Sinn Féin

Sinn Féin
   ‘Sinn Féin’ (Gaelic for ‘Ourselves Alone’) was founded in 1905 in pre-independence Ireland by Arthur Griffith, as a revolutionary Irish nationalist movement. It was a small movement made up of enthusiasts of the ‘Celtic Revival’ (Irish language and cultural revivalists) and Irish nationalists committed to the violent overthrow of British rule in Ireland. However, it was not until the Easter Rising in 1916 that it gained popular support as the dominant political force of Irish nationalism. In the Westminster parliamentary elections of 1918, Sinn Féin won the majority of Irish seats and refused to take them, opting instead to set up an independent Irish parliament (The Dáil). Following the Irish War of Independence (1921–2) and the partition of Ireland, Sinn Féin as the voice of revolutionary, violent Irish nationalism, became a minor party in Irish politics. However as a result of the eruption of the troubles in Northern Ireland in 1968, Sinn Féin became the political wing of the Provisional IRA, with the aim of achieving a united thirty-two-county Ireland by armed insurrection. The ‘hunger strikes’ by jailed IRA members of 1980–1 was a turning point in popular support for Sinn Féin when it succeeded in getting one of the hunger strikers, Bobby Sands, elected as an MP. After ten hunger strikers died, the nationalist community’s distrust in and hostility towards the British government of Margaret Thatcher resulted in a rapid increase in support for Sinn Féin both North and South of the border. Throughout the 1980s, Sinn Féin/IRA adopted a ‘ballot box and Armalite’ strategy to advance their cause of Irish unity. While Sinn Féin deny it is linked to the IRA, this denial has never been convincing, and there is evidence that Sinn Féin representatives have been IRA members and sit on the latter’s Army Council. Indeed, while its democratic mandate has increased in the past decade (in terms of electoral support), its inclusion in the peace process was premised on its link to the IRA and the latter’s declaration of ceasefires in 1994 and 1996. The ‘political’ turn to Sinn Féin strategy was further strengthened in 1986 when at its annual conference, it recognized the Irish parliament (Dáil) for the first time. This led to some members leaving and founding Republican Sinn Féin. Support for Sinn Féin has increased in the past decade both in Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland, and it continues to be the only major political party to organize on both sides of the border. In the 1997 Irish general election, Sinn Féin won its first seat, while in the 1997 British general election its two leading spokespersons, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, were elected as MPs, though they refused to take their seats. As a result of the IRA ceasefires of 1994 and 1997, Sinn Féin has been closely involved in the ‘peace process’ and multi-party talks which led to the ‘Good Friday Agreement’ of 10 April 1998. In the recent elections to the new Northern Ireland Assembly in May 1998, Sinn Féin won 15 seats out of a total of 110, firmly establishing itself as the second nationalist party after the moderate SDLP (Social Democratic and Labour Party).
   Further reading
    Coogan, T.P. (1980) The IRA, London: Fontana.
    Patterson, H. (1989) The Politics of Illusion: Republicanism and Socialism in Modern Ireland, London: Hutchinson Radius.

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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