Are Irish Republicans shunning Sinn Féin over Gaza?

Are Irish Republicans shunning Sinn Féin over Gaza?
Israel's genocide in Gaza has exposed Sinn Féin's misplaced priorities, writes Seán Óg Ó Murchú. So are Irish Republicans still on board?
6 min read
10 May, 2024
Sinn Féin's thirst for power has betrayed the party's internationalist, revolutionary roots, writes Seán Óg Ó Murchú [photo credit: Getty Images]

The prominent Irish author Brendan Behan once described himself as a 'doctrinaire Republican', that being a staunch and unmoving Irish Republican, regardless of political reality or practicality.

The description resonated with me as an Irish Republican growing up in West Belfast — a stronghold of the political party Sinn Féin. 

The party's tight political and economic grip on West Belfast has manifested as a hangover from the control of the area once held by the Provisional IRA. It exists from a time and an experience that, for decades, has connected the consciousness of West Belfast to the struggle in Palestine.

"Not even the ending of an 850-year occupation of Ireland could be worth turning our backs on our brothers and sisters in struggle in Palestine and siding with those who oppress them"

I know people in West Belfast who are devout ‘Shinners’ and show a complete incapability of recognising the party’s shortcomings. I also know people who can recognise the party’s shortcomings and are devout Shinners regardless.

Many Republicans see Sinn Féin as simply the latest incarnation of the ‘Republican Movement’. They have borne witness to said movement’s past atrocities and later their contradictory compromises, all in the name of a ‘United Ireland’. For them, Sinn Féin’s weak stance Israel's war on Gaza and the West Bank since October 7 is but another bout of bad PR.

However, for the first time in my life, people, particularly young people, in West Belfast are beginning to tell me that they will never vote for Sinn Féin again, with the party’s seemingly self-imposed impotence in the face of Israel’s genocidal actions at the forefront of their minds.

Sinn Féin's apathy over Gaza is leading to an Irish exodus

This is not entirely anecdotal, back in February, an Irish Times poll showed that Sinn Féin’s slump in popularity is not specific to the people that I meet. The six-point drop in the Free State is surely a worry for party leader, Mary Lou McDonald, who pledged to “correct things.”

Gaza has been the sticking issue for dissenting voters with Sinn Féin who have been slow to campaign for decisive measures or sanctions against the Israeli government.

Palestinian liberation has long been a red line for many Sinn Féin voters and members. Indeed, it seemed the internal backlash the party leadership suffered had encouraged them to take a more hardened stance on the issue before long.

Support for the oppressed was once seen as a given for a party that once existed as a representation of resistance to occupation, and Sinn Féin once had a long-standing reputation for supporting Palestinian resistance.

But the closer that the party leadership has gotten to power on both sides of the Irish border, the closer they have become to the occupiers of the modern world.


The party attempted to repair the damage of their belated support for Israeli sanctions and to mitigate subsequent gains made by People Before Profit, who have positioned themselves at the forefront of the Irish-Palestinian solidarity movement. And it might have been enough — the turbulent, fast-moving nature of Israel’s assault on Gaza might have meant that all Sinn Féin’s mistakes would have been forgotten by now — if they didn’t go to the United States for St. Patrick’s Day.

Speaking at a party fundraiser a few weeks before the visit, Troubles-era party leader Gerry Adams, whom Mary Lou still described as, “Our leader,” said, “People who are involved in national liberation struggles understand that your own struggle, whether it be internationalist, has to be your primary focus.”

As a Republican myself, I too want to see the reunification of Ireland more than I want much else. However, as a human being, I cannot see videos on my phone of starving children, lost without their limbs, and not do something about it. 

Many people in Ireland like myself cannot justify aligning themselves with enablers of such terror for any cause. Not even the ending of an 850-year occupation of Ireland could be worth turning our backs on our brothers and sisters in struggle in Palestine and siding with those who oppress them.

"Support for the oppressed was once seen as a given for a party that once existed as a representation of resistance to occupation, and Sinn Féin once had a long-standing reputation for supporting Palestinian resistance"

The whole disastrous saga of Sinn Féin’s Palestine policy was highlighted by a viral video of Palestinian protestors being escorted from a party event in the Europa Hotel in Belfast, also in February. An embarrassing moment for a party that was once so closely aligned with the struggles of the Palestinian people.

Now, if you listened to Mary Lou, who was on British television following the restoration of power-sharing in Stormont (a British political institution in Ireland) claiming there would be a referendum by 2030, you’d be forgiven for thinking that reunification is just around the corner, and the stakes are higher than ever. But it is difficult to see where this confidence in thirty-two County liberation is coming from.

Misplaced priorities

Sure, the demographics in Ireland are changing, but it will be some time before this makes any dent in the electorate. And even if this was a significant factor, it is still ultimately the decision of the British Secretary of State to decide when a referendum is appropriate.

The party may point to the appointment of Michelle O’Neill (who has also claimed on British television that there will be a referendum within a decade) to the role of First Minister of the executive of Ireland’s occupied six counties.

But what is the significance of this appointment outside of the symbolism? Inherently, O’Neill has no more power now than she did as deputy. Furthermore, the party won the same number of seats in 2022 as it did in 2017, showing the first Nationalist First Minister to be a product of the DUP’s multiple mistakes and poor leadership, as opposed to any surge in Sinn Féin’s popularity.

Despite the victory lap, there has been and will be no significant political change in the North of Ireland as a result of O’Neill’s appointment, despite how delighted the party seems to be about it all, or how important they try to tell us it is.

If a United Ireland is really in “touching distance,” where is the political, economic, social, or security planning? What does it look like for West Belfast? Or The Free State? Or the Unionist community?

Former Unionist First Minister Arlene Foster wrote that following the appointment, O’Neill will be, “administering British rule in our part of the United Kingdom.” But has Sinn Féin not been doing that since they entered Stormont? Are they not now aligning themselves with the administrators of colonial rule internationally? And have they not been hanging a ‘referendum in ten years’ over the heads of devout, doctrinaire Republicans since the Good Friday Agreement?

It makes one wonder about the point of taking the political hit by going to give Biden his Paddy’s Day shamrocks. Was it all worth letting American money know that the six counties are “Open for business”? Time will tell, but what is clear now is that the decision was morally bankrupt.

Seán Óg Ó Murchú is a multidisciplinary Irish writer and activist working out of Belfast. He has published several short stories, plays, and articles, and is known for his Palestinian charity project 'Dlúthpháirtíocht'.

Follow him on Instagram: seananseanchai

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.