Writing in the Sinn Féin paper An Phoblacht, Ms Ferris laid bare the identity crisis currently engulfing the party’s southern section as it comes to terms with its failure to build on gains in the 2004 local elections.
In the article Ms Ferris states: “Voters are unclear about what we stand for, which is not surprising as I’m sure many of us are starting to wonder about this also. We have been trying to appeal to too broad a spectrum of people and as a result have lost touch with our base.”
She added: “The party is suffering an identity crisis — what are we trying to achieve in the 26 [counties] and what do we stand for besides a united Ireland? We can’t afford to wait any longer to answer these questions.” Ms Ferris, who garnered 64,671 in June’s Munster European election, is the daughter of Sinn Féin TD and former leading Provisional IRA member, Martin Ferris.
Her demand for Sinn Féin to begin a major re-examination of its role south of the border is another public indication of the wide-ranging discussions within the party over its future direction.
Last month, two of the party’s most prominent southern local councillors, John Dwyer in Wexford and Christy Burke in Dublin, resigned from the party citing policy problems.
In her article Ms Ferris suggests: “We must return to being community activists, not politicians.” The party must also give up its attempts to be a “catch-all party” and “focus on building an electoral coalition that can bring us 20-30% of the vote”.
In recent months, Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams has endorsed a change in his party’s policy, away from attempts to enter government in the south as soon as possible to one of building a broad progressive alliance with other groups, including the Labour Party.
This has seen the party form policy alliances with the Labour Party on South County Dublin council and Dublin City Council. However, the party’s leftward direction in the south has caused some tension with Sinn Féin’s northern-dominated leadership, with Mr Dwyer claiming that he was asked by Mr Adams to “stop waving the red flag” in Co Wexford.