Cash strapped: Sinn Féin's Lisbon campaign has been curtailed because of the recession

SINN FÉIN'S low-budget approach to Friday's Lisbon treaty referendum is just one of the symptoms of a major cash crisis in a party that is also riven with divisions over its No stance on Lisbon.

The party is "strapped for cash" and has chosen to hold back money from the Lisbon campaign as it anticipates a 'snap' general election at any time.

"The party really is strapped for money at the moment," said one Sinn Féin strategist who did not wish to be named. "They are letting staff go and replacing them with volunteers. The party has run itself into a lot of expense and has a lot of loans to repay, especially in the south."

The Sunday Tribune understands the party spent a massive amount of money during the 2007 general election with little result, as only four TDs were returned to the Dáil and high-profile candidates such as Mary Lou McDonald failed to get elected.

"Like everyone else, the party just has to face up to the current economic realities. They are on a learning curve and there is a certain naivety about the party in the south. I suppose it is all part of the party growing up," added the strategist.

Another republican source claimed, "Their spending on Lisbon has been curtailed after the party invested heavily in the last Lisbon referendum, the local government elections and by-elections.

"Under the current circumstances, with a government that is not assured of staying in power, there is always the possibility of a snap election and the party's simple financial calculation is that they have to cut back.

"There are people in the party campaigning hard for a No vote who are disappointed with the strategy but they accept the party's explanation.

"There have been reports in the media that the party lost a lot of money in stocks and shares since the stock market collapse but it's impossible to say."

After Dublin newspaper reports last October claiming the IRA had lost $200m in the Wall Street crisis, the party's US fundraising wing, Friends of Sinn Féin Inc, advertised in Irish-American newspapers claiming these stories were "outrageous".

"Financially, the party lost heavily in the June elections so they are afraid of getting caught on the bounce if a snap election is called," said another republican. "To use a phrase that may not be most suitable when talking about Sinn Féin, they are holding their powder until the general election."

Sinn Féin has publicly rejected claims of a split over its No to Lisbon stance. Martin McGuinness is believed to have been unhappy with the decision of mainly Dublin strategists to support the No side this time as he is acutely aware of the importance of EU funding for the North's economy. Privately some party members admit there was disagreement over Lisbon

"We should have claimed the guarantees the govern­ment got as a victory for the party and supported the Yes campaign," said one former councillor. "We would have had a win under our belts after that."