Before I get to my main subject, Joe Brolly, I can’t resist commenting on the startling sight in this newspaper.

Published: 26 October 2021

Breandán MacCionnaith, now secretary of something called the Garvaghy Road Mayfair Business Centre, in a photograph of five enterprise partners promoting Omagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council’s Enterprise Week (October 21).

As the TUV’s Darren Foster pointed out, MacCionnaith’s “lasting legacy to business and enterprise in the area was his involvement in the bombing of Portadown town centre,” in the early 1980s.

I followed his career during the period when he was fomenting trouble over Drumcree as chairman of the Garvaghy Road Residents’ Coalition. He later parted company with Sinn Fein to become a player in the socialist republican party éirigí.

He might have changed character, but unless he has done so MacCionnaith will not be an easy person to deal with.

No less a person than Tony Blair wrote of him in 2010 that “he took unreasonableness to an art form. He conceded nothing, and I mean nothing. I’m not just talking about the substance of meetings, I mean where a meeting should be held. Who should be there. Who shouldn’t be there. When it began. When it ended. What its purpose was. Who spoke first. Who spoke last. Who spoke between first and last” (Tony Blair — A Journey, 2010).

The last time I saw him in the flesh was when he rose up like a pantomime villain in a large audience at the 1999 West Belfast Festival where I was one of a political panel to accuse me of having set up him up for assassination. Interestingly, a couple of days later when I was in the centre of Derry, one time IRA volunteer Paul O’Connor of the Pat Finucane Centre shouted the same accusation at me in front of a crowd.

If I hadn’t been so battle hardened by then, I might have been nervous, but I was used to the threats (veiled and unveiled) of republican activists and the lies they disseminated.

Twenty two years later, I tried to keep an open mind when I read that the new northern edition of the Sunday Independent would feature Joe Brolly — whose speciality is the GAA — as a political as well as sports columnist.

Maybe the editor had discovered in him some hidden depths I had missed?

Maybe I had been unfair to fear that he espoused the traditional Sinn Fein faith in which his activist parents had brought him up?

After all, had they not shown some independent spirit when they abandoned their beloved party when it became pro-abortion, accusing it of having no morals?

I wrote at the time that opponents of the republican movement would have little difficulty in agreeing with the assertion of Joe’s dad (one-time SF MLA Francie Brolly) that the Sinn Fein party had no interest in morals, but I had found challenging the explanation offered by him and his wife Anne (one-time Sinn Fein mayor of Limavady) as the News Letter put it, that there could be no comparison between the IRA’s killings and the termination of foetuses.

Did that mean that it’s OK to kill the living, but not the unborn, I wondered?

Anyway, I was not encouraged by Brolly’s tweet that his column would be “my take on the celebration of a hundred years of partition. Which is a bit like celebrating slavery & inviting leaders of the African-American community to sit at the back of a bus, waving as it drives through Mississippi”.

I retweeted it with the comment: “a breathtakingly ill-informed and hate-filled distortion of an initiative geared to mutual respect and reconciliation”, to which one of Brolly’s fans replied: “Poor old Ruthie, covert partitionist, Unionist admirer, Orange arse-licker, and wearing the same blue shirt for nigh on a hundred years. Despicable and traitorous old cow. Perhaps Brit collaborator is fitting as well.”

But there are good people too on Twitter.

John McKegney described it as “a beautiful service [that] did what it said on the tin; it was a service of reflection and healing. It should be seen through the prism of healing faith – not the filter of divisive politics”.

Apparently, that wasn’t how Brolly saw it in what I thought was a dull and nasty column regurgitating the approved Sinn Fein version of history and being triumphalist over Sinn Fein’s success in blocking the illumination of Parliament buildings to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland, which Doug Beattie rightly described as “incredibly small-minded and mean”, as had been their refusal to allow a small memorial stone or a single centenary rose.

In fairness to the Sunday Independent, they did have an article from Sam McBride demolishing Sinn Fein propaganda and pointing out how counter-productive it is with the middle ground.

The good news for unionists is that the only significant political parties north or south to support President Michael Higgins’s boycott are Sinn Fein, and though it went down well with unthinking voters, I believe it has disheartened almost every commentator and observer who genuinely wants reconciliation — let alone a united Ireland.

They should share my confidence that Brolly lacks the political knowledge or talent to win converts to his tired, petty brand of nationalism.

And they should see the black humour in MacCionnaith becoming a figurehead for capitalism.

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