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Sinn Féin

Sinn Féin (in the Irish language "ourselves" or "we ourselves"; not as sometimes incorrectly translated, "ourselves alone") is an Irish political party. Though originally founded by Arthur Griffith as an Irish separatist monarchist party, in 1917 it moved to campaign for an Irish republic, and it is as an Irish Republican political party that it is now known. It committed to the re-unification of Ireland, replacing the two partitioned states created in 1920, Northern Ireland with what is now called the Republic of Ireland. Unlike other Irish nationalist parties it has until the 1990s campaigned using what was called the Armalite and the ballot box strategy of political agitation and the use or threat of violence, a term first used to describe Sinn Féin's strategy by Danny Morrison, one of the party's leading activists in the 1980s. It has strong links with the Provisional Irish Republican Army, and is sometimes referred to as its political wing.

Historians dispute whether there is in fact a Sinn Féin, some seeing 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 modern Sinn Féin is now the strongest nationalist party in Northern Ireland, where it polls approximately one quarter of the vote. Its main rival in the largely Catholic non-Unionist part of the electorate is the constitutional nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), which won more seats in the 1998 Northern Ireland Assembly election but was eclipsed by Sinn Féin in the 2003 election.

Sinn Féin currently has five TDss in Dáil Éireann in the Republic, as well as four MPs in the British House of Commons, though the latter refuse to take their seats because to do so would mean swearing an oath of allegiance to the British monarch.

In the Northern Ireland Assembly, Sinn Féin have 24 MLAs, up from 18 prior to the 2003 election. When the executive functioned during the 1998-2003 assembly tenure, the party had two Ministers in the Northern Ireland Executive. Since the emergence of the Democratic Unionist Party as the largest Unionist party, it is unclear exactly what the future of the assembly and executive will be since the DUP refuses to share power with Sinn Féin while Sinn Féin shows any signs of links to an IRA not that has not completed the process of decommissioning of its arms. In the European Parliament, Sinn Féin does not have MEPs in either of the two jurisdictions that make up the island of Ireland.

Table of contents
1 Early Days
2 Sinn Féin & the Easter Rising
3 The 1918 General Election
4 The Split over The Treaty
5 From 'Official Sinn Féin' to Democratic Left
6 'Provisional Sinn Féin'
7 Good Friday Agreement
8 Further reading
9 External Link

Early Days

Arthur Griffith
Founder and first leader (1905-1917)

Sinn Féin crystallised around the political campaign of Arthur Griffith and William Rooney at the beginning of the 20th century. For many years Sinn Féin was a loose federation of political groups whose only real connection was the newspapers edited by Griffith which inspired them. Most historians opt for November 28, 1905 as a founding date because in was on this date that Griffith first presented his 'Sinn Féin Policy'. In his writings, Griffth declared that the Act of Union of Great Britain and Ireland 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. Therefore, all that was needed to achieve an idependent Ireland was to believe that this was the case. Everything else would fall into place.

Sinn Féin was 'wrongly' blamed by the British for the Easter Rising, with which it had 'no association', other than that some of its ideas, though not its championing of an Anglo-Irish dual monarchy, influenced some of its leaders. Any group that disagreed with mainstream constitutional politics was branded 'Sinn Féin' by. The term 'Sinn Féin Rebellion' but also used by the Irish media, the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) and by a few of those involved in the Rising.

Surviving leaders of the Rising under Eamon de Valera took over the party. De Valera replaced Griffith as president. It nearly split between its monarchist and republican wings at its 1917 Árd Fhéis (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 & the Easter Rising

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 now) 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 decisively swung behind Sinn Féin.

The 1918 General Election

Sinn Féin won 70% of Ireland's seats (73 in total) in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland parliament at the general election in December 1918 and 497,107 votes but it is difficult to assess how much support it genuinely had because most of the seats it won (indeed most of the seats won by everyone) were uncontested. Some were uncontested because of mass support. Others went uncontested because rival candidates were afraid to contest them. Recent studies of Sinn Féin votes in contested national, by-election and local election results in the period 1917-1921 suggest it actually had the support of 45-48%, far ahead of any other political party but much less than the 80% to 90% claimed by Sinn Féin later, though one study, based purely on analysing the actual results of the 1918 general election and presuming similar voting patterns islandwide suggested a possible Sinn Féin percentage, had all seats been contested, of 53%+. [1] (The election also was under Britain's unproportional 'first past the post' electoral system which can create massive majorities under minority vote levels (eg, Thatcher in 1983, 1987, Blair in 1997, 2001), again adding an additional distortion that would not have occurred under a more accurate and proportional electoral system.) Sinn Féin subsequently underwent successive splits (1922, 1926 and 1970), from which emerged a range of parties, Cumann na nGaedhael, Fianna Fáil and Official Sinn Féin, later Sinn Féin The Workers Party, now known as the Workers' Party.

The Split over The Treaty

Eamon de Valera
Second leader of Sinn Féin (1917-1926).

Following the conclusion (December 1921) of the Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations between representatives of the British Government and de Valera's republican government (chosen by Dáil Éireann, the assembly set up by Sinn MPs (or TDs as they were called) and the narrow approval of the Treaty by Dáil Éireann a state called the Irish Free State was established. Northern Ireland (a six county regional state set up under the British Government of Ireland Act 1920 opted out, as the Treaty allowed. 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. Many of those pro-treaty Sinn Féin TDs formed their own party, Cumann na nGaedhael, merging in the 1930s into Fine Gael.

Having abandoned armed action in the Free State, the movement split again with the departure (March 1926) of its leader Eamon de Valera and fellow advocates of participation in constitutional politics, who subsequently founded the Fianna Fáil party and entered the Irish parliament (Dáil Éireann) the following year, forming a government in 1932.

From 'Official Sinn Féin' to Democratic Left

After a number of unsuccessful attempts at armed insurrection, including a disastrous link up in the 1940s between some Sinn Féin members and the Nazis (whom they thought could help them overthow the southern Irish state), the party in the 1960s moved to the left, adopting a more Marxist analysis. In 1970, a further split occurred between the Marxist Official IRA and its Official Sinn Féin and the more traditional republican Provisional IRA and its political wing Provisional Sinn Féin, Official Sinn Féin evolved into Sinn Féin the Workers Party, which won seats in Dáil Éireann in 1981-82. It later ditched the 'Sinn Féin' tag, calling itself The Workers Party. A further split in the early 1990s saw the Workers's Party leader and all but one of its TDs defect and set up a new party, Democratic Left. It served in government with Fine Gael and Labour (1994-97) before merging with the Irish Labour Party. The Labour Party's president, leader and Deputy Leader are all members of the former Democratic Left.

'Provisional Sinn Féin'

Gerry Adams
Leader of Sinn Féin (1983-present)

With the Officials' repudiation of armed force in 1972, Provisional Sinn Fein became the political voice of the minority of northern nationalists who saw IRA attacks as the means of forcing an end to British rule, domination by the overwhelmingly Protestant Ulster Unionist Party and discrimination against the northern Nationalist (in effect Catholic) community, which had made Northern Ireland, in the words of Ulster Unionist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate David Trimble, a "cold house for catholics." But they never accounted for the majority of nationalists, who voted for the Social Democratic and Labour Party under John Hume. A small minority voted for the Alliance Party.

Nationalist distaste at the deaths of ten IRA hunger-strikers in British prisons in 1981 gave Sinn Fein a springboard into electoral politics in the north. An internal power stuggle between a southern leadership of Ruairi Ó Bradaigh and a Northern leadership under Gerry Adams, saw Ó Bradaigh and his associates leave to establish Republican Sinn Féin, which they claimed was the 'true' Sinn Féin. Part of the split was over the decision of Adams and Sinn Féin to abandon abstentionism (ie, the refusal to accept the legitimacy of, and to participate in, the parliaments of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland). While the policy of abstentionism towards the Westminster British Parliament was continued, it was dropped in relation to Dáil Eireann. Under the presidency (from November 1983) of Gerry Adams, Sinn Féin leaders sought to explore wider political engagement, resulting in the 1990s Northern Ireland peace process. The move was also hastened by a series of disastrous IRA attacks, including the killing of people attending a Remembrance Day ceremony in Enniskillen. Adams, who has been moving the movement away from military engagement, brought the party to a highpoint of popularity, capturing 5 seats out of 166 in Dáil Éireann in the Republic 2002 general election.

The party overtook its nationalist rival, the Social Democratic and Labour Party as the largest nationalist party in the 2003 Northern Assembly elections, with Martin McGuinness, judged widely to have been a successful Minister for Education in line to take the post of Deputy First Minister in the Northern Ireland Power-Sharing Executive Committee, should the executive be reformed. However the electoral success of the hardline anti-Agreement Democratic Unionist Party, which replaced the Ulster Unionist Party as the leading unionist party, is thought to make the prospect of setting up a new executive less likely. Some critics of Sinn Féin allege that the DUP's electoral success, and its resulting threat to the Agreement, was contributed to by the failure of the IRA to decommission its weapons, a decision that seriously undermined the ability of the pro-Agreement David Trimble to win majority unionist community support. Sinn Féin does not accept that allegation.

Sinn Féin also won a considerable number of seats in the 2002 Westminster election. The party however It continues to subscribe to an abstentionist policy towards seats in the Westminster British parliament.

Good Friday Agreement

The party has been committed to constitutional politics since the Good Friday Agreement of April 1998, though the failure of the IRA to decommission its arms in a manner acceptable to Unionist leaders (unionist criticism of the IRA's slow pace of decommissioning was echoed by the Irish taoiseach (prime minister), Bertie Ahern, the SDLP leader Mark Durkan and the British Prime Minister Tony Blair in public in October 2002) led to repeated suspensions of the peace process. The IRA finally started decommissioning arms after the attacks of September 11, 2001 resulted in increased United States pressure to move the process on and the evaporation of much of the support previously enjoyed in the U.S. However the discovery of an apparent spy ring linked to Sinn Féin operating within the Northern Ireland civil service, led to the suspension of the Executive and the reinstatement of direct rule in Northern Ireland, a suspension already on the brink of being triggered amid threats of resignation from First Minister David Trimble over the apparently slow pace of IRA decomissioning.

Further reading

External Link

Parties with Origins in 1916-21 Sinn Féin

Other Northern Ireland Parties

Other Irish Websites to View