How Sinn Fein Transformed into a Political Party

The beginning of the role of Sinn Fein in Irish politics was certainly unconventional. During the infamous H-block hunger strikes in Belfast in the early 1980s, the Irish public responded to the British government’s unrelenting treatment of Irish political prisoners by electing Bobby Sands, the leader of the hunger strike, to the United Kingdom government. Although Sands died during the strike, his electoral victory was indicative of a significant shift in the approach of Sinn Fein from one of guerilla force and abstentionism to one of influential political participation. Sinn Fein candidates began running for Northern elections, and further political expansion in the South was quickly undertaken. The approach of this “new” Sinn Fein included “a radical political agenda based on energetic and aggressive representational politics,” which allowed them to quickly forge “a crucial connection with the electorate that republicans had lacked since the emergence of Fianna Fail in 1926” (Feeney 8). Sinn Fein was able to play a political role that other parties failed to in the 20th century by connecting more persuasively with the people.


Sinn Fein quickly began adopting the more multifaceted approach of simultaneously employing force through the IRA and increasing political clout by gaining seats in the government. This was referred to as the “Armalite and ballot box” strategy, and was effective until it became apparent that one approach was beginning to undermine the other. The Irish population was becoming tired of perpetual violence in civilian regions, and the official ceasefire of the IRA in 1998 and the Good Friday Agreement between the Irish and UK governments were a welcome reprieve from indiscriminate killing in the North.


All of this sudden political popularity led to the rise of significant individual leaders within the party. Gerry Adams was imprisoned for his suspected involvement with the IRA in the 1970s, but after his release became increasingly involved with Sinn Fein and was elected the head of the party in 1983. However, he has remained a provocative and contested leader through the beginning of the 21st century, mainly due to his suspected violent past. The international press frequently covers his actions, and media coverage by the United Kingdom is often highly critical of both his political and personal life. Recently, Gerry Adams has come out and denounced both the IRA and claims that Sinn Fein is still an affiliate as a result of the killing of republican Kevin McGuigan in Belfast. Although the era of the Troubles has technically ended, leaders such as Gerry Adams frequently have to face the reality that the period and its significance are not so very far in the past.


Gerry Adams has been a powerful yet

controversial leader of Sinn Fein

for decades

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