Sinn Féin and the trouble with independent-thinking women

Sinn Féin councillor Mairead Farrell.

Sinn Féin councillor Mairead Farrell.

“For every job created five people emigrate – a shocking statistic from the CSO’s National Household Survey”. This tweet by Sinn Féin’s Mairéad Farrell takes the shine off the recent Government fanfare about job creation.

Nonetheless, it has not cooled the ardour of Galway’s coalition politicians hailing any hint of a “jobs recovery”. Recently, they were all in chorus praising the IDA’s announcement of a proposed expansion of its property portfolio in the hopes of attracting more foreign multinationals. Nobody will dispute that multinationals do create jobs, but the problem is they have never created enough jobs for our relatively small population.

The ‘middlemen class’

Sins Of The Father by Conor McCabe may sound like a book about clerical sex scandals, but it actually is a very readable take on another form of abuse - government mismanagement of the Irish economy since the foundation of the state.

A chapter on Irish industry refers to a government commissioned Telesis Report in 1980, which argued that the State should develop indigenous industries focusing on the export of Irish made and Irish sourced goods. McCabe says it was hailed as the answer to our problems and then duly forgotten as it stepped on the toes of Ireland’s “class of middlemen”. In 1974 the Kenny Report on countering land speculation got similar treatment because of its uncomfortable recommendations. Years later, the Greens in opposition advocated the implementation of Kenny, but suffered amnesia once in government. Insider wonders is it not time to turn to the non-establishment candidates and hope they - once elected to government - will not continue State support for the speculators and their “middlemen class”?

In a Galway context that means voting for Independent city councillor Catherine Connolly, Sinn Féin, People Before Profit, and the Socialist Party. There is every chance two of the above mentioned four could take seats. The swing away from Labour combined with a general disillusionment in the establishment parties could mean more support for the Left. Unfortunately, the latter two socialist groups will hardly feature, but how Left are Cllr Connolly or Sinn Féin?

Connolly and Ó Clochartaigh

Cllr Catherine Connolly does not see herself as “Left”, but rather as an independent working for the “common good”. However, her reading of developments, on a whole range of issues, are instinctively Left. The constant trolley debacle in UHG shows her campaign to save St Francis’ Home was totally justified. We need more, not fewer, public nursing homes to free up hospital beds.

Similarly, her opposition to the State paying exorbitant rents for commercial office space, while publicly owned buildings stand empty, also makes perfect sense. Why should our taxes be wasted on funding speculators in commercial property?

She is also not afraid to take unpopular, but principled, stands, as has been seen in her consistent opposition to the outer bypass. That opposition is a combination of a number of factors that can be encompassed in one word - sustainability. As Sins Of The Father shows, it is not a concept that the speculators and developers, who rule the Irish roost, are familiar with.

If Cllr Connolly is elected to the Dáil, it is anyone guess whether her radicalism will be diluted like so many before her.

Sinn Féin’s Galway West Election 2016 candidate Sen Trevor Ó Clochartaigh hails from South Conamara. While he does not have the highest profile in the constituency, he has been to the forefront against the Direct Provision system, which has seen asylum-seekers and their children spend years living in an institutional setting that was designed only to be a short-term solution. Lately he made the headlines on condeming the sexism in the NUI Galway appointments controversy.

However, Insider was surprised at his absence from the Forum Connemara mass meeting dealing with cuts in the Leader Programme. His lack of involvement in the Galway Right To Water campaign has not gone unnoticed either. Indeed, he was openly critical of SF councillor Mairéad Farrell for having spoken live on TG4 Nuacht at the first Galway Right to Water protest. It was only when the Galway campaign brought thousands onto the streets that he came on board.

While Cllr Connolly has severed her ties with Labour, the Sinn Fein senator appears to have a fondness for the party. An indication was his solo run in trying to recruit Labour councillor Billy Cameron into Sinn Féin.

Insider knows that within the ranks of Galway SF there is a disenchantment with the senator. A cynical view is taken of his newfound interest in a United Ireland, something he never voiced while in Labour. Many also fail to grasp why he was offered a seat in the Seanad after his election defeat in 2011. Also, while all other Galway Oireachtas members have highly visible city offices, Sen Ó Clochartaigh does not.

“Menacing”

Apparently, this series of factors culminated in Cllr Mairéad Farrell being prevailed upon to seek the SF nomination in direct opposition to Trevor. The all-male ‘old guard’ of the Galway branch of the party, had their own misgivings about Sen Ó Clochartaigh, but to oppose him would mean admitting a major political blunder. They recruited Trevor and played a crucial role in getting him the Senate seat.

By the way, the ‘old guard’, or “local leadership” as Phoenix magazine grandly described them, have a naïve belief that native Irish speakers are innately ultra-Republican. Hence, the decade-long search for a South Conamara man to be SF’s vote-catcher in Galway West.

(As for the apparatchiks who oversee SF nationally, they are not bothered by Trevor’s “moderate” or Labourite political views. If this is replicated nationally then SF is not building a socialist republican party ).

Facing a rebellion in the ranks, a scurrilous and ultimately successful campaign against Cllr Farrell, described as “sexist and menacing” by one female SF member to Insider, took place. Another female SF member even wrote to Dep Marylou McDonald’s office complaining of the “misogynist campaign of lies” against Cllr Farrell by a male SF member. She is still awaiting a reply!

And it was “menacing”: even a relative of Cllr Farrell was threatened with a “beating” for some fictitious “misdemeanour”.

Insider is at pains to stress that Sen Ó Clochartaigh had absolutely nothing to do with this campaign against Cllr Farrell, was no way involved, and likely unaware of it.

In contrast to the campaign against Cllr Farrell, her team simply set out the election statistics that showed a SF Conamara candidate has virtually no chance of taking a seat. Sources close to Cllr Farrell say she was reluctant to run and prefers to focus on local constituency issues. Recently Phoenix magazine claimed she was seeking to be imposed on the SF ticket by the leadership. Insider knows this is just more propaganda by the SF ‘old guard’.

Cllr Farrell’s supporters agree the whole affair is an example of how old and middle-aged men cannot come to terms with young, Left, independent-thinking women emerging within their ranks. And Cllr Mairéad Farrell is emerging having been elected to the Árd Comhairle from the floor of the Árd Fheis this month.

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