Sinn Féin, Dublin and Stormont

10 January, 2018

There was an interesting article recently by Noel Whelan in the Irish Times.  The article was about Sinn Féin and how it really isn’t a normal democratic political party.  It included mention of a topic, the significance of which had largely passed me by until now but which, to me at least, goes some way to explaining why there hasn’t been any progress in restoring the Stormont assembly. 

If Sinn Féin is to be believed its current leader in Northern Ireland, Michelle O’Neill, holds that position at the pleasure of the current party leader. When many of us queried the lack of internal party democracy involved in her appointment to the post by Adams a year ago, we were told the role is akin to any front bench appointment which any party leader would make.

But this is very strange. There is a power-sharing assembly at Stormont (or at least there is meant to be), and one of the main principles underpinning it is that the largest Unionist party in terms of parliamentary seats won and the largest Nationalist party in terms of parliamentary seats won are joined together in a complex mechanism whereby power is shared and decisions are taken jointly.  But the largest Nationalist party is led by a person who is not elected by their Stormont representatives, or even by their party members in Northern Ireland, or by some combination of these methods.

Instead he/she is appointed in some opaque manner by whoever happens to be leader of Sinn Féin, the 32-county party based in Dublin (currently Gerry Adams). And there is certainly no transparency as regards how Sinn Féin appoints its overall leader.  Indeed I suggest that it would be a brave TD who decided, without getting the nod from the “powers that be”, to stand against Mary-Lou McDonald for election as leader of Sinn Féin– and I mean physically brave.

But should the Sinn Féin leader in Northern Ireland be appointed by the 32-county organisation? This means that Northern Ireland is governed in large part by an entity that is controlled by people outside Northern Ireland.   It seems fair to me to question whether, partly as a result of this anomaly, Sinn Féin has less than a total commitment to restoration of the Stormont executive.  If the leader of Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland leader didn’t hold office at the whim of Gerry Adams (soon to be replaced as overall party leader Dubliner Mary-Lou McDonald), would it negotiate more sensibly?  If that leader were solely answerable to its Northern Ireland MLAs and their constituents, would the power-sharing Assembly be back in business?

This set-up is akin to having a situation where the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party was appointed by, and removable by, Theresa May.  I can’t see that going down well with anybody on this island.

As ever, where Sinn Féin is involved, anomalies and contortions are the order of the day. At some time in the future, Sinn Féin may come to behave like a normal democratic political party. We certainly aren’t there yet.

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: