Party, it is done via a one member one vote system with all valid party members having a vote – though as we saw in the recent contest only the parliamentary party can nominate the candidates.

How will it happen in Sinn Féin? The stock answer from Adams and others is that the Sinn Féin Árd Fheis will decide, but how will that play out? Will it really decide? Will there be a real contest with rival candidates travelling to constituencies to meet those voting in the leadership election and set out their competing visions.

Or, will a new leader ‘emerge’, as the British Tory party leaders once did, following the intervention of a group of shadowy figures in Belfast with that decision gaining the semblance of democratic authority with a set-piece ratification at an Árd Fheis.

While I won’t hold my breath waiting for that change of leadership to actually happen, I am also a political realist and recognise that asking any leader to be specific as to when they plan to stand aside is to ask them to surrender their leadership at that moment.

How Sinn Féin conducts the change of leadership, whenever it happens, will be a major test of its transition. It will determine if the transition is merely an illusion or it is a sincere and genuine attempt to become a real political party.

Though I am clearly no fan of Sinn Féin, I believe that it is more the latter than the former, particularly as the organisation takes on new members and is compelled to allow more internal debate. Time will tell if I am right to be so optimistic.

 

 

@gerryadamssf is wrong. #JeanMcConville was not just what happens in war @60minutes

4 Apr

  

In his interview on CBS’s long running 60 Minutes news show, Gerry Adams describes the murder of  Jean McConville as just “what happens in war” going on to say: “That’s not to minimise it. That’s what American soldiers do, British soldiers do, Irish Republican soldiers do. That’s what happens in every single conflict.”

Not only is this a glib response, albeit masked by the inclusion of the phrase “that’s not to minimise it”, it is a starkly inaccurate one on several levels.

Let us take his claim that it is simply “what happens in war”. This serves  to give the impression that the killing of Jean McConville is on a par with the very many regrettable but unintended killing of civilians. Without doubt there have been very many innocent civilian victims in wars. Take the bombing of Hiroshima, the bombing of Dresden or the London blitz.  In each of these the attackers killed countless thousands of mothers and children, but the killing of Jean McConville was different.

It was not an unintended evil perpetrated by ‘the other side’, it was the very intended and deliberate act of a self proclaimed army against one of the most vulnerable members of its own community. A community of which, let us not forget, that this supposed army declared itself the sole protector and defender. Jean McConville was killed by the very people who claimed to be her protector. Her ten children were orphaned by the people who claimed them as their mandate.

You can imagine the justifiable outcry in the West if it were to emerge that the Israeli Defence Forces had summarily executed a young Israeli mother for offering succour or protection to a young Palestinian? Gerry Adams and the provisional Sinn Féin organisation would be to the forefront in that outcry, yet what is the difference? 

The other falsehood is the hidden notion that this all happened in a terrible time of war and was perpetrated by soldiers in a constituted army. This is yet another element in the ongoing manufacture of the provisional mythology. Once again they fabricate the illusion of legitimacy or popular mandate for their imposition of a state of effective martial law on their own people.

There was no such mandate or endorsement. The Provos were not belligerents in a war, they were the propagators of a campaign a terror and violence, a campaign that was as often targeted against its own people as it was against its supposed ‘enemy’.

A campaign that for far too long allowed the UK government to treat Northern Ireland as just a security problem, not a political problem. The campaign had no achievement except to make Sinn Féin and Gerry Adams forces which needed to be acknowledged and dealt with. As we saw in the slow negotiation, and even slower implementation, of the Good Friday and St Andrews Agreements when it comes to putting the interest of Sinn Féin or the people first, the Shinners first, the Shinners win every time.

Plus ca change, plus ca la meme chose.

The @finegael #LE14 meltdown is a repeat of @fiannafailparty’s #LE09 one #ep14

25 May

I have now updated my initial thoughts, musings, observations and mild rantings on the implications of the local election results, particularly Fianna Fáil’s stronger than expected showing.

This was first posted on Sunday morning – updated on Monday morning to reflect the revised party national totals in the Local Elections.

 

Local Election Results national overview

Local Election Results national overview

 

“If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience.” – George Bernard Shaw.

Quite a lot, it seems.

Yesterday we saw history repeating itself, with the electorate visiting upon Fine Gael and Labour almost exactly the same devastating blow it had served up to Fianna Fáil and Labour five years earlier.

In 2009 Fianna Fáil lost around 39% of its support (when compared with 2007) while the Greens endured a massive reduction in its vote of 76%.

Yesterday, based on the Local Election results to hand, Fine Gael lost 34% of its support and Labour lost 63%.

le14 grid

While the story of the Local Elections is the rise in support for Sinn Féin and the Independents and the scale of the loss for Labour, the Fine Gael haemorrhaging of support should not be ignored.

Indeed, the case can be made that the real story of the election is this massive Fine Gael loss – a loss that should not be glossed over by what might appear to be its reasonable performance in the European Elections.

Losing 100 plus Councillors, on a day when you have increased the number of available council seats, is a political meltdown of Fianna Fáil in 2009 proportions. It will send a shiver around the Fine Gael backbenches that will match that currently coursing along the spines of their Labour colleagues.

Leo Varadkar’s line that the next election will be a battle between Fine Gael and Sinn Féin was a clever attempt to calm the troops with the notion that their lost support will come back when the Irish voters realise that Fine Gael is all that stands between them and the Shinners.

It’s clever line, but a flawed one.

For it to offer any comfort it would need to be underpinned by Fine Gael still remaining the largest party – but it hasn’t. By the time the dust settles it will become clear that the other big story of the locals is the return to frontline politics of Fianna Fáil, even if its European results are a bit rocky.

If the battle of the next election is, as Varadkar suggests, to be fought on the question of where you stand with regard to Sinn Féin then Fianna Fáil, with a few more weapons in its armoury, is standing on better – and now even firmer – ground than the depleted followers of Enda.

While Fine Gael may see itself as the antithesis of Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil can challenge SF’s voodoo economics every bit as credibly as FG, but with the added bonus that that can better undermine and dismantle the Shinner’s fallacious claim to Republicanism, especially in its back yard.

The other story of the Fianna Fáil result is its incredible variety. Its national level of support at just over 25% belies some very good and incredibly bad local results, especially in urban centres.

They range from the sublime such as its 49% in Bailieborough-Coothall 39% in Castlecomer and 38.4% in Ballymote-Tobercurry to the ridiculous: such as its 4.9% in Dublin North Inner City, 6.8% in Tallaght South and 8.7% in Lucan.

While there are several other disappointing low teen results in urban centres across the country e.g 9.6% in Waterford City South, 10.5% in Bray and 13% in Limerick City North, it is no coincidence that the single digit performances are in Dublin.

That is not to say that the Capital is a wasteland for Fianna Fail. Contrast the single performance mentioned above with the parties stunning 27.3% in Castleknock, its 24.2% in Clontarf and its 22.3% in Stillorgan.

While the overall Dublin result of 16% points to a major problem for the party, the variety in results, highlighted above, shows Fianna Fáil’s further potential for growth and renewal in large swathes of Dublin.

It is the very patchiness of its result that points up where the party needs to work harder and better. Far too many candidates in Dublin were left to struggle on by themselves with no structured national campaign to underpin their efforts.

Having “Fianna Fáil” on your poster does not guarantee a good new candidate a certain base level of support in Dublin and other urban centres in the same way as having “Sinn Féin” on your poster did for their new first time candidates. Indeed it does not offer the prospect of that base level of support as it does in non-urban Ireland.

The candidates in Dublin raised the Fianna Fáil vote to their level, not the other way around. The vote in Dublin and other urban centres, is not the party vote plus the candidate’s unique personal support – it is just the latter. In certain parts of the city is it the unique personal support minus the residual antagonism to Fianna Fáil.

The “Fianna Fáil” identity is Dublin is not a coherent identity based on a core defining message from the party as a national political party: it is the collective identities of its various candidates.

This is not to underestimate the particular nature of Dublin voters, especially their looser party allegiances; it is just to point out that Dublin voters are just as likely to be receptive to a national message, just less continuously loyal to it.

Despite some clearly very good results in Dublin, most Fianna Fáil supporters still struggle to answer the questions: why should I vote Fianna Fáil and what does Fianna Fáil stand for. Most of the successful candidates I have encountered in Dublin answer it with the words: here is what I stand for…

It is not that there are not answers to these questions, but rather that the party has not sufficiently defined and substantiated them.

It is work that can and must be done. That work is not aided or encouraged by intemperate outbursts or Quixotic threatened heaves. The issues are policy and organisation – not personality.

The 24.3% of voters who abandoned Fine Gael and Labour saw their political alternatives this week. Some said independents, some said Sinn Féin – though not by a large margin as the swing to Sinn Féin since the 2011 election is in the 5.3%, but even more said Fianna Fáil with a swing of just over 8%, but the point should not be lost that the biggest single section of them said: none of the above.

The ones who stayed at home are the ones who were badly let down by Fianna Fáil and are now just as angry with Fine Gael and Labour for promising them a new politics and then delivering the old failed politics as usual.

Perhaps they concluded that they could afford to sit out these second order elections, as they do not see how the results will change their lives, they will not be as sanguine at the next election.

Shatter and @willieodealive were right: There is only one Óglaigh na hÉireann

8 Jan

Apologies for delay in posting this column which appeared in the Herald just before Christmas (on December 18th)

_____________

THE people of Belfast were forced to endure a trip back in time to the bad old days last Friday – courtesy of yet another dissident republican group.

In placing a bomb in one of the city’s busiest areas, this latest dissident collective showed a terrifying disregard for lives of the people in whose name they claim to fight.

Ironically, they attempted their vicious deed just two days before the 20th anniversary of the Downing Street Declaration, the landmark joint statement from the then Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds and British Prime Minister John Major that set the course for the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

This emergence of yet another reckless dissident grouping shows that some people on this island have still not grasped that terrorism and paramilitarism is doomed to fail.

Or maybe they do realise this. Maybe their attempted campaign of terrorism is not designed to achieve anything other than simply having a campaign of terrorism, masking their attachment to violence and intimidation with crude and inappropriate historical references.

Following last Friday’s incident Minister for Defence Alan Shatter warned of the dangers of historical references and the trap of inadvertently legitimising the claims of this latest dissident group, which seeks to refer to itself as ‘Óglaigh
na hÉireann’.

He reminded us that “Óglaigh na hÉireann” is the name of the Irish Defence Forces, a source of great prideto this State, saying: “No media outlet should facilitate it’s misappropriation by individuals intent on perpetrating murder and causing mayhem”.

I applaud Minister Shatter for echoing what one of his predecessors attempted to do in late 2005.

DEMANDING
Back then I was Special Adviser to then Minister for Defence Willie O’Dea. In early November 2005 O’Dea initiated a correspondence with Gerry Adams demanding that Sinn Féin stop misusing the name “Óglaigh na hÉireann” by associating it with the Provisional IRA on badges and t-shirts for sale online.

I say ‘correspondence’ though in reality it was a monologue. While Mr Adams and the then SF party leader in the Dáil Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin did acknowledge the letters sent to them in November and December 2005 and again in February 2006 they failed to make any substantive response to the issues raised.

As both O’Dea stated back in 2005 and Minister Shatter echoed this week: there is only one Óglaigh na hÉireann – it is the Irish Defence Forces.

Though some of the offending items were quietly removed from their website, not all were and the Shinners continue to cash in on our history to fill the party’s already bulging coffers.

Before any Shinner apologist pops up to remind me that they are more hated and loathed by dissidents than others, I readily acknowledge that. But that is no excuse. It is time for Mr Adams to now do what should have done in 1998, 2005 and 2008 – acknowledge there is only one Óglaigh na hÉireann and stop the waffling, even if it costs Sinn Fein some money.

Oglaigh article

ENDS

#RTEpt quizzing of Gerry Adams shows it can do public service broadcasting

30 Apr
Gerry Adams quizzed by Miriam O'Callaghan

Gerry Adams quizzed by Miriam O’Callaghan

Monday night’s Primetime interview with Gerry Adams was a reminder that RTE is well capable of doing thorough, professional and researched public service broadcasting.

It did much to dispel the doubts cast about the station’s reputation by both the Frontline presidential debate and “Mission to Prey” debacles.

It also showed that Sinn Féin is not as clever, strategic and skilled in the political dark art of spin as many in other political parties and the media presume.

Watching the programme last night, and again today on Youtube, raises the obvious question: why did Gerry Adams agree to do this 24 minute interview in which he essentially spent his time talking about murder?

In part the interview was the consequence of the remarks he made in the Dáil on January 29th last during the expressions of sympathy on the killing of Garda Adrian Donohue.

He used that occasion to offer his condolences and solidarity with the family of Garda Donohue, but also to broaden that expression of sympathy to include others murdered in the line of duty; saying: “I apologise to Mrs. McCabe and the McCabe family, Garda Ben O’Sullivan and the families of other members of the State forces who were killed by republicans in the course of the conflict.”

But, having offered that apology in the Dáil, why did he seem so incapable last night to expand on that and adequately apologise, sympathise and console those who had lost relatives to so called republican paramilitaries over the years?

Why go on to the programme and give such an interview, when you know you are either unable or unprepared to answer the questions and offer the information that is going to be asked of you?

Could it be that the reason for his appearance was less to do with expanding upon his comments of January 29th and more to do with trying to pre-empt what he fears may be revealed when the Boston Tapes are released?

Could it also be an attempt to deflect attention away from the recent Belfast court case involving Adam’s brother Liam?

Deflecting attention away from one difficult story by opening up about another one is not a tactic unfamiliar to Mr Adams and Sinn Féin. Recall how Gerry Adams revealed how his own was father was both a paedophile and a thug while he was being criticised for his handling of the allegations of abuse made to him by his niece Aine Tyrell about her father, Liam Adams.

The revelation about his father came around the time that he acknowledged that he not dealt well with the allegations and that his actions when he discovered that Liam Adams was working with children were wrong – he had approached his brother rather than his employers.

While Adams’ performance last night will do little to diminish his standing with the bulk of Sinn Féin activists, it may cause some of the newer and younger intake people who considered Sinn Féin as an idealistic alternative to mainstream politics to think again.

Adams’ supporters will justify their continuing support with claims that this is all a smear against their leader – echoes of what we have heard in recent days from UKIP, but the defence used by some that this is all a very long time ago does not hold water.

Another defence offered online by defenders of Adams is that this is all RTÉ bias against their party. Why, they asked, wasn’t RTE asking Labour party leaders if they were in Official IRA?

Frankly, I have no problem with RTÉ asking them that, at least it suggests that some in Sinn Féin may unconsciously realise that Miriam O’Callaghan’s questioning of their leader last night was both fair and legitimate

Results of my online poll

3 Jun

Here are the results of my online poll. Over 360 visitors to the webpage in last two days – thanks for the 247 votes cast and for the comments posted.

I am not claiming this as scientific, just indicative…. maybe most indicative of just who follows me on Twitter and Facebook

You can print out the results in a PDF document fromhere: Impressed Most Poll

The question posed: Leaving aside whether you voted Yes or No who impressed you most during the Fiscal Treaty Campaign (Pick 3)

 

Total Votes 247

%

 

 

 

1

Micheál Martin

21.86%

2

Declan Ganley

14.17%

3

Michael McGrath

14.17%

4

Simon Coveney

13.77%

5

Mary Lou McDonald

13.77%

6

Joan Burton

5.67%

7

Gerry Adams

5.26%

8

Enda Kenny

4.45%

9

Shane Ross

2.83%

10

Eamon Gilmore

1.62%

11

Joe Higgins

1.21%

12

Richard Boyd Barrett

1.21%

 

 

Who impressed you most during referendum campaign?

1 Jun

Labour could be casualty in Treaty Yes vote

24 May

My Evening Herald column from today’s (Thurs May 24th) edition:

voting

Many different reasons to vote yes or no

With less than a week to go the referendum campaign seems more and more to be about less and less.

On the face of it, if you believe the posters, the choice is to Vote Yes to achieve stability or to Vote No to end austerity.

But do any of us really believe these claims? Regrettably, like previous EU referendums the debate has been conducted at the extremes, not the centre. It was the case in the Nice and Lisbon referendums, remember those “€1.84 Minimum Wage after Lisbon” posters?

Mercifully, we have been spared the malign input of Cóir and Youth Defence this time. The are no loss, especially as most of them wouldn’t know a treaty from a tea-bag (to rob a line I recently overheard)

But this absence of any significant ultra right involvement on the no side does highlight a curious undercurrent to the campaign, one, which I suspect, may be a factor in how some people decide how to vote next week.

While the slogans maybe about the EU and the Euro the referendum has morphed into a proxy battle on the future of left / right politics in Ireland.

From the start the battle front was drawn up along left versus right lines.

On the Yes side you had the right and centre right parties: FG, FF and Lab (more about them later), the employers’ and business organisations, the farmer’s groups and the more established/mainstream trade unions.

On the No side you had the socialist and hard left parties, People Before Profit, Joe Higgin’s Socialists, Sinn Féin, the more radical trade unions.

While the entrance of The Declan Ganley somewhat clouded the the Left/Right delineation, it hasn’t ruptured it.

The sight of him sharing No platforms with irredentist left firebrands is a joy to behold, especially when you consider that they agree on virtually nothing, including Europe. Most on the hard left are euro-sceptic while The Ganley is avowedly Euro-federalist.

While passing the Fiscal Treaty will herald no major day to day changes – mainly because it just restates the centre/centre right economic orthodoxy in place since 2008 – it will cement it into domestic law for the foreseeable future.

It is this that the left fears and opposes most.

Passing the Treaty would recalibrate the centre of the Irish political spectrum a few points to the right. It won’t be a seismic or noticeable shift, but it torpedoes the Left’s ambitions of shifting it the other way.

It doesn’t vanquish them, nor does it make them to tone the rhetoric down. If anything, it will do the opposite, but in their hearts they will know that their ambition to shift Ireland economically to the left has been reversed.

This explains why the campaign from Joe Higgins, Boyd Barrett and Sinn Féin has been so fierce. But not as fierce as when its over and they start to target each other.

I am not predicting that their poll rating drops are set to drop. They won’t. They will probably rise as voters use them to express their disapproval of government parties going pack on pre election pledges.

But the Irish electorate is sophisticated. It is overwhelmingly aspirational. This applies across all social classes and communities. They want their kids to do better than they did. That decides voting intentions more than anything.

In the meantime Sinn Féin will continue to do well at Labour’s expense, after all Gerry and Mary Lou are saying now what Éamon and Joan were saying two years ago.

It is Labour who will be the biggest casualty. Polls showing 40% of Labour supporters voting No could have longer term ramifications for the leadership. But whatever they may be, they can be so where near as damaging as Gilmore’s infamous “Frankfurt’s Way or Labour’s Way” slogan.

It may turn out to be the most devastating political slogan of recent times – devastating to its authors, that is.

Dáil breaks can only benefit both sides

4 Apr

My Evening Herald column from Saturday March 31st arguing that breaks in Dáil sittings are necessary and beneficial

 

Leinster House

On Thursday Dáil Éireann takes a break for the Easter recess. It is set to return on April 18th. Cue a hue and cry from opposition TDs and assorted political hacks demanding that the Dáil return sooner or sit longer or whatever.

These protests are not only regular and predictable, they are just as entertaining as they are pointless.

These sham battles seem to be based on the notion that the more the Dáil sits the better. Really? It is hard to sustain that argument when you look at the household charge fiasco.

In its recent annual report the Government commends itself for increasing the number of sitting days, saying that the Dáil sat for about 127 days, roughly 36/37weeks, in its first year.

According to the government’s calculations this is a 44% increase on the number of sitting days in the first year of the previous Dáil (2007/08).

A major achievement you’d think. Though not quiet as impressive when compared with the years 2008/09 and 2009/10 when the Dáil actually sat for 35 weeks per annum.

But what’s a week or two between old sworn enemies?

It is the old public sector problem: measuring inputs, not outcomes. Successive governments have been guilty of it.

The Government’s legislative programme should be driven by the number of pieces of legislation it wishes to pass into law, not by a need to produce bits of legislation to fill up some allotted time slot.

TDs should not be apologising for the Dáil not sitting in plenary session over the next three weeks.

Yes, various Oireachtas committees will be sitting during that time – but something else should also be happening. Something that is, in my opinion, far more important.

Politicians and their policy advisers should be availing of this break to do something they rarely get to do: think and prepare.

There is a story, probably apochryphal, about a Minister walking along a corridor in his Department when he spies a senior policy maker sitting back with his feet up on the desk. “Have you no work to do?” asks the Minister, “I have…” comes the reply “…I am doing it now, I’m thinking”.

These short breaks in Dáil sittings afford Ministers and senior officials some time and space away from debates, motions and parliamentary questions to think and to focus on other matters in their departments – things that don’t often make the headlines at Leader’s questions.

Central to this is standing back and taking stock of where they are.

When the Dáil is sitting a surprising amount of time in a government Department can be taken up in answering TDs questions alone, particularly when its that Minister’s turn at oral PQs.

Parliamentary accountability and scrutiny is an essential part of the democratic process, but you also need time to go and effectively do all those things that the parliament will subsequently want to scrutinise.

But if the need for this “thinking” time is important for Ministers and officials is it absolutely vital for an opposition and its support teams.

The Minister has a full time team of 8 or more in his office to fetch, carry and prepare – plus those other senior officials along the corridor to advise and research – the opposition spokesman is often depending on two or three.

But it is not a matter of resources. While the Dáil is sitting the agenda is set by the government. The opposition is usually just reacting to it – or reacting to the media reaction to events.

This is not always a bad thing, especially for an opposition that is effective at harrying the administration. This was the case in the latter half of the last government. The only crumb of comfort it got from the polls was when the Dáil was in recess. When it was in session both oppositions parties’ ratings went up, especially Labour’s.

But an opposition also needs to set the agenda too. It takes a lot of preparation and planning for an opposition to get the focus on its agenda. These breaks can often provide that space.

Politicians on both sides should acknowledge this fact. Who knows, maybe the reporters who cover the Dáil and actually benefit from the break might even credit them for it.

Ends

Is Sinn Fein’s living on the average wage claim all that it seems?

17 Feb

My Evening Herald column from today’s paper. Friday 17th February 2012

Sinn Féin

There are few topics more guaranteed to raise the hackles than politicians’ pay. I recently overheard a conversation on the topic in a pub in Cork. It was hard not to hear it given the volume of the exchange. This was curious as they were agreeing with each other – their argument was as to which of them detested politicians more.

The late Brian Lenihan kick started the process of trying to bring down the levels of politicians’ pay and expenses back in October 2008. There have been a few rounds since. Enda Kenny started out ok reducing the number of garda drivers and cutting staff levels in ministerial offices, but recently lost the plot with the €17k pay hikes for Super Juniors.

The issue of reducing politicians’ pay and re-allocating that money elsewhere even raised its head during the Presidential election. Several candidates said they favoured a cut, including Martin McGuinness who promised to only take home the average industrial wage if elected.

In doing this he was repeating what Sinn Féin elected reps say they do in the Oireachtas and the Northern Ireland Assembly. While TDs earn about €92K a year, Sinn Fein’s TDs say they take the average industrial wage: around €32,000 per year. Speaking to the Donegal Daily a few weeks ago SF TD Pearse Doherty put his weekly take home pay at around €540.

They frequently remind us of their largesse. Without a doubt anyone foregoing 60% of their salary is entitled to praise and kudos, but only when that is what they are really doing. So, this begs the question: are they truly foregoing the money?

Martin McGuinness partly answered this question in the Guardian newspaper in April 2009. This was in the aftermath of a report that he and Gerry Adams jointly claimed expenses of £3,600 a month (under the House of Commons second home allowance scheme) for rent on a shared two-bedroom flat in north London.

Speaking at the time Mr McGuinness said: “I get roughly over £300 per week from Sinn Féin, the exact same money as the person who drives me to my work”.

“I have no difficulty or problem with that, knowing that the rest of the money is being put into developing Sinn Féin and developing constituency offices all over the island of Ireland for the people of Ireland.”_

There are two things wrong with this statement. First, he regards Sinn Féin as his paymaster; not the taxpayer. Second, the sense of pride that the “rest of the money”, in his case in the region of £75k before tax, does not go back in to central funds to pay for hospital beds or SNAs: but rather goes to funding and advancing Sinn Féin’s political enterprise.

The money surrendered by Sinn Féin’s TDs and Senators does not benefit the taxpayer or the person on welfare: it benefits their own local party organisations. It goes to running constituency offices and funding local activists. In Pearse Doherty’s case it pays for two part time workers in his constituency

So, Sinn Féin takes money from the public coffers and puts it into running political operations dedicated to helping them keep their seats. This is not so much a sacrifice: it is more of an investment in their own political future.

Though on the average industrial wage, they get to be local employers with extra paid staff. I am fairly sure there are not many others on the industrial wage out there who can similarly hire someone in to help them keep their job.

Yet the rules state that a political party may not accept a donation from the same person in the same calendar year which exceeds €6,348.69 in value. So is what they are doing a donation or not?

It is an issue which freelance journalist Gerard Cunningham aka faduda.ie has attempted to raise with both Sinn Féin and SIPO, though without much success.

Is there a distinction between donations depending on whether they are allocated locally or nationally – if so, then it is a big loophole. If not, then shouldn’t all TDs and all Senators be placed on a level playing field when it comes to funding their local political activities?

Most important, if taxpayers money is being handed back – shouldn’t it be handed back to the taxpayer?

ENDS