Sinn Féin TDs have 'zero' influence and policies are handed down, says Tóibín

Assistants are picked by the party and have as much say as those they are working for, reveals ex-deputy

Withdrew High Court action: Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín outside the Four Courts in Dublin. Photo: Frank McGrath

Dublin Mid-West TD Eoin O Broin

thumbnail: Withdrew High Court action: Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín outside the Four Courts in Dublin. Photo: Frank McGrath
thumbnail: Dublin Mid-West TD Eoin O Broin
Philip Ryan

Sinn Féin TDs have "zero" influence over policy decisions despite being elected to the Dáil, according to a former party member.

Aontú party leader Peadar Tóibín, who resigned from Sinn Féin 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 secretive party works, Mr Tóibín said most Sinn Féin 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."

Mr Tóibín said he knew of one TD who was effectively directed to make Dáil speeches by their 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 Tóibín said TDs sought to have an internal debate over a proposal to support a Dáil 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 added.

"Sometimes you'd be in meetings and you'd feel like everyone was talking from text books and those who spoke outside of the textbook were frowned upon."

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 cumainn 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 Tóibín said he was told to vote against the party's housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin when he put his name forward for the Sinn Féin general secretary contest.

He also highlighted the fact Sinn Féin 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 Ó Broin and Waterford TD David Cullinane.

"When I founded Aontú, 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 Féin did not respond to requests for comment.

Meanwhile, Mr Tóibín was forced to withdraw a High Court action seeking to be included in last night's leadership debate on RTÉ because there was not enough time to hear his case.

Mr Tóibín said it was "frustrating" that the broadcaster excluded his party from the debate after it 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.

The Meath West TD said Aontú was a party of "Irish unity" and "economic justice".

He also hit out at "political correctness" and "culture wars" which he said are distracting left-wing parties from the "bread-and-butter issues" faced by voters.

He said this was shown by the lack of traction for left-wing parties in working-class communities. He also said immigration should not be a "taboo subject". He added that immigration should be "managed and sustained".

"We got lacerated for raising it as an issue earlier this year and then you have a summer of communities protesting outside closed-down hotels," Mr Tóibín said.