Around the web: Exhaustive message

The Sinn Fein website receives a visit from Phil Hamilton

July 23 saw Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams unveil his party’s new website at a cyber cafe in Belfast. Quoted in SF’s press release, he points out that the Irish republican movement has, “throughout the years of repression and censorship, found innovative ways to get our message across”. The new website sits firmly in this tradition, being “the latest and most high-tech way of bringing the republican message to an audience at home and across the world”.

Indeed, the SF homepage is certainly slick and professionally produced, reflecting the resources and political will the organisation can muster. Available in English and Gaelic, the website itself is small, but the design allows for a great deal of material to be packed in without looking crowded. An avuncular-looking Gerry Adams and introductory statement occupies the top part of the screen. Immediately below is a brief promotion for the SF-run Irish Republican Media resource.

Three navigation bars frame the central features. The first is primarily concerned with profiling SF. ‘Introduction’ covers the political character of the party (keenly playing up its ‘socialist’ and ‘internationalist’ credentials) and lists a series of issues on which the party has “progressive positions”. It then moves on to a potted history of Irish republicanism, and provides a thumbnail sketch of SF’s structure. ‘History of the conflict’ is by no means exhaustive, but it fills some of the gaps by providing a nationalist-oriented account of over 800 years of occupation. ‘Sinn Féin offices’ and ‘Sinn Féin leadership’ give out contact details and list the names and positions of leading members respectively. ‘Elected representatives’ is an exhaustive compilation of every SF member currently holding office, from county councillors to Westminster MPs. This could have been further enhanced if these names linked to individual contact details. Finally a links section featuring civil rights and social justice organisations completes this bar.

Turning now to the top of the page, the ‘Policies’ link leads to a detailed menu hosting past and present policy documents, manifestos and position papers. Most of these are social democratic in character, but the role of religion in Ireland is not addressed, and the section on women studiously avoids mentioning contraception and abortion. Similarly the ‘Peace process’ section is packed to the gills with documents and speeches, and is an important resource for all students of the events of the last decade. Again there is a varied mixture of material, ranging from an archive of IRA statements to defences of the Good Friday agreement. There is, however, no shying away from thorny issues such as policing and demilitarisation. ‘Elections’ continues the encyclopaedic character of this navigation bar with more local, six-county, 26-county and European manifestos. Alongside referendum documents is a breakdown of recent SF election results by constituency, which carries photos and profiles of elected members (but sadly, individual contact details are still absent).

‘Join/donate’ gives “six reasons to join SF” and allows one to download a membership form or join over the phone. No doubt with security in mind, the option to join or donate via the internet has, understandably, not been included. Lastly the SF newsroom sets a standard left organisations should aspire to. News feeds and press releases combining with soundbites and audio/video interviews convey the impression that Sinn Féin is a living and dynamic organisation - whereas the incomplete and seldom updated sites of the left groups frequently tend to confirm perceptions of inactivity and bureaucratism.

The final bar carries four items. The first is a rather unnecessary link to the newsroom. This is followed by a portal to the An Phoblacht (Republican News) website. Compared with the SF parent site, the latter appears crude, but happily the comprehensive content makes up for it. Next along is the online bookstore, which also sells a bewildering array of branded merchandise (priced in dollars and euros). Finally there is the site for the friends of SF. This carries a picture of Gerry Adams meeting Nelson Mandela and has dedicated sites in the US, Canada and Australia. Strangely there is nothing for Britain, beyond a request for supporters to send £25 to an address in Belfast.

The omissions in the policies section aside, ‘exhaustive’ is the most appropriate adjective that springs to mind. As a result most leftwing websites compare very unfavourably, but then it is not the first time I have noted that bureaucratic centralist sects are left in the shade by less ‘doctrinally pure’ organisations.