Sinn Féin is currently the second-largest party in the Northern Ireland Assembly, where it has four ministerial posts (including Deputy First Minister) in the power-sharing Northern Ireland Executive, and the fifth-largest party in Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Oireachtas, the parliament of the Republic of Ireland.
The origins of the term “Sinn Féin,” according to the Parties publication, Sinn Féin: A Century of Struggle, published to coincide with its centenary celebrations, can be traced to the Conradh na Gaeilge journal An Claidheamh Soluis. A leading article titled “Sinn Féin, Sinn Féin” appeared on 27 April 1901, and afterwards as “Sinn Féin agus ár gCairde” over the advertising section to encourage readers to buy Irish made goods.
On St. Patrick’s Day, 17 March 1902, in Oldcastle, County Meath, members of Conradh na Gaeilge founded Sinn Féin: the Oldcastle Monthly Review. In a later edition of the Review the paper commented "While Sinn Féin is in existence it will always champion the cause of the oppressed against the oppressor and will be the stern champion of the labouring class." The early Sinn Féin movement was far from being the organised political party it would later become. It was initially a community of likeminded individuals that crystallised around the propaganda campaign of Arthur Griffith, a nationalist printer and typesetter, and William Rooney, a republican office clerk, both of whom were extremely active in Dublin's nationalist clubs at the beginning of the 20th century.
In his account of the movement's early years, the propagandist Aodh de Blácam says that Sinn Féin "was not a party: it was the amorphous propaganda of the Gaelicised young men and women.
Griffith was first and foremost a newspaperman with an impressive network of friends in the Dublin printing industry. His newspapers, the United Irishman and Sinn Féin, and his Sinn Féin Printing & Publishing Company channeled the enormous energy of the self-help generation into an unorthodox political project based on the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy of 1867 and the theories of the German nationalist economist Friedrich List.
Tapping into the growing self-awareness of an Irish identity which was reflected in movements like the Gaelic Athletic Association, the Gaelic League (Conradh na Gaeilge) and in the founding of the Abbey Theatre, he created a loose federation of nationalist clubs and associations which competed with John Redmond's Irish Parliamentary Party to embody the aspirations of 20th-century nationalists.
The Sinn Féin Party was founded on 28 November 1905, when in the Rotunda, Dublin the first annual Convention of the National Council was held. The meeting began at 11am and among delegates were Arthur Griffith, Edward Martyn, Thomas Martin, John Sweetman, Jenny Wyse-Power, Padraig Mac Piarais, Marie de Buitléir, Patrick McCartan, Oliver St. John Gogarty, Peadar Ó Cearnaigh, Sean T Ó Ceallaigh, Michael O'Hanrahan and William Cosgrave.
It was Conradh na Gaeilge activist, Maire de Buitléir, who suggested to Arthur Griffith the name Sinn Féin for the new movement. In a letter of sympathy to her sister, following Maire’s death in 1920, Arthur Griffith wrote from Mountjoy Jail:
"…Did you know that it was she who christened this movement which has at last got Ireland out of the corner in which her oppressor had hidden her away and made her people again valiant? It was she who suggested the name Sinn Féin to me one day at the end of 1904. Her name will forever be linked with its history.
In his writings, Griffith declared that the Act of Union of Great Britain and Ireland in 1800 was illegal and that, consequently, the Anglo-Irish dual monarchy which existed under Grattan's Parliament and the so-called Constitution of 1782 was still in effect.
Though Sinn Féin had a high name recognition factor among some voters it attracted minimal support. In August 1909, it had only 581 paid-up members throughout all of Ireland. 211 were in Dublin, while Sligo had only 2 members, a student and a shopkeeper. By 1915, it was, in the words of one of Griffith's colleagues, "on the rocks", so insolvent financially that it could not pay the rent on its party headquarters in Harcourt Street in Dublin.
Sinn Féin was wrongly blamed by the British for the Easter Rising, with which it had no association apart from a desire of separation stronger than Home Rule — the leaders of the Rising were certainly looking for more than Dual Monarchy. Any group that disagreed with mainstream constitutional politics was branded 'Sinn Féin' by British commentators. The term 'Sinn Féin Rebellion' was also used by the Irish media, the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) and even by a few of those involved in the Rising.
Eamon de Valera replaced Griffith as president. On 25 October 1917 the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis for the first time committed the party to the establishment of an Irish Republic. de Valera devised the formula of words in the Constitution, as a concession to Arthur Griffith who argued that, as he saw it, demands should be kept within achievable limits, and therefore favourde a monarchy along Scandinavian lines.
Sinn Féin was boosted by the anger over Maxwell's execution of Rising leaders, despite the Irish Independent newspaper even before the executions, actually calling for them. The public sympathy did not give Sinn Féin decisive electoral advantage. It fought with the Irish Parliamentary Party under John Redmond, with each side winning by-elections. It was only after the World War I German Spring Offensive, when Britain threatened to impose conscription on Ireland to bring its decimated divisions up to strength, that the ensuing Conscription Crisis swung support decisively behind Sinn Féin. Efforts were made to agree an amicable form of home rule and to negotiate a deal between the Irish Unionist Party (IUP) and the Irish Parliamentary Party, in the 'Irish Convention' arranged by former IUP leader Walter Long in 1917. These were undermined by his cabinet colleague David Lloyd George and were not attended by Sinn Féin.
Sinn Féin won 73 of Ireland's 105 seats, 70% of the vote, in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland parliament at the general election in December 1918, twenty-five of the seats it won were uncontested.
In Ulster Unionists won 22 seats, Sinn Féin, 26 and the Irish Parliamentary Party, 6. In Leinster Sinn Féin won 26, Unionists, 1. In Connacht Sinn Féin won the 13 seats. In Munster Sinn Féin won 23 seats with the Irish Parliamentary Party winning 1. In the Universities the Unionists won 3 seats to Sinn Féin's 1. In the 32 Counties of Ireland, 24 returned only Sinn Féin candidates. In the nine Counties of Ulster the Unionists polled a majority in only four.
Seats were uncontested because of mass support, with other parties deciding that there was no point in challenging Sinn Féin given it was certain to win. Contemporary documents also suggest a degree of intimidation of opponents. (Piaras Béaslaí recorded one example in a by-election in Longford in 1917 where a Sinn Féin activist put a gun against the head of a Returning Officer and forced him to announce the election of the Sinn Féin candidate even though the IPP candidate had more votes. However, in the case of eight Cork seats, the All-for-Ireland League stood down officially and put their seats at the disposal of Sinn Fèin. Potential candidates who were thought of as serious challengers to Sinn Féin candidates were warned against seeking election in some Ulster constituencies and in Munster. Because so many of the seats were uncontested under sometimes dubious circumstances, it has been difficult to determine what the actual support for the party was in the country.
On 21 January 1919, 27 of the Sinn Féin MPs assembled in Dublin's Mansion House and proclaimed themselves the parliament of Ireland, the First Dáil Éireann. They elected an Aireacht (ministry) headed by a Príomh Aire (prime minister). Though the state was declared to be a republic, no provision was made for a head of state. This was rectified in August 1921 when the Príomh Aire (also known as President of Dáil Éireann was upgraded to President of the Republic, a full head of state.
In the 1920 city council elections, Sinn Féin gained control of ten of the twelve city councils in Ireland. Only Belfast and Derry remained under Unionist and IPP (respectively) control. In the local elections of the same year, they won control of all the county councils except Antrim, Down, Londonderry and Armagh.
Sinn Féin subsequently underwent successive splits (1922, 1926, 1970 and 1986), from which emerged a range of parties, Cumann na nGaedhael, now known as Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Official Sinn Féin, later Sinn Féin The Workers Party, later The Workers Party and then Democratic Left, which finally joined the Labour Party after serving in government with them, and Republican Sinn Féin.
Following the conclusion in December 1921 of the Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations between representatives of the British Government and de Valera's republican government and the narrow approval of the Treaty by Dáil Éireann, a state called the Irish Free State was established. Northern Ireland (a six county region set up under the British Government of Ireland Act 1920) opted out, as the Treaty allowed.
The reasons for the split were various, though the IRA did not split in the North and pro- and anti-treaty republicans looked to pro-treaty Michael Collins for leadership (and weapons). One of the principal reason for the split is usually described as the question of the Oath of Allegiance to the Irish Free State, which members of the new Dáil would be required to take. It explicitly recognised that the Irish Free State would be part of the British Commonwealth and many republicans found that unacceptable. The pro-treaty forces argued that the treaty gave "freedom to achieve freedom". In the elections of June 1922 in the southern 26 counties de Valera and the anti-treaty Sinn Féin secured 35% of the popular vote. The anti-treaty element of the IRA had formed an Executive that did not consider itself subordinate to the new parliament.
A bitter Irish Civil War (June 1922 – April 1923) erupted between the supporters of the Treaty and its opponents. De Valera resigned as President of the Republic and sided with the anti-treatyites. The pro-treaty "Free Staters", who amounted to a majority of Sinn Féin TDs, set up the Irish Free State. The pro-treaty Sinn Féin TDs changed the name of the party to Cumann na nGaedhael, subsequently merging with the National Centre Party and the Army Comrades Association or The Blueshirts in 1933 to form Fine Gael.
Having temporarily suspended armed action in the Free State, the movement split again with the departure (March 1926) of its leader Éamon de Valera, after having lost a motion to abandon abstention if the statement of "Fidelity to the King" were abolished. He subsequently founded Fianna Fáil with fellow advocates of participation in constitutional politics, and entered the Irish parliament (Dáil Éireann) the following year, forming a government in 1932.
A number of unsuccessful attempts at armed insurrection, including a bold link-up to procure weapons in the 1940s between some IRA members and the German Government failed when communication broke down between the German destroyer delivering the arms and the IRA soldiers on shore in County Kerry. Sinn Féin's inability to garner any increased support from the virtual collapse of the economy in 1950s Ireland, south of the border, is particularly striking.
In the 1960s the party moved to the left, adopting a 'stagist' approach similar to orthodox Communist analysis. The party came under the influence of a generation of intellectuals who were associated with the Communist Party of Great Britain's Connolly Association and sought a decisive break from the confessional politics of the past. The new generation of leaders sought to engage Ulster's Protestant workers in an anti-imperialist popular front.
At the same time a new generation of Catholics in Northern Ireland benefited from the creation of a welfare state in the UK and were increasingly likely to demand their rights to equality in jobs and housing. The republicans, together with the Communists and a new generation of social democrats, formed the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association to demand an end to discrimination. NICRA's campaigns - and the violent response of the Northern Ireland government in Stormont - increasingly destabilised Northern Ireland, particularly as Harold Wilson's Labour government in Britain began to exert political pressure on Stormont for change.
The peaceful civil rights movement achieved a number of reforms including the creation of a new system of housing allocation and the end of the company vote. However, in August 1969 Northern Ireland was convulsed by a wave of rioting and sectarian attacks, and British troops were sent in to support the (largely Unionist) Royal Ulster Constabulary. The violence, or rather the IRA's minimal response to it, discredited the leftist leadership of the republican movement. Amongst nationalists in Northern Ireland the letters IRA were often satirised as meaning "I Ran Away". At the same time, certain Fianna Fáil politicians in the Republic, fearful of Communism, were instrumental in financing and arming a splinter group that would be more concerned with mounting violent resistance to the northern government than fomenting island-wide socialist revolution.
The 1970 split occurred when the increasingly leftist-dominated leadership sought to end the historical policy of abstentionism and engage in non-violent constitutional politics. Although a majority of delegates supported the leadership, the two-thirds majority needed to change the party constitution did not materialise. The leadership saw the renewed sectarian conflict as "setting worker against worker" and declined to intervene on the traditionally Nationalist side. Disgusted by what they saw as the incompetence of the leadership, the traditionalists led by Seán Mac Stíofáin and Ruairí Ó Brádaigh split from the IRA and Sinn Féin to form the Provisional IRA and its political wing Provisional Sinn Féin (both bodies were known as 'provisional' after the formation of a 'provisional' army council by the rebels). The remainder of the party became known as Official Sinn Féin, and evolved into a political party which became a far left force in the Republic of Ireland in the 1980s.
The split was violent and periodic bouts of low level warfare were seen in Belfast and elsewhere. Many individual republicans took their time to decide which side of the division they were on, but in the end Official Sinn Féin remained very much a fringe party in Northern Ireland while its support increased gradually in the Republic. The opposite occurred to Provisional Sinn Féin, with the ironic result that two different Sinn Féin parties exposed the growing gap between the two states on the island of Ireland.
With the Officials' repudiation of violence in 1972, and its move from republicanism to Marxism, Provisional Sinn Féin became the political voice of the minority of northern nationalists who saw IRA violence as the means of forcing an end to British rule and institutionalised discrimination against nationalists which, in the words of Ulster Unionist leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate David Trimble, had created "a cold house for Catholics". The British government agreed to legalise Sinn Féin in May 1974, legalising the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force at the same time to placate angry unionists. (By 1977, the Provisionals had undisputed use of the name "Sinn Féin" as the Officials became the "Sinn Féin The Workers Party"). However, Sinn Féin never succeeded in attracting the majority of Catholic support while the IRA continued its campaign of violence: most Catholics voted for the Social Democratic and Labour Party, under Gerry Fitt and later John Hume. A small minority voted for the Alliance Party; small numbers of Catholics also voted for the leading unionist parties, the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), the Democratic Unionist Party and the shortlived Unionist Party of Northern Ireland. Sinn Féin only achieved the support of the majority of the nationalist community in 2001, three years after the Belfast Agreement.
Nationalist alienation in the aftermath of the deaths of ten Republican hunger-strikers in Long Kesh prison in 1981 gave Sinn Féin a springboard into electoral politics in the North. An internal power struggle, between a southern leadership under Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and a northern leadership under Gerry Adams, saw Ó Brádaigh and his associates leave to establish Republican Sinn Féin in 1986, which they claimed was the 'true' Sinn Féin. The split was over the decision of a majority of Sinn Féin members to alter party policy on abstentionism at the 1986 Sinn Féin Ard Fheis (i.e. the refusal to accept the legitimacy of, or to participate in, the parliaments of the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland); while the policy of abstentionism towards the Westminster British Parliament was continued, it was dropped in relation to Dáil Éireann. Under the presidency (from November 1983) of Gerry Adams, Sinn Féin leaders sought to explore wider political engagement through political agitation and the use or threat of violence.
In October 1982 a Sinn Féin function was held at Tralee, attended by, among others, Pat Doherty, Martin Ferris and Martin McGuinness. According to Sean O'Callaghan, he was informed by McGuinness ... that he and Gerry Adams were stepping down as Chief of Staff and adjutant-general respectively, to be replaced by McKenna (Kevin McKenna) and Doherty (Pat Doherty). The reason given was that both Adams and McGuinness had been chosen by Sinn Féin to contest assembly elections in Northern Ireland, which had been called by Jim Prior, the secretary of state for Northern Ireland. There is no doubt, however that the supergrass system, an exclusively Northern Ireland phenomenon, also played a part in their decision, for nobody knew where the next supergrass would come from. It was no coincidence that both McKenna and Doherty lived in the Republic and were safe from compromise by a new supergrass."
Whatever the true explanation, that decision, augmented by the much-later involvement of SDLP leader John Hume in the Hume-Adams dialogue, and the decision of successive Irish Taoisigh (prime ministers), Charles Haughey, Albert Reynolds, John Bruton and Bertie Ahern to initiate and maintain contact with the Sinn Féin leadership, helped produce the Northern Ireland peace process in the 1990s.
Ironically, Adams and company had originally come to dominate the republican movement because of their unwillingness to compromise and their refusal to contemplate a ceasefire. They reassessed their position after it became clear that British intelligence successes, as well as war weariness meant that a decisive military breakthrough was unlikely and that the violent stalemate would continue.
The new strategy - famously described by Danny Morrison as "a ballot paper in one hand and the Armalite in the other - was also, if subtly, eventually ditched as republicans again came to terms with the limits on their political success that continued "armed struggle" imposed. The very thing that propelled Adams into leadership, his opposition to military ceasefires, now became central to his approach (albeit this time, unlike during previous ceasefires, the IRA would retain their ability to return to violence at short notice).
In the 1982 Assembly elections, Sinn Féin won five seats with 64,191 votes (10.1%). The party narrowly missed winning additional seats in Belfast North and Fermanagh and South Tyrone. In the 1983 Westminster elections eight months later saw an increase in Sinn Féin support with the party breaking the 100,000 vote barrier for the first time by polling 102,701 votes (13.4%). Gerry Adams won the Belfast West constituency with Danny Morrison only 78 votes short of victory in Mid Ulster.
The 1984 European elections however proved to be a disappointment with Sinn Féin's candidate Danny Morrison polling 91,476 (13.3%) and falling well behind the SDLP candidate John Hume.
By the beginning of 1985 Sinn Féin had won their first representation on local councils due to 3 by-election wins in Omagh (Seamus Kerr, May 1983) and Belfast (Alex Maskey June 1983 and Sean McKnight in early 1984). Three sitting councillors also defected to Sinn Féin in Dungannon, Fermanagh and Derry (the latter defecting from the SDLP.) Sinn Féin succeeded in winning 59 seats in the 1985 local government elections, however the results continued to show a decline from the peak of 1983 as the party won 75,686 votes (11.8%). The party failed to gain any seats in the 1986 by-elections caused by the resignation of Unionist MPs in protest at the Anglo-Irish Agreement, partly this was due to an electoral pact between Unionist candidates, however the SF vote fell in the four constituencies they contested.
In the 1987 election Gerry Adams held his Belfast West seat but the party elsewhere failed to make breakthroughs and overall polled 83,389 votes (11.4%). The same year saw the party contest the Dáil election in the Republic of Ireland, however they failed to win any seats and polled less than 2%.
The 1989 local government elections came in the aftermath of a number of PIRA atrocities most notably the Enniskillen massacre and proved disastrous for SF. Defending 58 seats (the 59 won in 1985 plus two 1987 by-election gains in West Belfast minus three councillors who had defected to Republican Sinn Féin in 1986) the party lost 15 seats. In the aftermath of the election Mitchell McLaughlin admitted that recent PIRA activity had affected the Sinn Féin vote.
The nadir for SF in this period came in 1992, with Gerry Adams losing his Belfast West seat to the SDLP and the SF vote falling in the other constituencies that they had contested relative to 1987.
All-party peace talks were hastened by a series of disastrous IRA attacks, including the killing of people attending a Remembrance Day ceremony in Enniskillen. Multi-party negotiations began in 1994, without Sinn Féin. The Provisional IRA declared a ceasefire in the autumn of 1994. The Conservative government had asked that the IRA decommission all of their weapons before Sinn Féin be admitted to the talks, but the Labour government of Tony Blair let them in on the basis of the ceasefire.
It went on to increase its domination of the nationalist vote in the 2003 Assembly elections, with Martin McGuinness, previously Minister for Education, in line to take the post of Deputy First Minister in the Northern Ireland Power-Sharing Executive Committee, should the executive be reformed. However, the electoral success of the hardline anti-Agreement Democratic Unionist Party, which replaced the Ulster Unionist Party as the leading unionist party, is thought to make the prospect of setting up a new executive less likely. Some critics of Sinn Féin allege that the DUP's electoral success, and its resulting threat to the Agreement, was contributed to by the failure of the PIRA to decommission its weapons, a decision that seriously undermined the ability of the pro-Agreement David Trimble to win majority unionist community support. Sinn Féin does not accept that allegation and sees little difference between the two unionist parties.
For a period of time after 1999 (when Democratic Left, who had a councillor in Dungannon, merged with Labour), Sinn Féin was the only Irish party with elected representatives on both sides of the border. The Green Party in Northern Ireland voted to become a region of the Irish Green Party in 2005. Several other parties organise on both sides of the border, including Fianna Fáil and the Irish Labour Party.
When Sinn Féin and the DUP became the largest parties of the two communities, it was clear (because of the dual majority required by the Good Friday Agreement) that no deal could be made without the support of both parties. They nearly reached a deal in November 2004, but the DUP had a requirement for visible evidence that decommissioning had been carried out. Sinn Féin then withdrew from talks with the British Government because they refused to provide this visible evidence.
The robbery of £26.5 million from the Northern Bank in Belfast in December 2004 further scuppered chances of a deal. Because of the timing of the robbery it is considered that the plans for the robbery must have been laid whilst Sinn Féin was engaged in talks about a possible peace settlement. This undermined confidence within the unionist community about the sincerity of republicans towards reaching agreement. In the aftermath of the row over the robbery, a further controversy erupted when, on RTÉ's Questions and Answers programme, the chairman of Sinn Féin, Mitchel McLaughlin, insisted that the IRA's controversial killing of a mother of ten young children, Jean McConville, in the early 1970s though "wrong", was not a crime, as it had taken place in the context of the political conflict. Politicians from the Republic, along with the Irish media strongly attacked McLaughlin's comments.
On 10 February 2005, the government-appointed Independent Monitoring Commission reported that it firmly supported the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and Garda assessments that the IRA was responsible for the Northern Bank robbery and that certain senior members of Sinn Féin were also senior members of the IRA and would have had knowledge of and given approval to the carrying out of the robbery. Sinn Féin have argued that the IMC is not independent and the inclusion of former Alliance Party Leader John Alderdice and a British security head was proof of this. It recommended further financial sanctions against Sinn Féin members of the Northern Ireland Assembly. The British government responded by saying it would ask MPs to vote to withdraw the parliamentary allowances of the four Sinn Féin MPs elected in 2001.
On 20 February 2005, Irish Minister for Justice Michael McDowell publicly accused three of the Sinn Féin leadership, Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and Martin Ferris (TD for Kerry North) of being on the seven-man IRA Army Council. Gerry Adams denied this at an address in Strabane and Martin McGuinness denied the allegations in a TV interview on RTÉ.
On 27 February 2005, a demonstration against the murder of Robert McCartney on 30 January 2005 was held in East Belfast. Alex Maskey, a former Sinn Féin Mayor of Belfast, was told by relatives of McCartney to "stop making stupid comments" to the press following Gerry McKay's demand that Maskey "hand over the 12" IRA members involved. The McCartney family, though formerly Sinn Féin voters themselves, urged witnesses to the crime to contact the PSNI. People have been reluctant to do so for two reasons; the traditional mistrust of the police in Northern Ireland by republicans and the nationalist community and fear of reprisal from the IRA. Three IRA men were expelled from the organisation, and a man was charged with McCartney's murder.
Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern subsequently called Sinn Féin and the IRA "both sides of the same coin". The ostracism of Sinn Féin was shown in February 2005 when Dáil Éireann passed a motion condemning the party's alleged involvement in illegal activity. US President George W. Bush and Senator Edward Kennedy refused to meet Gerry Adams while meeting the family of Robert McCartney. Senators Kennedy and Hillary Clinton introduced a motion into the US Senate calling on Sinn Féin to break off links with the IRA.
On 10 March 2005, the British House of Commons in London passed without significant opposition a motion placed by the British Government to withdraw the allowances of the four Sinn Féin MPs for one year in response to the Northern Bank Robbery. This measure cost the party approximately £400,000. However, the debate prior to the vote mainly surrounded the more recent events connected with the murder of Robert McCartney. Conservatives and Unionists put down amendments to have the Sinn Féin MPs evicted from their offices at the House of Commons but these were defeated by 358-170 and 357-171 votes respectively.
In March 2005, Mitchell Reiss, the United States special envoy to Northern Ireland, condemned the party's links to the IRA, saying "it is hard to understand how a European country in the year 2005 can have a private army associated with a political party".
The party expelled Denis Donaldson, a party official, in December 2005, with him stating publicly that he had been in the employ of the British government as an agent since the 1980s. Mr Donaldson told reporters that the British security agencies who employed him were behind the collapse of the Assembly and set up Sinn Féin to take the blame for it, a claim disputed by the British Government. Donaldson was found fatally shot in his home in County Donegal on 4 April 2006, and a murder inquiry was launched. As of June 2008, nobody has been charged with his murder.
On 2 September 2006, Martin McGuinness publicly stated that Sinn Féin would refuse to participate in a shadow assembly at Stormont, asserting that his party would only take part in negotiations that were aimed at restoring a power-sharing government within Northern Ireland. This development follows a decision on the part of members of Sinn Féin to refrain from participating in debates since the Assembly's recall this past May. The relevant parties to these talks have been given a deadline of 24 November 2006 in order to decide upon whether or not they will ultimately form the executive.
On 28 January 2007, a Sinn Féin Ard Fheis was held and its delegates voted overwhelmingly to support the PSNI. This ended an 86 year boycott of policing in Northern Ireland. This decision means that Sinn Féin members will sit on Policing Boards and District Policing Partnerships. The decision has received welcome although, some opposition has been evident from people such as former IRA prisoner Gerry McGeough, who stood in the 2007 Assembly Elections against Sinn Féin in the assembly constituency of Fermanagh and South Tyrone. In 2007 parliamentary election in the Republic of Ireland, Sinn Féin won four seats in the Dáil, one less than in 2002. Other parliamentary parties have ruled out government formation with Sinn Féin. The party subsequently won one seat in the 23rd Seanad.
Sinn Féin is the largest nationalist political party in Northern Ireland, having recently displaced the previously dominant nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) in national elections. It currently has five MPs (gaining one in the United Kingdom general election of 2005) in the House of Commons (out of eighteen MPs representing Northern Ireland) and twenty-eight Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) (out of a Northern Ireland Assembly membership of 108, making it the second largest, behind the Democratic Unionist Party with thirty-six seats and ahead of both the Ulster Unionist Party who have eighteen and Social Democratic and Labour Party with sixteen seats).
It is a much smaller political force, in electoral terms, in the Republic of Ireland, where it currently has four TDs (out of 166) in Dáil Éireann and one member of the Republic's Seanad Éireann (Senate). The party performed less well than expected in the 2007 Dáil elections. Although their overall vote was marginally up, this was only because of a considerable increase in the number of SF candidates. Sinn Féin has two Members of the European Parliament (MEPs); one out of Northern Ireland's three MEPs, and one out of the Republic's thirteen. It is the only political party in Europe to be represented by members from different EU states. Its MEPs sit as part of the left wing European United Left - Nordic Green Left group in the European Parliament.
Sinn Féin has three ministers in the Executive Committee (cabinet) of the Northern Ireland Assembly but has never sat in cabinet in the Republic. In 2005 the unionist parties indicated that they would not serve in government with Sinn Féin until its relationship with the Provisional Irish Republican Army was terminated. Since then agreement between Unionist and Republicans has led to a re-opened and revived Executive based at Stormont.
Sinn Féin and other republicans often refer to Northern Ireland as the Six Counties or The North, but rarely Northern Ireland. This is due to the early 20th century political history of the region - part of the Northern Ireland naming dispute.
"Who here really believes we can win the war through the ballot box? But will anyone here object if, with a ballot paper in this hand and an Armalite in the other, we take power in Ireland?To some, this statement confirmed the relationship between the IRA and Sinn Féin.
The current British Government stated in 2005 that "we had always said all the way through we believed that Sinn Féin and the IRA were inextricably linked and that had obvious implications at leadership level".
The Ard Chomhairle also oversees the operation of various departments of Sinn Féin, viz Administration, Finance, National Organiser, Campaigns, Ógra Shinn Féin, Women's Forum, Culture, Publicity and International Affairs. It is made up of the following: Officer Board and nine other members, all of whom are elected by delegates to the Ard Fheis, 15 representing the five Cúige regions (three delegates each). The Ard Chomhairle can co-opt eight members for specific posts and additional members can be co-opted, if necessary, to ensure that at least 30 per cent of Ard Chomhairle members are women.
The ard fheis (national delegate conference) is the ultimate policy-making body of the party where delegates - directly elected by members of cumainn - can decide on and implement policy. It is held at least once a year but a special Ard Fheis can be called by the Ard Chomhairle or the membership under special circumstances.
Apart from the obvious support of a united Ireland, Sinn Féin outlined several other key policies from their most recent election manifesto. Several are listed below:
A vast majority of their policies are intended to be implemented on an 'all-Ireland' basis which further emphasises their central aim of creating a united Ireland.
Sinn Féin usually refers to itself as a democratic socialist or left-wing party and aligns itself with the European United Left–Nordic Green Left. The party pledges support for minority rights, migrants' rights, and eradicating poverty, although it is not in favour of the extension of legalized abortion (British 1967 Act) to the north. Though Sinn Féin state they are also opposed to the attitudes in society, which "pressurise women" to have abortions, and "criminalise" women who make this decision. Sinn Féin do recognize however that in cases of incest, rape, sexual abuse, or when a woman's life and health are at risk or in danger, that the final decision must rest with the woman.
Sinn Féin urged a "No" vote in the referendum held in Ireland on 12 June 2008 on the Lisbon Treaty. .
Sinn Féin are opposed to the "illegal occupation of Palestine" by Israel.
All Sinn Féin Westminster MPs follow an abstentionist policy, meaning they do not take their seats in Parliament.