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Sinn Fein in EU

Sinn Féin means ‘Ourselves Alone’ and as far as their EU policy is concerned, it does exactly what it says on the tin. The only other party on the island of Ireland with an equally consistent hostility to the European project is the DUP, ironically enough. The party will naturally come under greater scrutiny ahead of the next General Election and the party’s European policy would benefit from closer analysis.


Most people are aware that Sinn Fein campaigned against every EU Treaty since 1972. Not only did Sinn Féin campaign against joining the EEC but also opposed the Single European Act, the Maastricht Treaty and the Lisbon Treaty.


The question is whether this campaign, like other ones, is over.


Given their opposition to all these treaties, it is reasonable to conclude that Sinn Féin stand in opposition to the entire EU constitutional architecture. In Government, how will Sinn Fein approach constitutional and other issues in the European Council?


For the moment that’s a matter of speculation; however, to get an idea in this regard, it is worth examining Sinn Féin’s alignment in the European Parliament and its approach to recent votes.


Sinn Féin is aligned to the Radical ‘Left’ group, a group that includes other radical left MEPs Mick Wallace, Clare Daly and Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan. There have been discussions about whether Sinn Féin might seek to move to the more moderate Socialists and Democrats group and it’s unlikely the Labour Party (already members of S&D) would be in a position to put up much of a fight.


Sinn Féin’s voting record in the European Parliament is typical of the approach of the radical left in Ireland and in the EU. For example, last month Sinn Féin voted to reject a resolution supporting the recommendations of the citizen-led Conference on the Future of Europe.


Just six MEPs of the Left took this position, out of a total of 39 MEPs - so they are left of the radical left. The bulk of other MEPs voting to reject the proposals were from the eurosceptic far-right party, Identity and Democracy, as well as the Conservative ECR party. In France, it is said that les extremes se touchent, meaning the extremes meet.


The same has happened on votes on Ukraine. As far back as 2014, Sinn Féin voted to condemn EU sanctions on Russia, again in alignment with the far-right. Not having learnt the lesson about Russian imperialism, Sinn Féin again voted against a resolution condemning the large Russian military build-up in December 2021 before the invasion.


The sheer brutality of the Russian invasion together with the great outpouring of support in Ireland, north and south, has seen Sinn Féin quickly reverse engines on Russia, at least publicly. It’s hardly surprising that Sinn Féin deleted thousands of articles and press releases concerning NATO and Russia from its website in March.


Nevertheless, earlier this month, Sinn Féin voted against a resolution that recommended that Ukraine become a candidate for membership of the EU. But when you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail. When you’re a radical socialist, everything looks like a neoliberal conspiracy hatched by the military-industrial complex.


While it is true that Sinn Féin supported ‘Remain’ in the North during the Brexit referendum in 2016, this was more to do with domestic constitutional perspectives than any enthusiasm for the EU project. In this, and on all matters relating to Brexit, Sinn Féin has fallen in with the consensus position held by almost all other parties in the State.


I met with Michelle O’Neill and Mary-Lou McDonald on their recent visit to Brussels. They indicated their intention to campaign for a border poll including the establishment of a Citizens’ Assembly to explore how a united Ireland might look. Unsurprisingly, there was no discussion on Sinn Féin’s attitude to Free Trade, EU Common Defence or climate policies including a Carbon Tax.


There is an expectation that Sinn Féin’s leftist grievances and animosities will be replaced in Government with a more orthodox EU policy. Sinn Féin describes itself as ‘critical, but supportive, of the EU’ and is described by others as ‘soft eurosceptic’. It would be foolish to imagine that Coalition government will have a tempering effect on the sloganeering that has characterised its approach to EU policy so far.


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