It is a common enough occurrence in political circles and commentary, either be it from republicans or their political enemies and rivals, that the modern day incarnation of Sinn Fein be referred to as a cult.
It is something that is normally said in jest or levelled as an insult towards the Shinners, but for me, I have always regarded Sinn Fein as genuinely cultish but it never surpassed the notion of a fleeting thought. However, due to recent campaigns I have found myself involved in and also the fact that I now study sociology, social policy and politics in university, I wish to now examine in detail and consider the possibility that Sinn Fein is a bona fide cult.
Before we delve into why I believe Sinn Fein to be a cult, it is important to understand what a cult is and how its defined.
Numerous academic bodies have a wide selection of definitions for the word ‘cult’. The Miriam-Website dictionary as a simple definition describes the word cult as ‘a situation in which people admire and care about something or someone very much or too much.’ Probably a better explanation of what a cult is in the context of this piece comes from Psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton, a teacher at Harvard and one of the world’s leading experts on cult formation, who in the Guardian is quoted as delineating the most common features shared by cults as:
1. A charismatic leader, who increasingly becomes an object of worship as the general principles that may have originally sustained the group lose power. That is a living leader, who has no meaningful accountability and becomes the single most defining element of the group and its source of power and authority.
2. A process [of indoctrination or education is in use that can be seen as] coercive persuasion or thought reform [commonly called "brainwashing"].
For Anyone who has had any recent involvement in Sinn Fein - are any alarm bells starting to ring yet?
In the title you probably have guessed that ‘Sinntology’ is a play on words of the Church of Scientology and how I am likening Sinn Fein to that organisation.
In terms of cults, there is no better example than the Church of Scientology, arguably the most controversial and well known cult in the world today.
An organisation that is viewed as a source of ridicule and as a bizarre curiosity for those outside it. But inside it, there is the more serious matter of how the hierarchy of this organisation treats its adherents and the kind of abuse it subjects them to: be it emotionally, financially, psychologically and even physically.
It is well established this ‘church’ practices harmful internal discipline and methods of worship that are outright bizarre but more importantly cruel, in particularly their complete denial of the use of psychiatry, psychotherapy and any sort of medications, essentially disallowing followers with mental health problems and serious illness access to much needed treatments and lifesaving medicines.
Also the policy of disconnection, a malicious practice of forcing followers to cut off completely from family and loved ones the ‘church’ deems to be suppressive.
This is all the brainchild of Scientology’s enigmatic founder L Ron Hubbard, who to the devotees of Scientology was a true renaissance man, a nuclear scientist, a skilled pilot, a master sailor, a man who had the answers to all life’s questions and mysteries who they would follow into hell and back.
Of course to everyone else L Ron Hubbard was a snake oil merchant, a cunning liar and talented con man who amassed a fortune on the back of his makeshift religion which is a bizarre mix of belief in harmful Aliens infesting our bodies and a DIY psychotherapy program. Not surprisingly Hubbard’s day job was as a prolific writer of Science Fiction novels (Cult leaders generally tend to be prolific writers on their own ideas and philosophies).
Nowadays the original Cosmic theology of Scientology and its founding core tenets are long forgotten, with the cults current hierarchy focussing more on maintaining absolute control over its members, a fanatical quest for power and to bring in as much money as possible, no matter who or what is damaged in the process.
By now you may be asking yourself, why am I making a comparison between Sinn Fein and Scientology? And isn’t it a bit of a stretch to compare the two?
But is it?
Let’s take a look at some of the recent trends and transgressions of both scientology and I’m sure you’ll agree there is striking similarities to what we all know about Sinn Fein.
This is taken from journalist Tony Ortega, a major critic of Scientology:
‣The hallmark of a cult is that a single person — the cult leader — or a small isolated ruling body has all the power and complete control of the money. David Miscavige is the current leader who is the head of the organisation. This was true as well of founder L. Ron Hubbard when he was alive.
‣There are no internal checks and balances on David Miscavige’s power.
‣David Miscavige was never elected by Scientologists to lead the Church of Scientology. Rather, Miscavige is a dictator who clawed his way to power in a series of purges.
‣Scientology is a cult and a fraud because it lies to its own members and to the public about L. Ron Hubbard.
‣The Church of Scientology runs an intelligence-gathering and Fair Game operation called the Office of Special Affairs (OSA Scientology’s internal police). The purpose of OSA is to attack perceived Church enemies and engage in character assassination, smears, and to get people fired from their jobs.
‣The Church of Scientology teaches its members to lie when needed in order to protect the Church.
‣The Church of Scientology puts its own members through brutal interrogations called security checks, or “sec checks.”
‣The Church of Scientology indoctrinates and controls its own members through a program of isolation, thought-stopping, mind control, milieu control, and propaganda.
There is a litany of charges against the church of a similar nature, but still just from the above, is this all a remarkable a coincidence?
- Unquestionable all powerful unelected leader?
- Lying to its own members and others and teaching its members to perpetuate a lie to protect the wider organisation?
- Smearing and character assassinations of former members?
There is no denying this not coincidence. The parallels between an entity regarded as the world most well-known cult and a major Irish political party are self-evident.
To further demonstrate my theory that Sinn Fein is indeed an honest to god cult, I refer to my own brief yet significant personal experience when as a teenager I joined Sinn Fein and for a short while was a member.
In my teen years despite my immediate family having no connection to republicanism and in ways having an aversion to it, I took an interest in the ideology while at school learning of the events of the 1916 Easter Rising, the civil war and the partition that followed.
Like most young men of 15 it was I imagine I was driven by very basic naïve and simplistic ideas.
My thinking was, we need to get the Brits out, the IRA looked cool because they wore balaclavas, camo, and had deadly weaponry and the only man in Ireland who cared about Unity was Gerry Adams because he was on the telly all the time. So I joined Sinn Fein, specifically giving most of my time to Ogra Shinn Fein.
Immediately I was put to work by my then superiors and senior members, who sent me and dozens of other young people out into different working class communities all across Dublin, where we would spend hours upon hours leafleting housing estates with material related to upcoming elections and listening to the candidates in that area and (to me at the time), boring political stuff, certainly not related to freeing the North of the Anglo menace which was all I was interested in.
While most of my peers were out chasing girls, drinking in fields, playing sports and other teenager related stuff, I never questioned why I was out with some guys and girls I barely met walking around for hours with sore feet putting leaflets into letterboxes.
To me I was part of the Republican Movement and was doing my bit for the cause, despite having no clue what exactly Sinn Fein’s cause during that time really was.
I felt I belonged, had met people I shared an interest with, albeit a very basic level republicanism.
At the weekend I got to sit in a pub with the Irish Brigade playing, and some guy who I was told way back when was in the IRA bought me a pint of Bulmer’s. I thought that this was all great and felt a certain level of importance.
The weeks went by and it never really progressed past endless leafletting, putting up posters and attending PR stunts where all of what was required of you was to hold up a sign with some Sinn Fein mantra. Occasionally there would be ‘education classes’, which were more about current Sinn Fein policy and how you were expected to act and speak more than it was about any form of meaningful education on republicanism, Irish history etc. The odd time there would be a talk by a former Hunger Striker or an exhibit on a specific topic, mostly the Hunger Strikes or internment (it was extremely Northern Centric) but it was all presented as ancient history. Elections, Leinster House and council business was the be and end all now.
I began to get bored and restless. I started to politicise myself and research recent Irish history, all different aspects but particularly some of the recent splits from the party such as that of the creation of Republican Sinn Fein and that of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement. I was impressed with what I read and took an interest in finding out more on what these guys had to say. Foolishly I did some of that research on a computer in the Ogra Shinn Fein office which I’m sure was noticed.
During this time, the elections were in full flow and I was day and night leafletting, putting up election posters and canvassing (despite being very clueless to the issues). Internally I was having serious doubts, but kept them mostly to myself, but I couldn’t stay quiet after witnessing something that absolutely bewildered me.
I was travelling around with Mary Lou McDonald and her election team, accompanied by some fellow Ogra members. I suppose it looked well to have some fresh faced young folk out canvassing for the campaign, as most of the other big parties consisted of mostly older men and women in suits. Possibly the Shinners wanted to look trendy by having a few teenagers in jeans and the latest haircuts handing out election material.
Mary Lou was only a recent convert to the party, but already had climbed to great heights. I found her pleasant and was happy to be helping her out, but something happened one day when I was accompanying her handing out material outside a GAA grounds. A man approached her, and in a smart alec manner began to ask her questions abruptly. Two of the questions were ‘Who was the president of the first dail?’ and ‘name a hunger striker other then Bobby Sands?’ She stood there in a daze, she couldn’t answer either question.
The man kept badgering her and in the end I ended up answering both questions, which any republican minded person I thought would have had no hassle in answering. I suddenly came to the realisation that everything I had being doing was pointless and had nothing to do with my original reasons for joining, that Sinn Fein was not what it presented itself to be, and that the person I had spent weeks giving my time and energy to canvass and leaflet for, was herself being used for the party's agenda and she was willingly going along with it all for careerist reasons; and that myself and the other young lads and ladies doing all the hard work on the ground were nothing but expendable dogs bodies.
I began to vent openly, questioning everything, Stormont, abstentionism, the dalliances with socialism I felt were false, that the peace process and Good Friday Agreement was not delivering Unity etc.
You’d expect that I would have been challenged and told to keep quiet. It was the opposite I was what I can only described as ‘Love-bombed’. I was constantly being invited to lunch with senior and influential members and told how great they thought I was, how helpful I was as an activist to the party and how well thought of I was by the leadership. It was relentless.
Occasionally I’d be asked out of nowhere at random times, questions such as:
- what I would have done at the 1986 Ard Fheis
- if I thought armed struggle was a tactic or a principle
- what my thoughts were on Republican Sinn Fein, the Real IRA etc
- if I was in entre agreement with Sinn Feins current strategy
- if there was anything I needed help with
- what I thought of Gerry Adams
I was being gauged to test where my loyalties lay.
This all culminated when certain highly regarded republican ex-prisoners engaged me in conversation: individuals they knew would impress me. They elaborated to me that all the dissidents groups were a ‘sideshow’, that I needed to stay the course and not to be worrying, that all was not as it seemed, they would never ever endorse the PSNI and never decommission (a couple of years later they did both) that the Provo’s were waiting in the wings to overthrow the entire political establishment North and South.
I knew this was bullshit, I was being groomed to be a mindless drone.
I began to attend events associated with Republican Sinn Fein and other alternative republican organisations. My expulsion was swift.
I am fully prepared to admit now that as a 17-year-old I was incredibly immature politically and emotionally, but then again I was only 17. Age didn’t matter to Sinn Fein, if you dare rock then you must walk the plank.
I was made attend what I can only describe as a ‘Kangaroo court’ in which senior party members grilled me for spreading disenchantment and ‘associating with anti-peace process groups.’
I was out.
At the time I thought big whoop, I couldn’t have cared less. I had joined the narrative of Sinn Fein are traitors by that stage, and frankly in anti-GFA circles I found that having been kicked out of Sinn Fein at 17 for openly condemning the Good Friday Agreement proved to be a bit of a badge of honour despite some of the ramblings of those who remained in Ogra (I wasn’t the only one expelled) who attempted to blacken my name despite being my friends (or so I thought) only a week earlier.
In hindsight now, I realise this is not the behaviour of your bog standard mainstream political party, that this was the behaviour of a cult, and I had experienced the antics of a cult.
This was in the early 2000s, Sinn Fein is far more mainstream and enjoys a higher level of respectability among the media and establishment these days. I would imagine that the cult like characteristics are now more pronounced and the control of its membership and indeed control over certain communities particularly in the North of Ireland, is much more overwhelming. And if we look at some recent events on the political landscape this is certainly evident.
The Save Moore Street campaign that established earlier this year will for years to come be regarded as something special and beautiful in activist circles. Back in January, the state in the form of Minister of heritage Heather Humphreys decided to railroad plans to knock down the majority of Moore Terrace located on the iconic Moore Street, one of the last bastions of real Dublin culture and a place which holds a sacred spot in the hearts of most Dubs and Irish folk. Humphreys was enabling the whims of tyrannical speculators and greedy developers by declaring that the vast majority of the terrace was not historically significant, despite the fact it was well recorded the leaders of the 1916 rising had travelled most of those halls and had their final war conference in 16 Moore Terrace.
Humphrey had effectively given the green light to developers and builders to enter the site post haste and get on demolishing one of the most historically significant sites in Irish history, all to make way for a hotel and another shopping centre.
The people of Dublin weren’t having any of it. Activists from across the political divide, republicans, socialists of various spectrums, anarchists, community activists and just concerned citizens managed to invade the buildings, turf out the demolition squads and take over the site.
During the occupation without any form of coaxing, coaching, engineering or orchestration, activists put in place ground rules for a long term campaign to save the buildings. Activists from shades of groups, some who even previously would not have entertained each other, put aside egos, grudges, party and personal allegiances, and decided that even despite it being an election year, that the issue to save and protect Moore Street was the imperative and that no party, group, or individual would be allowed profit or electioneer from the campaign. It was about the issue and that was that.
This was previously unheard of and was a sight to behold, but not so much for Sinn Fein, as this was an issue they felt was theirs to dominate and they completely missed the boat.
After the occupation, the serious business of laying the groundwork for the campaign began, with the no-party political ethos being firmly on the agenda at all times. Anyone could get involved. The campaign was given massive encouragement nationally, with the established facebook page for the campaign receiving thousands upon thousands of supportive comments and messages daily. Damien Dempsey came down to Moore Street and sang a few ballads and pledged his support. Christy Moore sent his blessing. A rally and march was planned which expected a turnout of thousands.
What was Sinn Fein's response to this?
They choose to ignore this community and people-orientated established campaign entirely, and form their own one. Their first port of call was to call a rival rally the day after our initial one was called. This announcement irked a lot of republicans, as the day they called this rally coincided with the Bloody Sunday march in Derry. Republicans were incensed at the fact that not only were Sinn Fein trying to hijack and scupper an unregimented widely popular event that was committed to the issue at hand, Sinn Fein was doing so to potentially deflect attendance away from the Bloody Sunday rally the day after.
It turns it out their plan failed, the independent Save Moore Street rally was a huge success with an attendance of thousands. The campaign went from strength to strength and to this day is active on the Moore Street scenario.
The Shinners tried to salvage some pre-electoral gain from the issue by having Mary Lou McDonald emerge from the court with the descendants of the 1916 leaders, after their landmark win to have the entire terrace declared a protected site. But the dye was set. She couldn’t negate or take credit for the hard work put in by activists who did so for unselfish reasons.
Ask yourself, why would a party that claims to be at the cutting edge of republican politics, to be a voice of the ordinary man and woman and claim lineage with the leaders of 1916, deliberately try to suppress its membership from engaging in a campaign of which the genesis was based in people power and just about the heart of the matter, something they claim to be supportive of?
It’s all about power, control and gain, and there was none of the three on offer with the Save Moore Street campaign. Sinn Fein was more concerned with keeping its membership well away so as not to expose them to the ideas and philosophies on offer from those outside their closed shop who were organising in harmony. So Sinn Fein members were treated instead to a heavily PR laden bit of pageantry for all the cameras present covering the general elections.
Is this not the actions of a cult or certainly a community which enjoys a massive amount of influence over its membership?
The Sinn Fein attempts at domination of specific issues continues unabated, and to the detriment of local communities and those who rely on them for representation.
I find the contrast between what has just transpired in Ardoyne in North Belfast and Sinn Feins antics in relation to O’Devaney Gardens in Inner City Dublin to be remarkable. And would put even the most fanatical cult to shame. Both affairs may seem different in nature, but the way in which Sinn Fein has tried to control and dominate the whims of both communities is identical.
In the case of Ardoyne, we have the massively contentious problem of the Orange Order and their insistence they get to march through a neighbourhood in which the majority Nationalist community has stated quite clearly these bigots are not welcome.
And in O’Devaney Gardens (you can read my previous article here), the strength of the entire establishment is weighing down on a very beleaguered community which in the past has received nothing but broken promises regarding housing and the future of their homes. Only now to be told by the state and council that only 30% of their neighbourhood can be rehomed and the rest is to be taken over by developers.
Sinn Feins response to both matters has been to support the establishment positions and enforce it so as to gain political and electoral favour. They have actively taken positions against these communities yet present a façade they are acting in their interests and have come to insist that they know best and without any prompting have come to domineer all avenues that would otherwise enable these communities to empower themselves and express their will. In both cases, character assassination, smearing and use of the media by Sinn Fein to quell political rivals has taken place.
These tactics are synonymous with cults.
Recently I bumped into a man I’ve known for many years, a lifelong member of Sinn Fein. I asked if he was happy with the road his party is travelling. He excitedly replied not at all, that he was not comfortable with Royal handshakes, PSNI endorsements and sopping to Unionism. But mostly his biggest gripe was religious in nature, being an elderly man he is a staunch Catholic. He was firmly against Sinn Feins current position on gay marriage and abortion.
I found it staggering that someone with such pious convictions would remain in such an environment hostile to his beliefs. For him the Pope is infallible but Gerry is more infallible it would seem. As he puts it: ‘sure what else is there out there?’
Not much when you’re not permitted to even look!