Sinn Féin should promote community-activist, not middle-class, candidates
Councillor Killian Forde was once considered the rising star of Sinn Féin, until he followed a recent countrywide trend and left for pastures new. The opening of the last decade – when Sinn Féin held a seat in Europe, and there was talk of a move into Government in the republic, and murmurings of Gerry Adams for President – seems a long time ago. These days a Councillor leaving Sinn Féin is no longer out of the ordinary and Forde follows in the footsteps of his former party colleagues on Dublin City Council, Christy Burke and Louise Minihan who joined Éirigí, an organisation which has in the few years since its inception effectively attempted to cut off the oxygen supply to Sinn Féin’s once vibrant Dublin movement. Meanwhile, Seamus Morris, a North Tipperary Sinn Féin Councillor, has called for Gerry Adams to step aside as party leader, the first Councillor ever to do so publicly.
Forde argues that Sinn Féin hasd known of his feelings on what he considered to be the anti-democratic nature of the party, for the past three years. Sinn Féin’s refusal to endorse a budget he had spent weeks working on in his capacity as chairperson of the ‘Financial Development and General Committee of Dublin City Council’, was his breaking point. According to Forde, “Dublin City Council just about got through last year. Fianna Fáil cut €25 million from the local Government scheme. We’re losing income from parking spaces, and to be voting against budgets based on waste charges is depressing. We’re ten years on from that”. He believes “the original budget would have seen massive job cuts and swimming pools closing and park opening times curtailed. There were 13 things we wanted changed: we changed 12, with only the failure to exempt low-income families from bin charges remaining”.
When Forde left the party and joined Labour, Mary Lou McDonald who once had Forde top of the ticket to replace her in Strasbourg, referred to him as “that person”. Later his own ward chairman called for Forde to resign his seat. The man himself seems unstirred by the parting comments of his former colleagues, pondering why he should resign a seat to which he was elected and give it up to a party which in his outspoken view is “a bit crap”. His own journey from Trinity College Dublin student to potential Sinn Féin MEP encompasses, in his opinion, much of why Sinn Féin is experiencing its current lull, in the middle of a national crisis when people should be more open to the opinions of those on the left. Forde sees Sinn Féin’s move away from backing community activists such as Nicky Kehoe and Christy Burke, to backing party activists such as himself and Mary Lou McDonald, as being a key contributor to the party’s fortunes. A former Irish Times skiing correspondent, he was once described by the Sunday Independent as the “male Mary Lou”. Ironically he views Sinn Féin’s scramble for middle-class respectability as a fundamental mistake. “There is a councillor called Tony Smithers in Ballyfermot, he was the person I thought was exactly what Sinn Féin was all about. He is a working-class guy born and bred, extremely articulate and the kind of guy they should have been looking for and promoting. Not replicas of me and Mary Lou. There is a huge working class vote out there and the likes of Larry O’Toole, Nicky Kehoe and Tony proved that if you run people from communities the community will vote for them. Sometimes we wonder why the voter turnout in places like Darndale is low, but why should the people of Darndale vote for someone from Sutton. Seriously, why should they?”
Forde believes that he would have been a “complete fool to stay and watch the organisation destroy itself”. He considers that “Sinn Féin isn’t finished but they need to reform internally – if over twenty years you create a culture where dissent is frowned upon, you can’t compartmentalise that dissent. Whether it’s dissent over the Good Friday Agreement or the fluoridation of water, all dissent is frowned upon”. Forde still describes himself as a republican and wishes to see Labour make Irish unity a part of their agenda. In much the same way as the defection of Forde’s new party leader and others in the Labour Party pushed the Workers’ Party into the political wilderness, we will soon see if Sinn Féin has the stomach to overcome resignations and allegations. If not, their time on the margins is approaching fast.