death of the former INLA prisoner, Micky Ferguson,
has left a gap in Sinn Fein which the party will
not find easy to fill. Stepping into his shoes
is not the main challenge facing any successor
but treading the many miles in them that were
covered by the previous owner. Both a MLA and
a Lisburn city councillor, the former H-Block
blanket protestor persevered in the spirit that
had guided him during his days with the IRSP.
Big house republicanism had no purchase on him.
In a party where the top dog is deified, his remained
a stand for the underdog. Ordinary people mattered
and he never allowed their concerns to slip off
the radar screen.
number of years ago while working on a building
site I was asked by Micky for scrap wood to allow
him complete some work he was doing at his home.
There was plenty of it, all from a broad back.
So, he and whoever else were welcome to it. He
arranged to pick it up after the evening's council
meeting. When he arrived he was dressed in a suit
and an overcoat. I tried reasoning with him that
the purpose of his foray would be undermined if
he persisted in his determination to come on site
and help me carry it to the van he had waiting
outside. Like everybody else, he was getting the
wood gratis but the suit and overcoat, not to
mention his shoes were certain to be ruined in
the shin deep muck and mud of that site. What
he would save on free wood would not cover the
cost of replacing his attire. He would hear none
of it and waded in.
the end of his foraging we both laughed. But it
summed up Micky Ferguson. Behind the smooth exterior
of the politician was a man not afraid to get
his hands dirty. The dirt had added significance
because when I first met him it was in much dirtier
circumstances. During the 1980 hunger strike he
was on the filthy wing adjacent to our own in
the latest blanket block to open, H6. Given Micky's
own participation it was fitting that so many
former comrades from the blanket protest paid
tribute to him including Gerry McConville, director
of the Falls Community Council, who said no job
was too big or too small for the former INLA activist.
in later years he would graduate from Queen University
and become Sinn Fein education spokesperson, his
reputation as an erudite republican was already
well established within the prison. Micky was
esteemed as a well read left wing activist whose
radical views were highly sought after by his
fellow Blanketmen. In H6 I wanted to ask him something
about Germany's Red Army Faction and the book
Hitler's Children by Jillian Becker. It
was the type of thing that enthralled young republicans
who still believed their leaders were more radical
than those they sought to overthrow, and who had
yet to discover the pitfalls of revolutionary
say Micky was responsive would be an understatement.
There seemed little in the way of revolution he
could not converse on. In the years since then
the revolutionary fires that animated him burned
much less brightly. He was hardly alone in not
wanting to end his days muttering something incomprehensible
about Trotsky and the backsliding of the trade
union bureaucracy. The ideology that he brandished
in the H-Blocks came to be replaced by a sense
of community, where the people of Poleglass mattered
more than the global proletariat.
in 1998 I interviewed him for a London magazine
he was professing confidence that the republican
position would be validated through the peace
process. Although the process has seen the abandonment
rather than the validation of any republican stance
Micky Ferguson remained a member of Sinn Fein.
It may have seemed incongruous to many that a
Marxist revolutionary who hailed from a republican
socialist background would end up in a party that
introduced PFI to the health service and now demands
that Paisley be leader of Northern Ireland. This
is to fundamentally misunderstand Micky Ferguson
and what drove him. It is no insult to his memory
to suggest that more than he was a republican
or a socialist Micky Ferguson was ultimately a
community worker who cared passionately and deeply
about those disadvantaged people he represented.
He would have been doing the same thing in any
such spirit he went public with his battle against
testicular cancer. His attitude typified the man.
If people fighting the illness felt the temptation
to succumb to despair, in Micky Ferguson they
found a battler who viewed cancer as he did a
H-Block screw, something to be forced back and
defeated. That he died of something else, denied
those seeking to emulate him the opportunity to
draw inspiration from his battle.
the political eulogies, of which there were plenty,
fade in the memory of those who made them, the
immense burden occasioned by the passing of Micky
Ferguson, husband and father, will continue to
be borne by the community that mattered most;
his wife Louise and four children, Aodh Tómas,
Daibhibd, Aoife and Niamh.