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Sunday 8 July 2006

Row not getting anyone Down

THOSE who like a good row should look at the Down Democrat, where Caitriona Ruane is having a tough time. Who she? Come now you remember Caitriona - the red-headed ex-tennis champ from Mayo who had nothing to do with Sinn Fein, no sirree, until after some years of running the (I-can't-believe-it's-not-Sinn-Fein) West Belfast Feile an Phobail and a period mothering the (I-can't-believe-they're-not-Provos) Columbia Three - and who was eventually parachuted into South Down at a local candidate's expense, elected to the Assembly and became Sinn Fein's Human Rights spokeswoman. I cherish an article in which she gushed of how the late Franz Fannon (who believed that peasants must destroy the bourgeoisie) would have walked the Falls Road on St Patrick's Day with James Connolly: "And wouldn't I have been a proud woman walking along James and Franz."

Heady stuff compared to the Down Democrat, where she is a focus for paranoia about what Denis Donaldson was up to as de facto controller of the local party.

IIn the New Year issue, where Caitriona regurgitated a stock message from HQ, anonymous disillusioned Sinn Fein activists made riveting accusations. Donaldson allegedly had handpicked candidates (including Caitriona), protected a convicted drug dealer, "rated as diseased dogs" those who questioned the party line, forced out locals who would not be muzzled, replaced them by party apparatchiks from South Armagh and planted a network of spies throughout South Down.

Ruane was a "divisive figure who was always too quick to follow the Donaldson line". An SDLP councillor weighed in the allegation that Ruane was still "following the advice of the self-confessed British spy - by "playing footsie" with British ministers.

Ruane's counter-attack the next week was pure computer-composed blather and addressed none of the accusations. Scenting blood, an Ulster Unionist councillor helpfully explained that such was the breakdown in trust within Sinn Fein that "he would hate to be a member of that party now".

No wonder local papers are enduringly popular.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

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