|President||Gerry Adams MP MLA|
|Founded||1905 (original party), 1970 (Provisional Sinn Féin, see history below)|
|Headquarters||44 Parnell Square |
Republic of Ireland
53 Falls Road
Belfast, Northern Ireland
|Political Ideology||Irish Republicanism, Democratic Socialism |
formerly physical force Irish republicanism
|European Affiliation||European United Left–Nordic Green Left|
|European Parliament Group||EUL-NGL|
|See also|| |
Sinn Féin (English, ) is a name used by a series of Irish political movements of the 20th century, each of which claimed sole descent from the original party established by Arthur Griffith in 1905. The name means "ourselves" or "we ourselves". , though it has often been incorrectly translated as "ourselves alone": see Sinn Féin (19th century). The name originally came from a newspaper that was printed as a local paper in Oldcastle, County Meath, Arthur Griffith asked the publishers could he use the name of their paper for a new political party that he was setting up and they gave him permission to use the paper's name. It is not to be confused with Republican Sinn Fein which is a splinter organisation.
The name refers to the political party dedicated to Irish Republicanism that is often seen as the political front of the Provisional IRA. The party emerged from a 1970 fissure in the Irish republican movement. Its current leader is Gerry Adams, a controversial figure in Irish politics. Sinn Féin’s most notable feature is its hardline nationalism, but it is also a left-wing organization, espousing democratic socialist views with support for greatly increased public spending on the poor, as well as universal healthcare.
It is established in both the Republic of Ireland (with five seats out of 166 in the Dáil Éireann) and Northern Ireland (with 28 seats out of 108, the largest Irish nationalist party in the Northern Ireland Assembly).
It also holds the majority of nationalist Westminster Members of Parliament with 5 seats (out of 646), although these members practise abstentionism.
Some historians dispute whether there is in fact a single, continuous Sinn Féin. Some merely see a collection of parties descended from each other, as its various leaderships in the 1920s, 1930s, 1960s, 1980s and 1990s split, with other moving to form rival parties, most with new names, some keeping the words Sinn Féin in their title. The Sinn Féin of Arthur Griffith certainly has very little in common with the party currently in existence. Griffith had sought to re-establish the dual monarchy, which he contended was still legally in existence. This had been set up under the Constitution of 1782. After Cumann na nGaedheal and Fianna Fáil were founded, in 1923 and 1926, only a tiny rump of the Anglo-Irish War party remained, and this featured very rarely in politics, contesting only a few elections. They appeared in various forms, often radically socialist and militant, and were involved in agrarian politics in the west of the country. The remainder of Sinn Féin was led by John J. O'Kelly ('Sceilg'). It won five seats in the June 1927 Dáil election, but disappeared from prominence for a few decades. Many members and supporters helped to create the "Irish Brigade" which fought in the Spanish Civil War against Franco and Fascism in the 1930s, in contrast to the support given to Franco by Cumann na nGaedheal. During the Second World War, a number of members sought the support of Nazi Germany, most notably Seán Russell. This has, unsurprisingly, been interpreted by many as support for Nazi Germany. The party had a brief resurgence at the 1955 Westminster elections, winning two seats, and in the 1957 Dáil elections, winning four seats. They continued to abstain, regarding the Dáil as a partitionist parliament.
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The Sinn Féin movement crystallised around the propaganda campaign of Arthur Griffith, a nationalist typesetter, and William Rooney, a republican office clerk, both of whom were extremely active in Dublin's nationalist clubs at the beginning of the 20th century. In his account of the movement's early years the propagandist Aodh de Blácam says that Sinn Féin "was not a party: it was the amorphous propaganda of the Gaelicised young men and women". Griffith was first and foremost a newspaperman with an impressive network of friends in the Dublin printing industry. His propaganda newspapers, the United Irishman and Sinn Féin, channeled the enormous energy of the self-help generation into an unorthodox political project based on the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy of 1867 and the theories of the German nationalist economist Friedrich List. Tapping into the growing self awareness of an Irish identity which was reflected in movements like the Gaelic Athletic Association, the Gaelic League (Conradh na Gaeilge) and in the founding of the Abbey Theatre, he created a loose federation of nationalist clubs and associations which competed with John Redmond's Irish Parliamentary Party to embody the aspirations of 20th century nationalists.
Most historians opt for November 28, 1905 as a founding date because it was on this date that Griffith first presented his 'Sinn Féin Policy'. In his writings, Griffith declared that the Act of Union of Great Britain and Ireland in 1800 was illegal and that, consequently, the Anglo-Irish dual monarchy which existed under Grattan's Parliament and the so-called Constitution of 1782 was still in effect. Others date the foundation of Sinn Féin to May 1906, when Griffith launched a paper called Sinn Féin, or to April 1907, when an organisation called the Sinn Féin League was established (Griffith was opposed to it) or to September 1907 when Griffith incorporated the League into a new Sinn Féin organisation, moving Sinn Féin from an idea to an actual party structure.
Though Sinn Féin had a high name recognition factor among some voters it attracted minimal support. In August 1909, it had only 581 paid-up members throughout all of Ireland. 211 were in Dublin, while Sligo had only 2 members, a student and a shopkeeper. By 1915, it was, in the words of one of Griffith's colleagues, "on the rocks", so insolvent financially that it could not pay the rent on its party headquarters in Harcourt Street in Dublin. It was partially rescued by the mistaken belief among the British administration running Ireland from Dublin Castle that it had been behind the 1916 Rising, an unsuccessful attempt to establish an Irish Republic, the failure of talks in late 1916 between Unionists and Nationlists, presided over by David Lloyd George, to agree home rule, and the Conscription Crisis on 1917.
Sinn Féin was wrongly blamed by the British for the Easter Rising, with which it had no association, apart from a desire of separation stronger than Home Rule — the leaders of the Rising were certainly looking for more than Dual Monarchy. Any group that disagreed with mainstream constitutional politics was branded 'Sinn Féin' by British commentators. The term 'Sinn Féin Rebellion' was also used by the Irish media, the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) and even by a few of those involved in the Rising.
Surviving leaders of the Rising under Éamon de Valera took over the party. De Valera replaced Griffith as president. It nearly split between its monarchist and republican wings at its 1917 Ard Fheis (conference) until, in a compromise motion, it proposed the establishment of an independent republic, after which the people could decide whether they wanted a monarchy or republic, subject to the condition that if they chose a monarchy, no member of the British Royal Family could serve as monarch.
Sinn Féin was boosted by the anger over the execution of Rising leaders, even though before the executions, the Roman Catholic hierarchy, the Irish Independent newspaper (the biggest selling daily newspaper in Ireland then) and many local authorities actually called for the mass execution of Rising leaders. Yet even that public sympathy did not give Sinn Féin decisive electoral advantage, It fought a tough battle with the Irish Parliamentary Party under John Redmond, later John Dillon, with each side winning by-elections. It was only after the Conscription Crisis, when Britain threatened to impose conscription to boost its war effort that support swung decisively behind Sinn Féin. Efforts were made to agree an amicable form of home rule and to negotiate a deal between the Irish Unionist Party (IUP) and the Irish Parliamentary Party, in the 'Convention' arranged by former IUP leader Walter Long in 1917. These were undermined by his cabinet colleague David Lloyd George and were not attended by Sinn Féin.
Sinn Féin won 73 of Ireland's 106 seats in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland parliament at the general election in December 1918 and many of the seats it won were uncontested. There were four reasons for this. Firstly, despite being the largest party in Ireland for forty years, the IPP had not fought a general election since 1910. In many parts of Ireland its organisation had decayed and was no longer capable of mounting an electoral challenge. Other seats were uncontested because of mass support, with other parties deciding that there was no point in challenging Sinn Féin given it was certain to win. Contemporary documents also suggest a degree of intimidation of opponents. (Piaras Béaslaí recorded one example in a by-election in Longford in 1917 where a Sinn Féin activist put a gun against the head of a Returning Officer and forced him to announce the election of the Sinn Féin candidate even though the IPP candidate had more votes. Potential candidates who were thought of as serious challengers to Sinn Féin candidates were warned against seeking election in some Ulster constituencies and in Munster.) Because so many of the seats were uncontested under sometimes dubious circumstances, it has been difficult to determine what the actual support for the party was in the country. Various accounts range from 45% to 80%. The author of the site on elections in the North estimates a figure of 53%. Another estimate would suggest Sinn Féin had the support of approximately 65% of the electorate (unionists accounting for approximately 20-25% and other nationalists for the remainder). Lastly, emigration was very difficult during the war, which meant that tens thousands of young people were in Ireland who would not have been there under normal circumstances.
On 21 January 1919, Sinn Féin MPs assembled in Dublin's Mansion House and proclaimed themselves the parliament of Ireland, Dáil Éireann. They elected an Aireacht (ministry) headed by a Príomh Aire (prime minister). Though the state was declared to be a republic, no provision was made for a head of state. This was rectified in August 1921 when the Príomh Aire (also known as President of Dáil Éireann was upgraded to President of the Republic, a full head of state.
In the 1920 city council elections, Sinn Féin gained control of ten of the twelve city councils in Ireland. Only Belfast and Derry remained under Unionist and IPP (respectively) control. In the local elections of the same year, they won control of all the county councils except Antrim, Down, Londonderry and Armagh.
Sinn Féin subsequently underwent successive splits (1922, 1926, 1970 and 1986), from which emerged a range of parties, Cumann na nGaedhael, now known as Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Official Sinn Féin, later Sinn Féin The Workers Party, later The Workers Party and then Democratic Left, which finally joined the Irish Labour party after serving in government with them, and Republican Sinn Féin.
Following the conclusion in December 1921 of the Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations between representatives of the British Government and de Valera's republican government and the narrow approval of the Treaty by Dáil Éireann, a state called the Irish Free State was established. Northern Ireland (a six county region set up under the British Government of Ireland Act 1920) opted out, as the Treaty allowed.
The reasons for the split were various, though partition was not one of them - the IRA did not split in the North and pro- and anti-treaty republicans looked to pro-treaty Michael Collins for leadership (and weapons). The principal reason for the split is usually described as the question of the Oath of Allegiance to the Irish Free State, which members of the new Dáil would be required to take. It explicitly recognised that the Irish Free State would be part of the British Commonwealth and many republicans found that unacceptable. The pro-treaty forces argued that the treaty gave "freedom to achieve freedom". Ironically the actions of Eamon DeValera in the 1930s and the adoption of a republican constitution proved the pro-treaty argument to be right on that point. In the elections of March 1922 De Valera and the anti-treaty Sinn Féin secured 35% of the popular vote. The anti-treaty element of the IRA formed an Executive that was not subordinate to the new parliament.
A short but bitter Irish Civil War (June 1922 – April 1923) erupted between the supporters of the Treaty and its opponents. De Valera resigned as President of the Republic and sided with the anti-treatyites. The victorious pro-treaty "Free Staters", who amounted to a majority of Sinn Féin TDs and a majority of the electorate, set up the Irish Free State. The pro-treaty Sinn Féin TDs changed the name of the party to Cumann na nGaedhael, subsequently merging with the Centre Party and the Blueshirts in 1933 to form Fine Gael.
Having temporarily suspended armed action in the Free State, the movement split again with the departure (March 1926) of its leader Eamon de Valera, after having lost a motion to abandon abstention if the statement of "Fidelity to the King" were abolished. He subsequently founded Fianna Fáil with fellow advocates of participation in constitutional politics, and entered the Irish parliament (Dáil Éireann) the following year, forming a government in 1932.
After a number of unsuccessful attempts at armed insurrection, including a naïve link-up to procure weapons in the 1940s between some IRA members and the Nazis, the party in the 1960s moved to the left, adopting a 'stagist' approach similar to orthodox Communist analysis. The party came under the influence of a generation of intellectuals who were associated with the Communist Party of Great Britain's Connolly Association and sought a decisive break from the confessional politics of the past. The new generation of leaders sought to engage Ulster's Protestant workers in an anti-imperialist popular front.
At the same time a new generation of Catholics in Northern Ireland benefited from the creation of a welfare state in the UK and were increasingly likely to demand their rights to equality in jobs and housing. The republicans, together with the Communists and a new generation of social democrats, formed the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association to demand an end to discrimination. NICRA's campaigns - and the violent response of the state - increasingly destabilised Northern Ireland, particularly as Harold Wilson's Labour government in Britain began to exert political pressure on Stormont for change.
In the end, no reforms were implemented. In August 1969 Northern Ireland was convulsed by a wave of rioting and sectarian attacks, and British troops were sent in to support the (largely Unionist) Royal Ulster Constabulary. The violence, or rather the IRA's minimal response to it, discredited the leftist leadership of the republican movement. At the same time, certain Fianna Fáil politicians in the Republic, fearful of Communism, were instrumental in financing and arming a splinter group that would be more concerned with mounting violent resistance to the northern government than fomenting island-wide socialist revolution.
The 1970 split occurred when the increasingly leftist-dominated leadership sought to end the historical policy of abstention and engage in non-violent constitutional politics. Although a majority of delegates supported the leadership, the two-thirds majority needed to change the party constitution did not materialise. The leadership saw the renewed sectarian conflict as "setting worker against worker" and declined to intervene on the traditionally Nationalist side. Disgusted by what they saw as the incompetence of the leadership, the traditionalists led by Seán Mac Stíofáin and Ruairí Ó Brádaigh split from the IRA and Sinn Féin to form the Provisional IRA and its political wing Provisional Sinn Féin (both bodies were known as 'provisional' after the formation of a 'provisional' army council by the rebels). The remainder of the party became known as Official Sinn Féin, and evolved into a political party which became a radical left force in the Republic of Ireland in the 1980s.
The split was violent and periodic bouts of low level warfare were seen in Belfast and elsewhere. Many individual republicans took their time to decide which side of the division they were on.
With the Officials' repudiation of violence in 1972, and its move from republicanism to Marxism, Sinn Féin became the political voice of the minority of northern nationalists who saw IRA violence as the means of forcing an end to British rule and institutionalised discrimination against nationalists which, in the words of Ulster Unionist leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate David Trimble, had created "a cold house for Catholics". The British government agreed to legalise Sinn Féin in May 1974, legalising the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force at the same time to placate angry unionists. However, Sinn Féin never succeeded in attracting the majority of Catholic support while the IRA continued its campaign of violence: most Catholics voted for the Social Democratic and Labour Party, under Gerry Fitt and later John Hume. A small minority voted for the Alliance Party; small numbers of Catholics also voted for the leading unionist parties, the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), the Democratic Unionist Party and the shortlived Unionist Party of Northern Ireland. Sinn Féin only achieved the support of the majority of the nationalist community in 2001, three years after the Belfast Agreement.
Nationalist alienation in the aftermath of the deaths of ten Republican hunger-strikers in Long Kesh prison in 1981 gave Sinn Féin a springboard into electoral politics in the North. An internal power struggle, between a southern leadership under Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and a northern leadership under Gerry Adams, saw Ó Brádaigh and his associates leave to establish Republican Sinn Féin, which they claimed was the 'true' Sinn Féin. The split was over the decision of a majority of Sinn Féin members to alter party policy on abstentionism (i.e. the refusal to accept the legitimacy of, or to participate in, the parliaments of the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland); while the policy of abstentionism towards the Westminster British Parliament was continued, it was dropped in relation to Dáil Éireann. Under the presidency (from November 1983) of Gerry Adams, Sinn Féin leaders sought to explore wider political engagement through political agitation and the use or threat of violence.
In October 1982 a Sinn Féin function was held at Tralee, attended by, among others, Pat Doherty, Martin Ferris and Martin McGuinness. According to Sean O'Callaghan, he was informed by McGuinness ... that he and Gerry Adams were stepping down as Chief of Staff and adjutant-general respectively, to be replaced by McKenna (Kevin McKenna) and Doherty (Pat Doherty). The reason given was that both Adams and McGuinness had been chosen by Sinn Féin to contest assembly elections in Northern Ireland, which had been called by Jim Prior, the secretary of state for Northern Ireland. There is no doubt, however that the supergrass system, an exclusively Northern Ireland phenomenon, also played a part in their decision, for nobody knew where the next supergrass would come from. It was no coincidence that both McKenna and Doherty lived in the Republic and were safe from compromise by a new supergrass."
Whatever the true explanation, that decision, augmented by the much-later involvement of SDLP leader John Hume in the Hume-Adams dialogue, and the decision of successive Irish Taoisigh (prime ministers), Charles Haughey, Albert Reynolds, John Bruton and Bertie Ahern to initiate and maintain contact with the Sinn Féin leadership, helped produce the Northern Ireland peace process in the 1990s.
Ironically, Adams and company had originally come to dominate the republican movement because of their unwillingness to compromise and their refusal to contemplate a ceasefire. They reassessed their position after it became clear that British intelligence successes, as well as war weariness meant that a decisive military breakthrough was unlikely and that the violent stalemate would continue.
The new strategy - famously described by Danny Morrison as "a ballot paper in one hand and the Armalite in the other" - was also, if subtly, eventually ditched as republicans again came to terms with the limits on their political success that continued "armed struggle" imposed. The very thing that propelled Adams into leadership, his opposition to military ceasefires, now became central to his approach (albeit this time, unlike during previous ceasefires, the IRA would retain their ability to return to violence at short notice).
In a recent special party conference (ard fheis in Irish) on the 28th January 2007, Sinn Fein voted to support the police in Northern Ireland for the first time. This represents a major step forward in the Northern Ireland peace process, as for the first time the main republican party has officially supported the rule of law as imposed by the British. By the time the vote was taken, most of the opponents to the move had already left the party, yet despite this it reflects a growing desire for peaceful dialogue.
Sinn Féin is organised throughout Ireland, and membership is open to all Irish residents over the age of 16. The party is organised hierarchically into cumainn (branches), comhairle ceantair (district executives), cúigí (regional executives). At national level, the Coiste Seasta (Standing Committee) oversees the day-to-day running of Sinn Féin. It is an eight-member body nominated by the Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle and also includes the chairperson of each cúige. The Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle (National Executive) meets at least once a month. It directs the overall implementation of Sinn Féin policy and activities of the party.
The Ard Chomhairle also oversees the operation of various departments of Sinn Féin, viz Administration, Finance, National Organiser, Campaigns, Ógra Shinn Féin, Women's Forum, Culture, Publicity and International Affairs. It is made up of the following: Officer Board and nine other members, all of whom are elected by delegates to the Ard Fheis, 15 representing the five Cúige regions (three delegates each). The Ard Chomhairle can co-opt eight members for specific posts and additional members can be co-opted, if necessary, to ensure that at least 30 per cent of Ard Chomhairle members are women.
The ard fheis (national delegate conference) is the ultimate policy-making body of the party where delegates - directly elected by members of cumainn - can decide on and implement policy. It is held at least once a year but a special Ard Fheis can be called by the Ard Chomhairle or the membership under special circumstances.
The largest of the modern-day Sinn Féin parties, also referred to as Provisional Sinn Féin, is the only political party to have seats in the parliaments of both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Sinn Féin is currently the third-largest party in Ireland by vote share, although the whole island only votes together at European elections.
Sinn Féin is the largest nationalist political party in Northern Ireland, having recently displaced the previously dominant nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) in national elections. It currently has five MPs (gaining one in the United Kingdom general election of 2005) in the House of Commons (out of eighteen MPs representing Northern Ireland) and twenty-four Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) (out of a Northern Ireland Assembly membership of 108, making it the joint second largest, behind the Democratic Unionist Party with thirty-three seats and alongside the Ulster Unionist Party who also have twenty-four).
It is a much smaller political force, in electoral terms, in the Republic of Ireland, where it currently has five TDs (out of 166) in Dáil Éireann and no members of the Republic's Seanad Éireann (Senate). Sinn Féin has two Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) out of sixteen Irish MEPs, one from either side of the Irish border; one out of three in Northern Ireland, and one out of thirteen in the Republic. It is the only political party in Europe to be represented by members from different EU states. Its MEPs sit as part of the left wing European United Left - Nordic Green Left group in the European Parliament.
Sinn Féin had two ministers in the now suspended Executive Committee (cabinet) of the Northern Ireland Assembly but has never sat in cabinet in the Republic. In 2005 the unionist parties indicated that they would not serve in government with Sinn Féin until its relationship with the Provisional Irish Republican Army was terminated.
Sinn Féin, and other republicans, typically refer to Northern Ireland as the Six Counties, due to the early 20th century political history of the region - part of the Northern Ireland naming dispute.
Sinn Féin is the largest group in the Republican wing of Irish nationalism and is associated with the IRA.
Sinn Féin organiser Danny Morrison at the party's Ard Fheis (Annual Conference) in 1981, said:
"Who here really believes we can win the war through the ballot box? But will anyone here object if, with a ballot paper in this hand and an Armalite in the other, we take power in Ireland?"
To some, this statement confirmed the relationship between the IRA and Sinn Féin.
The current British Government stated in 2005 that "we had always said all the way through we believed that Sein Fein and the IRA were inextricably linked and that had obvious implications at leadership level". 
The Independent Monitoring Commission which was established to monitor paramilitary and terrorist activity in Northern Ireland however has imposed sanctions against Sinn Féin due to the actions of the PIRA.
Apart from the obvious support of a united Ireland, Sinn Féin outlined several other key policies from their most recent election manifesto. Several are listed below:
A vast majority of their policies are intended to be implemented on an 'all-Ireland' basis which further emphasises their central aim of creating a united Ireland.
All Sinn Fein Westminster MP's follow an abstentionist policy - they do not take their seats in Parliament.