Sinn Féin

The UK is a diverse union of countries consisting of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Have you ever wondered about the parliamentary bodies for each? Within Northern Ireland the devolved powers they have were gained due to political unrest.  Has that made it different from the other political bodies? In this article, you will learn more about the Sinn Féin, their history, principles and how it works alongside the rest of the UK. 

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Table of contents

    Sinn Féin Party

    The Sinn Féin is one of the oldest Irish political parties. It was founded in 1905 by Irish republicans who were fighting for the rights of the Irish people, specifically their right to self-determination away from the British rule of the Parliament in Westminster.

    They were initially not a political party but more of a social group pursuing the independence of Ireland and the preservation of Irish tradition and culture. Eventually, they became more involved in the politics of Ireland and formed the political party of the Sinn Fein. They are representatives of Ireland in both the UK parliament and the Northern Irish Assembly gaining seats in both parliamentary bodies. They are further left on the spectrum of political ideals but are not as left-wing as political parties such as labour.

    In politics, self-determination describes the process by which a people or nation is able to establish their own state and govern themselves.

    Sinn Fein Party Logo StudySmarterFig. 1 - The Sinn Féin logo, Wikimedia Commons.

    What does Sinn Féin mean? The name Sinn Féin comes from an old Gaelic expression that means ‘we ourselves’.

    The History of Sinn Féin

    To understand the development of Sinn Féin as a party, we need to briefly study and understand the conflict in Ireland. Throughout history, Ireland was a single nation. Before the Norman invasion that occurred in 1169, the inhabitants of Ireland formed and followed their own legal system, culture, and language. They also established political and social structures that developed over centuries.

    After the Norman invasion, Ireland became part of Britain and was governed as part of it as a single political unit until 1921. However, many Irish people were never happy with this arrangement. Throughout the centuries and particularly in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, there were various unsuccessful uprisings against British rule to assert Irish independence.

    Although the Sinn Fein was not a political party until 1905 it has been a social group that pursued the preservation of Irish tradition and culture for a lot longer than it was a political party. Originally a social group known as the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA), it turned into the Sinn Fein when they decided to take their views of Irish culture and independence to a political level.

    The First World War and Irish Independence

    Between 1916 and 1921, while Britain was fighting in the First World War, Irish nationalists launched a political and military campaign against the British occupation of Ireland. This movement was known as the Easter Rising because it started on Easter weekend in 1916.

    Their partial success led to the British Act of Parliament in 1920, which resulted in a partition that divided Ireland into two sections in 1921 (the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland). The partition was imposed without taking into consideration the opinions or consent of the Irish people.

    Although Sinn Féin didn’t participate in the Easter Rising, its ideas and defence of republicanism gave the party growing support in the early 1920s because the ideas of Irish freedom were in the air.

    Sinn Fein Irish Republican Army Members StudySmarterFig. 2 - Members of the Republican Army around 1920, Wikimedia Commons.

    The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association

    The political unrest that resulted from the partition and the many civil rights violations created an atmosphere of discontent throughout Ireland and specifically Northern Ireland. It also led to the formation of the aforementioned Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA). The NICRA then became the pillar towards the creation of a new Sinn Féin party, which united the independence fight and the civil rights association into one structured political party.

    The NICRA made the following demands to the British government on behalf of Ireland:

    • One person, one vote.
    • An end to local government boundaries within Ireland.
    • An end to discrimination in the allocation of housing based on political views and other biases.
    • An end to discrimination in employment due to political views and other biases.
    • The repeal of the oppressive Special Powers Act.

    These demands were viewed as a threat to the privileged position that the Unionist majority held in Northern Ireland. The reaction to these demands resulted in violence from all sides. Violence and political unrest spread, and in August 1969, the British army was sent to Belfast and Derry (also known as Londonderry) to put an end to the growing unrest. Police brutality led then to riots and the conflict escalated.

    This was soon followed by the introduction of curfews in nationalist areas. Protestors were often arrested and sentenced without trial, which resulted in many injustices. This tightening of laws and restrictions provoked the NICRA as they are fighting for independence but instead gain tighter restrictions on their liberty.

    This was the beginning of what became known as ‘The Troubles’. ‘The Troubles’ were 30 years (from 1969 to 1998) of unrest, violence, and discontent in the country.

    The introduction of British troops to keep the peace wasn’t always successful. On ‘Bloody Sunday’ in 1972, fourteen unarmed civilians in Derry were killed by British paratroopers. The introduction of British troops was done to keep order amongst the civilians and maintain a level of peace within Ireland, but was not effective. Although this did not stop the government from sending British troops into Ireland for a considerable period of time some politicians did start to see the negative effect the troops were having on the British/Irish relationship. The government eventually realised that creating harsher laws and rules for the civilians of Ireland would not resolve the political conflict that was occurring. This was when the idea of giving devolved powers to Ireland in the Good Friday Agreement first became an idea amongst the British government.

    The worst part of the conflict was brought under control with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement and the introduction of devolution in 1999.

    Development of the Sinn Fein

    Even after the Belfast Agreement in 1999, the Sinn Fein remained a part of Irish Politics, fighting for Irish rights, culture and independence regardless of the relaxation of British rule.

    Sinn Féin’s Principles

    Because Sinn Féin is an Irish Republican party, its primary objective has been to end British rule in Ireland. The party seeks to achieve national self-determination alongside the unity and independence they believe Ireland needs through the formation of an independent Irish state. This is a view that is held strongly in the Republic of Ireland, but is less anti-Britain in Northern Ireland due to the devolution that they have gained and therefore the independence that they hold.

    Sinn Féin is also committed to the idea of transforming Irish society, as well as negotiating a democratic settlement. They believe that to achieve real and lasting peace they must achieve democracy, justice, freedom, and equality. They wish to transform Irish society by bringing back Irish culture and tradition, focusing on what has been lost since the British involvement, and turning society back to its roots.

    Sinn Féin aims to look past the ongoing conflict in Ireland by embracing a spirit of unity. The party is committed to a peace strategy based on honesty and integrity, and constructing a peace process that views everyone in Ireland as equals.

    Primary Principles of Sinn Féin

    Below is a table that illustrates the main primary principles held by the Sinn Fein.

    The PrincipleBeliefs RelatedHow will they achieve it?
    Irish UnityA large focus on Irish community and culture, linked to keeping the traditional Irish unity and community alive. By making the government aware of the Irish unity they intend to publicise it. The more awareness the greater unity will occur.
    Respite for workers and familiesThat the British rule and the political conflict really badly affected the Irish economy.They wish to reduce childcare costs, and return pensions back to the age of 65. They also want to take workers out of the USC, all in order to achieve proper economic recovery.
    Crime ReductionThat a community must be well protected for everyone to be comfortable and feel safe. Increasing the number of Gardes in Ireland to a record of 16,000. This is so that response times will be reduced and the community will be safer with more eyes to watch out for crime.
    Stopping the Housing CrisisThat a community needs homes, for every family a home should be provided so that they can stay in their home country of Ireland. They want to reduce or even freeze rents for those who cannot afford it and increase the housing numbers in the country.

    Sinn Féin Manifesto

    Their most recent manifesto titled 'Giving Families and Workers a Break' was from the election in 2020 and held many policies, including but not limited to the following:

    • Irish Unity: making sure Ireland is united.
    • Agriculture, Food and the Marine: protecting the local land and making sure all policies are fair to the workers in these areas.
    • Business, Enterprise and Innovation
    • Children and Youth Affairs
    • Communications, Climate Action and Environment: making sure Ireland works alongside the other worldwide nations in the battle against Climate Change.
    • Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht: protecting Irish heritage from disappearing.
    • Irish language: Protecting it by offering free courses and spreading awareness as to the importance of protecting the language.
    • Housing planning and local Government: Trying to increase housing for all and possibly freezing the rent for those who cannot afford it.
    • Justice and Equality
    • Finance: To create an economic recovery since the disruption during the political conflict.

    How is Sinn Féin structured?

    Sinn Féin is the leading nationalist party in all six counties in Northern Ireland.

    Sinn Féin has a rather frosty relationship with the UK. Because it is a nationalist party, it does not like the influence the British government holds over the country. They appreciate the devolution the UK gave to Northern Ireland but continue to regard the partition as wrong and unjust. Because Sinn Féin seeks complete Irish reunification, their overall view of the UK remains negative.

    Sinn Féin Members

    There are four Westminster MPs who represent the Sinn Féin party in the UK’s central government. There are also 105 councillors who are a part of the Sinn Féin party that work in Westminster. In the counties of Ireland, the party has fourteen Teachtai Dála (Members of Irish Parliament) and 158 councillors who are tasked with making policy decisions.

    The Sinn Féin party is active both in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and membership is open to all Irish residents who are over the age of 16.

    The party itself is organised through different hierarchical groups, including cumainn (branches), comhairle ceantair (district executives), and cuigi (regional executives). The highest group, which sits at a national level, is the Coiste Seasta (the Standing Committee), which oversees the work of Sinn Féin. The branches are sectioned into areas within counties and geographically spread throughout Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. They deal with local matters such as elections, protests, petitions, and raising awareness of the party locally.

    The leader of Sinn Féin

    The current president of the party (Uachtarán Shinn Féin) is Mary Lou McDonald. She is the most senior member of the Party and has been its leader since 2018. She is a part of the parliament within the Republic of Ireland rather than the Northern Ireland Assembly. She is therefore the leader of the opposition to the party in power within Northern Ireland.

    Sinn Fein - Key takeaways

      • Sinn Fein is the oldest political party in Ireland

      • Sinn Fein wants independence for Ireland and independence from the UK

      • Their aim is to keep traditions within Ireland and make sure the Irish people are free within their country.

      • Sinn Fein is the main political party throughout Ireland and holds seats in Westminster and has many political bodies within Ireland, which form a hierarchy.

      • The party aims to remove the conflict within Ireland by freeing the Irish people.

    Frequently Asked Questions about Sinn Féin

    What does Sinn Féin mean?

    Sinn Féin translates to ‘we ourselves’, denoting their primary aim of self-determination. 

    What is Sinn Féin’s ideology?

    The primary principle of Sinn Féin's ideology is that that Ireland should be one country ruled by the Irish. 

    What is the origin of the Sinn Féin?

    They were initially not a political party but more a social group. Eventually, they got involved in the politics of Ireland. 

    What does Sinn Féin believe?

    Sinn Féin's core belief is that Ireland should be independent and led by those who originated there. 

    How many candidates is Sinn Féin running?

    There are about 37 members of the party who are candidates running for Sinn Fein. 

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