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Sinn Féin

Sinn Féin (Irish, "ourselves"; sometimes translated as "ourselves alone") is, in its present form, an Irish Republican[?] political party committed to the re-unification of Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland, breaking all ties with the United Kingdom. It has strong links with the Provisional Irish Republican Army, and is sometimes referred to as its political wing.

It is now strongest in Northern Ireland, where it polls between 15% and 22% of the vote, competing with the constitutional nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) for the overwhelmingly Catholic anti-Unionist[?] part of the electorate. It currently has deputies in both the Irish and British Parliaments as well as the Northern Ireland Assembly and the European Parliament.

Table of contents

Early Days

Arthur Griffith
Founder & first leader (1905-1917)
Sinn Féin crystalised around the political propaganda 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 1905 as a founding date because in was in this year that Griffith first presented his 'Sinn Féin Policy'. In his writings, Griffth decalred 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. It is often stated that Sinn Féin was 'wrongly' blamed by the British for the Easter Rising, with which it had 'no association'. This, however is not entirely true. By 1916 'Sinn Féin' was a generic term covering all sorts of radical political movements in Ireland. Any group that disagreed with mainstream constitutional politics was branded 'Sinn Féin'. When the rising took place (planned in secret by members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood who were also members of Sinn Féin), it was not just the British authorities who called it the 'Sinn Féin Rebellion' but also the Irish press, the Irish police force, the Irish Public and, significantly, the revolutionaries themselves.

Surviving leaders of the Rising under Eamon de Valera took over the 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 in the British parliament at the election of December 1918 but it is difficult to assess whether it genuinely had 70% support 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 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 45-60% (The election also was under Britain's notoriously unreliable 'first past the post' electoral system which can create massive majorities under minority vote levels (eg, Thatcher in 1983, 87, Blair in 1997, 2002), 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

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'

With the Officials' repudiation of armed action in 1972, Provisional Sinn Fein became the political voice of those minority of northern Republicans 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. 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 revulsion 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[?], the Republic of Ireland's House of Representatives. 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 skillfully being 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 2002 Republic of Ireland general election. It seems poised to overtake the Social Democatic and Labour Party[?] as the largest nationalist party in the 2003 Northern Assembly elections, with Martin McGuinness[?], currently a very successful Minister for Education taking the post of Deputy First Minister[?] in the Northern Ireland Power-Sharing Executive. It also won a considerable number of seats in the 2002 Westminster election. The party has for some time abandoned its refusal to take its seats in Dáil Éireann in Dublin and has taken its seats in the Assembly and cabinet in Stormont. 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.

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Parties with Origins in 1916-21 Sinn Féin

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