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Sunday 7 March 2004

Now recruiting candidates for the party: must be gullible

WANTED: Smart young men and women to train as Sinn Fein candidates. Must be presentable, industrious, good at rote-learning, masters/mistresses of self-delusion, wholly without intellectual curiosity and capable of unquestioning obedience to a bloodstained Northern oligarchy. 

In return, you will be thoroughly trained on and off the job and will have the practical support of probably the richest political party in Western Europe. (If you want to know where the loot comes from, you're not for us.) 

No criminal convictions, please: they don't suit the new image. 

And how they train them. I have heard the dishy Mary Lou McDonald, who hopes to win a Dublin seat in the European elections, regurgitating nonsensical SFese fluently in the past, but last Sunday on Sam Smyth's show, she showed signs of over-training in the PC department. Denouncing Michael McDowell, she began to deplore "his he-man" - then she stopped and added "or she-man". No, I couldn't work it out either, unless she's alleging he's a hermaphrodite. 

I have to assume that a nice girl like Mary Lou wouldn't stay in a party like Sinn Fein if she understood it; clearly, she's too busy to notice much about what goes on up north. So here, especially for her and all the other southern SF innocents, is some information they won't find in their briefing folder and should find disturbing if their brains haven't been scrubbed completely clean. Let's start with John Kelly. 

Now, the 68-year-old Kelly is a republican icon. An IRA activist in his teens, he's been jailed three times and has served 15 years north and south, and he helped found the Provos. In the Seventies, after being again arrested for IRA membership, he drifted towards the fringes of the republican movement, but his reputation was so high that in 1996 he was asked to be a Sinn Fein candidate; he won a council seat and, two years later, a seat in the new Assembly. I'm sure you've met him at party get-togethers, Mary Lou. 

As part of his constituency work - and though he now believes violent republicanism to be "foolish and counterproductive" - Kelly visited dissident republicans in Maghaberry prison; he was taken to one side and told that "people weren't happy" with his doing so. 

Obstinately, Kelly continued to do what he thought was his duty; by campaigning for segregation of republican and loyalist prisoners, he attracted more internal criticism. 

"So I began to feel that within Sinn Fein republicanism there was no room or no space for people to have an opinion that was different from the leadership's opinion, and I felt that was contrary to the whole spirit of republicanism [and] the whole concept of civil rights." 

There were other disagreements: he suggested at one party meeting that there should be more dialogue with unionists and was told that doing so "required a health warning": it was for leaders only. 

Are you listening, Mary Lou? Or have they forbidden you to read the Sunday Independent? 

Last year he said he wouldn't be defending his assembly seat and also withdrew from the party for "personal and other reasons". Then, "disappointed and flabbergasted" at Gerry Adams's "need to deny with vehemence the question of IRA membership", Kelly went public last week in the Irish News. 

In an interview, he described Sinn Fein as "a 'control dictatorship' with all the elite at the top. Everything has to be filtered through that and no one else is to be given space to express an opinion - there was no respect for the individual or the intelligence of the individual." 

Are you still listening, Mary Lou? 

Kelly believes the IRA should now dump its arms and disperse, as in the past, but the republican leadership has turned it "into a kind of militia that does not have the raison d'etre of physical force republicanism". 

Kelly is fortunate: he's too famous to be beaten or shot so Sinn Fein are just telling lies about him instead. 

They'll be doing the same with Martin Cunningham, a Newry and Mourne councillor who has just resigned from the party because of its "total lack of democracy [and] total censorship". Geordie McCall was more vulnerable. For defying the militia who had warned him to stop working for dissident republican prisoners, he was shot in both legs last January. 

Dr Anthony McIntyre, who served 18 years in jail for IRA activity and is now, like Kelly, anti-violence, has been intimidated and threatened by the militia for his criticisms of the Sinn Fein leadership. He writes of the need to challenge and subvert through "fearless speech" the "totalising, violent, repressive Sinn Fein" version of truth. 

Will you and your southern colleagues be questioning your leaders, Mary Lou? Or are you happier just obeying orders?

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards