Current Affairs Politics

Sinn Féin May Need To Reform. But So Does Our News Media

According to the latest polling, from the “Oirish” edition of The Sunday Times, Sinn Féin is currently at the top of the electoral pyramid with 32% support, followed by Fine Gael on 27% and Fianna Fáil on 22%. Even allowing for the margin of error, it does seem that SF is holding or improving on its post-general election standing while FG suffers a minor retreat from its now customary polling lead. However I suspect that the good showing by the party of Mary Lou McDonald has less to do with its performance in the Oireachtas or the news media and more to do with Micheál Martin’s dumpster fire of a coalition government.

With the partnership of Greenshirts, Blueshirts and Hempshirts stumbling from one self-made scandal or crisis to another of course Sinn Féin with its rather smaller troubles is going to look like a safer bet to voters. Governments rarely get the credit for doing something right since that is simply what is expected of them while their missteps and mistakes, deliberate or otherwise, are blown out of all proportion. Though in the case of the current administration, with its slight whiff of the politics of the brown paper envelope, the proportions seem just about right.

Absent a dysfunctional government in power Sinn Féin might well find itself in deeper trouble than its most ardent admirers might like to admit. The always excellent Sam McBride does a good job of outlining some of the reasons for this in the News Letter, ranging from SF’s failure to bring forward an Irish Language Act for the Six Counties to the latest revelations about draconian internal party control. While the centre-left and anti-establishment party has every reason to be sensitive to the prejudicial reporting of the country’s inherently right-wing and establishment-defending media, one is still left with the impression that Sinn Féin is frequently its own worse enemy.

The solution to that may be better party management, and a real root and branch reform of how it does things in the post-war political landscape created by the peace process of the late 1990s and early 2000s. That work is clearly underway and has been for some time; but self-evidently there is still a way to go. However, I might suggest that another part of the required change is a reform of the media landscape itself and the establishment of a truly pluralistic press representing the broad swathe of Irish public opinion. And not just the half of voters that support Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. If commentators claim that they want to see a break in the supposed control of Sinn Féin by unknown backroom figures before they can trust it, then they might also demand a break in the control of our closed-door media monopolies by rather better known and considerably more powerful boardroom figures.

10 comments on “Sinn Féin May Need To Reform. But So Does Our News Media

  1. By brown paper bag, do you mean literal under the table bribes of cash or other goods? Or that any of the ROI’s -notoriously stringent- campaign finances laws are being broken or at least loopholes are being exploited? (I understand finding loopholes in Irish campaign funding is harder than most places).

    Or is this simply political back-scratching? (Seems it would be hard to avoid in any coalition or any bi/mulit-partisan setting).


    • The brown paper envelope is a euphemism is the Irish political lexicon covering a range of dubious activities, from explicit corruption to the patronage system. Our current government is very much guilty of the latter with a series of appointments and other activities since talking power. Appointments designed to award the party faithful and their families and friends. Hence the jibe about the whiff of the brown paper envelope, harking back to an era when politicians and officials were literally handed wads of cash in envelopes.

      In actually fact, my first wages came in such envelopes back in the day. And those envelopes actually did stink of a chemical smell.


      • My first wages (aside from babysitting, odd-jobs, and semi-professional dog walking) involved being a Cook’s Assistant and Dish Walker at an Episcopal Summer Camp (they had no issue hiring a Catholic!!)-it was a live in a job.

        Ireland actually has a strong reputation for having extremely strict campaign finance laws. (Progressives around here actually want even stricter!!) I suppose no country passes such laws, because there was never a problem.

        What of the rules against nepotism and hiring family members?

        By patronage does this mean that the funding of Irish schools could be affected?


        • No, patronage as in looking after your mates. And party funders.

          We have quite good anti-corruption laws in Ireland but as you surmised, they were reactive in origin not proactive.

          It’s all about jobs for the boys – and girls. Old fashioned clientism and stuffing state-funded positions with party affiliated individuals.

          Nothing explicitly corrupt like the old days and the exchange of cash for favours. Or actually, and more usually, stuff like you give such and such a government contract to my building firm and you a nice new extension on your house for a nominal fee. Or a bank loaning money to politicians and writing it off when they decline to pay it back. The saintly Garrett Fitzgerald and others spring to mind.

          The great cash-in of Irish politics is the ministerial special advisor. The Greens have dozens of them working for them plus sons and daughters and third cousins twice removed on the government payroll. Not corrupt as such. But definitely a bit iffy.


          • Depressingly little legislation anywhere is proactive.

            The only method I know much about for stopping politicians from handing out jobs as patronage would have to involve some kind of oversight. In Presidential or semi-Presidential systems that usually means either all the legislature, part of the legislature, or some special committee has to approve high level appointments and in some cases most or all of the Cabinet. Most often it would have to come with very stringent rules about nepotism for all positions and a lot of govt transparency for lower level hiring. Methods of stopping “jobs as rewards” in a Parliamentary system I haven’t watched enough of in action to comment, but I’ve a sense that in ROI it would be particularly difficult since the Taoiseach gets to appoint a good fraction of the Senate, yes? It’s also my understanding that six are elected by graduates of two major Irish Universities and the rest are all appointed by the same Dail that also elects the Taoiseach anyway. I suppose having the President OK those appointments could be an option, but obvious flaws include the fact that it would be a single person versus a majority vote, and that not everyone in the ROI would welcome such expansion of Presidential Power.

            Anti-corruption laws in govt contract seems to be a big push and pull issue everywhere. A lot of Clinton era laws strictly limiting Federally funded transportation projects awarding money to unrelated businesses-even if the most of the money was raised locally. That stopped a lot of genuine waste, fraud, and abuse. The downside is that in a massive push to build more LRT, BRT lines, modern streetcars, commuters rails, with even things like monorails, aerial cable cars and even PRT/GRT being talked about they can no longer give hardship money to businesses who might be impacted during construction. This doesn’t mean the business is being ordered move, but depressed customers during construction time. Consequently, it’s much more common for transit projects to face local movements to scuttle them started by the owners of such businesses. In some cases that has meant the Koch brothers get involved and the project has to be re-voted on repeatedly-up to half a dozen times in some cases. The vote has to come back as “Yes” every single time, and one “No” can mean it’s scuttled for years. Very frustrating indeed!!!

            My experience has been that it’s extremely difficult to stop corruption without creating rules that cause their own problems. I wish I knew the answers.

            Liked by 1 person

  2. Jams O'Donnell

    ‘demand a break in the control of our closed-door media monopolies by rather better known and considerably more powerful boardroom figures.”
    This is the crux of the matter. There is plenty of establishment propaganda against organisation they don’t approve of, but the vast amount of pro-establishment propaganda by the established media generally goes unchallenged.
    For a good account of this see:

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Need to take the Balaclava out of SF and remove the cult like air they have


  4. terence patrick hewett

    A good Christmas to the staff and all the commenters. I am well into the vino and the carols and the gur cake, which I always bake for Christmas with rum and all sorts in it. And good luck for the New Year

    Liked by 1 person

    • And the same to you!


    • The crowd my family usually celebrates Christmas with has agreed to a postponed celebration complete with Tequila, mole poblano, and the apple pie with cheddar I usually make for the event.

      We have a tree and a few gifts and my brother is not feeling well from his first Covid-19 shot……Merry Christmas. At least there’s a light at the end of the tunnel now!!!


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