in the service of helping to fill Maghaberry.
Kearney does articulate a strategy which an 'off
night' does not invalidate. It is a reformist
strategy but a strategy nonetheless. His opponents
between them have revolutionary positions but
no strategy for making those positions attractive
to the support base, without whose endorsement
such positions remain intangible.
an overall assessment were to be made of the debate,
for three of the parties it could be measured
against their performance at Conway Mill. Sinn
Fein's was poorer. The 32 County Sovereignty Movement
stayed the same, largely due to the use of what
John Hume once termed the Single Transferable
Speech. Only the IRSP seemed to advance, although
only incrementally. Paul Little was very relaxed
as some of the audience tried to pose awkward
questions. A wealthy Belfast Provisional quoting
from a tabloid, which he acknowledged is never
that reliable, asked the IRSP man if the party
intended challenging Sinn Fein in elections. Little's
put down, while not providing the clarity that
the Sinn Fein man wanted, won much applause from
Sinn Fein strategy on the night against the 32CSM
and IRSP speakers was to persist with the hardly
unreasonable question of what alternative is postulated
to Sinn Fein policy. Little, wary of prescribing
a blueprint from on high, argued that the communities
must be given the latitude to both debate the
matter and decide on how they wish to be policed.
A logical enough response if viewed as a holding
position but not one that can be expected to flourish
in the political market place where over the counter
gratification is preferable to a deferred result.
Mackey persisted in Jesuitical style to focus
the debate on the question of national sovereignty.
There is little in what Mackey said that a republican
traditionalist could find fault with. But it was
like listening to the mass in Latin; fine for
the small number of traditionalists but little
that would be understood by those large swathes
not imbibed on traditionalist assumptions.
three panellists were overshadowed by the presence
of a fourth, Larry O'Neill, who recently resigned
from Sinn Fein. It was the first time I had seen
him since we shared a cage in Magilligan Prison
back in the 1970s. Then he was unassuming. It
was a characteristic he seemed not to have lost,
preferring to avoid the limelight. On this occasion
he felt things had got so bad under the autocratic
Adams leadership, the defining feature of which
is control freakery, that he had no choice but
to step in front of the spotlight.
told his audience that he was a lifelong republican
who had finished his education at primary school.
His comment that he had not swallowed a dictionary
like others on the panel and would not therefore
fill his listeners' heads with mad dogs' shit was
met with rapturous applause.
was timely appearance by the North Antrim activist.
With Sinn Fein trying to persuade the wider public
that there is a threat posed to it by republicans,
O'Neill alleged that the one republican whose
safety he is genuinely alarmed about is Dominic
McGlinchey, one of the organisers of Concerned
Republicans. The son of murdered parents, McGlinchey
is said to have been warned on a number of occasions
that his life is in danger.
addressed the issue of the threats, in spite of
his desire to keep the debate within the confines
of the policing question, only because IRSP representatives
in the audience were adamant that Sinn Fein was
being disingenuous in its allegations that some
of its leading members' lives were in danger.
The IRSP pointed out that it had a meeting with
Sinn Fein leaders after the threats were supposedly
made aware to the Sinn Fein leadership but not
the public. This meeting took place on the 3rd
of November. At it Sinn Fein raised the debates
being organised by Concerned Republicans but made
no reference to the supposed threat. The IRSP
at Toome asked why the threats were not raised
then given that, according to Gerry Adams, speaking
on the 13th or 14th of November, he knew at the
time of the November 3rd meeting that INLA members
were amongst those posing the threat.
lack of any persuasive response caused my mind
to wander back earlier in the evening to when
Paul Little had parried a question from a Sinn
Fein member in relation to possible electoral
intervention by critics of the party. Such was
the Sinn Fein member's anxiety that it struck
me that what Sinn Fein really fears is not a physical
assault on their lives but an electoral assault
on their constituencies.
Republicans seem to be on a roll at the minute.
Sinn Fein replacing some of its elected representatives
with even more malleable candidates, has added
to the party's woes and the confidence of its
critics. Leaving the Elk in Toome, I felt that
for the first time in the peace process, the Sinn
Fein leadership had to explain itself. The authoritarian
levee has long held out against the encroachment
of democratic grassroots sentiment. The levee
is far from collapsing but only the party's grovelling
grunts can claim to believe it has not been breached.