Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Secrecy of Sinn Fein fuel for the sceptics

Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O'Neill
Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O'Neill

Editor's Viewpoint

It has emerged that Michelle O'Neill defeated John O'Dowd for the position of Sinn Fein's vice-president, in the poll that took place at the party's annual Ard Fheis in Londonderry during the weekend.

Mrs O'Neill deserves congratulations, because even allowing for the ascension of the DUP leader Arlene Foster, and the Alliance leader Naomi Long, women are still under-represented at all levels in political parties here.

Michelle O'Neill's victory should be an occasion for celebration, but only one significant detail threatens to spoil the party.

John O'Dowd is reported to have polled better than expected, though we pointedly say "reported" because Sinn Fein has refused to release the result of the election.

This is a problem for a political party in any society, and not least for Sinn Fein, which underlines in its Statement of Principles "We propose absolute accountability and transparency in government".

It is a pity, therefore, that Sinn Fein's admirable commitment does not extend to its own internal governance. However, the party has not been noticeably slow in the past to defend election results which others have found problematic.

In January the party was forced to defend its decision to send two senior members to the inauguration of the Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

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The Fianna Fail foreign affairs spokesman Niall Collins criticised Sinn Fein over the presence there of its MLA Conor Murphy and general secretary Dawn Doyle.

Maduro's re-election has been denounced as " illegitimate", both at home and abroad. The vast majority of opposition parties boycotted last year's poll on the grounds that it was rigged in favour of the incumbent Maduro. Nevertheless, Mr Murphy strongly defended his decision to travel, and stated that Maduro had been "democratically elected".

Maybe we are wrong to be so suspicious of Sinn Fein, and perhaps we should accept the party's assurances that the poll was properly conducted, and Michelle O'Neill did indeed win fairly and squarely.

However, in a world where even North Korea announces that the turnout for its elections (99.99% this year is up from 99.97% in 2014), it is only fair to state that Mrs O'Neill must expect to work harder to convince a sceptical public. Set beside this, the Sinn Fein Foyle candidate Elisha McCallion perhaps merely blundered when she implied that its electors were mired in debt.

Maybe we should charitably put down her gaffe to inexperience, because she was only elected in 2017. If re-elected, she should undertake to avoid such verbal mishaps in future.

This is something that could only be helped by taking an active part in the robust thrust of parliamentary democracy. Sadly, however, that is another discussion for another day.

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