Sinn Fein has not denied reports that the party is to abandon its unique salary policy whereby every employee – from deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness to constituency office workers – is meant to only receive the ‘average industrial wage’.
The republican party has long prided itself on a policy which harks back its quasi-Marxist roots and which it has argued has kept it in touch with its grassroots supporters, many of whom live in areas of considerable depravation.
The party has often been vague as to what exactly the ‘average industrial wage’ equates to, but earlier this year, during a libel action Sinn Fein MLA Phil Flanagan told Belfast High Court that his £48,000 basic MLA salary was paid into an account which was accessed by Sinn Fein and that out of that the party paid him £2,000 a month – £24,000 a year.
Several months ago, the party initiated a review of the wage policy after complaints from some Dublin TDs that the level of pay made it difficult to live in the Irish capital, and created particular difficulties for those with childcare expenses.
On Tuesday, the Irish Times reported that the review has recommended that the practice is ended, partly because the restriction was making it difficult for the party to hire and retain staff.
The paper said “it is expected the party will agree to increase the take-home pay for staff and public representatives” and quote a Sinn Fein source as saying that the shift was necessary for the party to modernise.
Sinn Fein confirmed that the review had been completed and that its recommendations are “under consideration” but did not confirm that the review recommends raising salaries, saying that the process “has not yet been concluded”.
Nationalist commentator Chris Donnelly – who is a former Sinn Fein member and stood as a candidate for the party – welcomed the move, which he said was a “very significant development” because it was a tacit acceptance of the argument that the long standing policy was an impediment to securing the staff necessary to “devise, articulate and implement” the party’s policies and strategies.
Mr Donnelly told the Irish News: “In the south, this is about better equipping the party to meet the challenge of competing with Fianna Fáil as the voice of opposition at a time that polls indicate Sinn Féin are struggling to connect with the electorate.
“But in the north this has the potential to be even more significant – northern Sinn Féin have struggled with the job of transitioning beyond the conflict generation at all levels. Removing the restrictive wage structure should open up the possibility of attracting both representatives and advisory level staff with both the skills and expertise to lift the party’s performance at Stormont.”
However, veteran journalist and author Ed Moloney, who has written extensively about republicans over many decades, likened the situation to that at the conclusion to George Orwell’s dystopian novel Animal Farm.
Writing on his blog in April when the review was announced, Mr Moloney, who has been a long-standing critic of Sinn Fein, said that the old policy “signified, at least to some, a commitment to radicalism despite Sinn Fein’s involvement in establishment parliaments”.
He added: To ditch that policy, which the story suggests may happen soon, indicates the opposite, that SF wants to join the establishment, will increasingly excise its left-wing past, and will soon have economic and social policies appropriate to that status....It is a major and important way-point in Sinn Fein’s journey, a key stage in the party’s political mutation that will be welcomed by some, especially fellow members of the establishment on both sides of the Irish Sea, but greeted with dismay by others.”