26 November 2005

Why SF members must tow the party line, on everything but the economy

Belfast Telegraph

Via Newshound

Eamonn McCann
24 November 2005

I suppose Francie Molloy can count himself lucky that it's only from Sinn Fein membership that he's suspended and not from the end of a rope.

Francie was accused at lunchtime on Tuesday of not only thinking things which Sinn Fein chiefs hadn't approved, but of expressing them within earshot of voters. Within 90 minutes - give or take - Mitchel McLaughlin had conducted a preliminary hearing in his head and decided that Bobby Sands' director of elections had a prima face case to answer. So he's been cast beyond the Pale, pending a full hearing.

Mitchel helpfully explained yesterday that it's his job as general secretary to take these difficult disciplinary decisions.

This came as something of a surprise to those of us who'd been reminded by Tuesday night's Spotlight programme that in the wake of the killing of Robert McCartney, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams had personally suspended seven members of the party without, apparently, feeling a need to consult anyone else.

Are President Adams and General Secretary McLaughlin the only Sinn Fein officials with this awesome power to remove party members from the organisation at will? Or are there others? Could Sinn Fein, please, publish a list?

It is surely not healthy to have party members walking around not knowing whether it's safe to look sideways at Barry McElduff.

I raise these matters only because no Sinn Fein member whom I managed to consult in the pub last night was clear about the procedures which had been followed in the Francie suspension. None could quote the party rule or policy decision which had conferred these unusual powers on the President and the General Secretary (and possibly on a range of others.)

I have to wonder, too, whether my old friend Mitchel isn't being a mite foolhardy in exercising his disciplinary muscle with such evident alacrity.

I'd proceed with a certain circumspection, if I were in his defiantly unfashionable brogues.

It is Sinn Fein policy not to welcome or facilitate new investment in Northern Ireland unless the inward investor meets a number of conditions to do with ethical practice and workers' right to trade union membership and representation.

The policy was enthusiastically endorsed a few years back by Sinn Fein's supreme decision-making body, the Ard Fheis, the motion having been proposed by a Derry delegation led, if memory serves, by, er, Mitchel McLaughlin.

And yet, long hours fine-tooth-combing through Mitchel's many subsequent pronouncements on economic policy have failed to yield a single example of this particular party policy being espoused.

Indeed, many may have formed an impression from Mitchel that there's isn't an unbridgeable gap between Sinn Fein policy on investment and workers' rights and the policy of the DUP - or even of New Labour.

Is Mitchel not running the risk of finding himself sin-binned with Francie?

I suppose he's safe enough if it's only President Adams who'd have the clout to declare him non grata.

After all, Generalissimo Gerry isn't averse to the odd solo run himself when it comes to economic matters.

There's been a major kerfuffle down south in the past fortnight about the chances of the Shinners going into government with Fianna Fail.

Bertie Ahern says he won't hear of it, on the ground that Sinn Fein economic policy would be fatal for the Celtic Tiger.

"Marxist," the policy was described as, to the delight of those Shinners who are chuffed to be thought of as Marxists.

Right enough, higher income tax, higher capital gains tax, higher corporation tax, a 30% tax on banks, a desire to tax property and opposition to greater European integration - the policy mix would be bad medicine for Fianna Fail's business friends.

But then I read in the Sunday papers that no less a person than General Adams himself has been giving "private briefings" to Dublin media outlets making it clear that it's the peace process and the "equality agenda" which will be make-or-break for Sinn Fein in relation to coalition - not the party's economic proposals, which will be "negotiable".

Something of a pattern here, is there not?

When it comes to communal questions, issues of Orange versus Green, party members must offer no backchat, take their lead from the top, and stay in tune as they all sing the same song.

But on economic questions, on class issues, policy is there only for the optics. You can say anything you like, especially if it advances the party towards power.

Thus it was just days ago that Peter Hain gave an interview to a New York newspaper explaining that Britain now wanted to solve its Northern Ireland problem by privatising the whole place, and the only aspect of the interview which exercised Sinn Fein (or the DUP) was whether we are to be sold off on our own or as a job lot with the Republic.

Still. At least things are being clarified, are they not?


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