Sinn Fein TDs have “zero” influence over policy decisions despite being elected to the Dail, according to a former party member.
Aontu party leader Peadar Toibin, who resigned from Sinn Fein over his views on abortion, said key policy decisions are made by a “very tight circle” of six or seven people and are then “handed down” to TDs.
In a rare insight into how the party works, Mr Toibin said most Sinn Fein TDs are not permitted to choose their own staff members.
Instead, he said the party picks their parliamentary assistants — who can have even more influence than the TDs they are working for.
“TDs don’t come together to make decisions on a regular basis. At least the important decisions are not made by TDs,” he said.
“TDs and staff gather on a weekly basis, but the staff would have as much say with regards the direction of policy.”
He said he knew of one TD who was effectively directed to make Dail speeches by her assistant, as she did not agree with the policy.
“That TD actually decided to give a speech in Irish so that the policy wouldn’t be associated with her,” he said.
On another occasion, Mr Toibin said TDs sought to have an internal debate over a proposal to support a Dail motion on banning religious ethos in schools. However, after the discussion they were told what the party position was.
“The decision was obviously pre-written before the TDs had asked to have a discussion so at that point it was quite clear to me that my influence as a TD representing the people of Meath was pretty much zero,” he said.
“Sometimes you’d be in meetings and you’d feel like everyone was talking from textbooks and those who spoke outside of the textbook were frowned upon,” he added.
He said paid organisers have too much power over the organisation and regularly seek to influence the outcome of internal elections. He said organisers regularly tell cumanns who to vote for ahead of elections and also seek to influence the outcome of motions being voted on by local branches.
“When you have paid organisers mobilising membership in a certain direction, that radically skews the outcome of an election,” he said.
Mr Toibin said he was told to vote against the party’s housing spokesperson Eoin O Broin when he put his name forward for the Sinn Fein secretary general contest. He also highlighted the fact that Sinn Fein MLA John O’Dowd was denied an opportunity to address the membership when he ran against Michelle O’Neill for deputy leader.
He said he always pushed for a “less hierarchical” decision-making structure when he was in the party but was only supported by a few of his colleagues including Mr O Broin and Waterford TD David Cullinane. “When I founded Aontu, the objective was actually to flip that around and make it a grassroots, people-powered organisation where actually the members drove the direction of the party,” he said.
Sinn Fein did not respond to requests for comment.
Meanwhile, Mr Toibin was forced to withdraw a High Court action seeking to be included in last night’s Irish general election leadership debate on RTE because there was not enough time to hear his case.
Mr Toibin said it was “frustrating” that the broadcaster excluded his party after they polled higher than the Social Democrats and People Before Profit in the recent by-elections.
“We are very radical compared to establishment politics and we believe there is a herd mentality in Leinster House and we are probably the only political party challenging that,” he said.