When Old Friends Forget

Coming from somebody else the criticism in the Irish News of the SDLP suggestion that enforced power sharing should give way to a voluntary coalition would have sounded fine, for many even persuasive. Brian Feeney for example launched a potent stinging rebuke of Mark Durkan’s proposal announced last week in Oxford at the annual British Irish Association Conference. But coming from Sinn Fein Derry MLA Raymond McCartney it sounds almost tongue in cheek. Raymond is not one to sport Forget-Me-Nots in his lapel.

Raymond’s critique is certainly informative. It succinctly traces a number of previous SDLP positions endorsing power sharing and holds them up against Mark Durkan’s seeming abandonment of a principle which has been an integral component of SDLP identity since its first leader Gerry Fitt, and the cornerstone of its policy for three and a half decades. But Raymond’s own party has performed more about turns, abandoned more positions and slaughtered more sacred policy cows than virtually any other party in Irish history. When Sinn Fein somersaults it is invariably courageous and imaginative but anyone else who wants to try an old back flip will be considered fair game to be hunted down and ridiculed.

Probably the greatest sacred cow of modern republicanism to be slaughtered at the Sinn Fein altar of volte face occurred when the party moved to subvert the logic of the hunger strikes which was that republican activity no matter how illegal could not be deemed criminal. Raymond served a life sentence for exactly the type of activity his party now contends is criminal. Moreover, he endured a prolonged hunger strike to proclaim such activity political in nature.

Although later acquitted on appeal decades after initially being found guilty Raymond did not embark upon the 1980 hunger strike to proclaim his own innocence or to highlight the fact that he was subjected to brutal torture by British police officers. While he at no time freely admitted culpability for the offences for which he had been sentenced to life, his hunger strike was a demonstration that the actions for which he was serving life were republican in character regardless of what individual carried them out, and therefore could not be categorised as criminal.

But selective memory permeates Northern Irish political culture. It sends the one-eyed orange tribe into a frenzy against the actress Rose McGowan because she understood the IRA or catapults the one-eyed green tribe along the Falls Road in search of half truths.

Raymond McCartney, if he is of a mind to, might just consider that one solid reason for opposing enforced power sharing from a republican perspective is that it is intrinsically anti-republican. It institutionalises sectarianism. Government by sectarian headcount might appeal to communal Catholics but why republicans might wish to rummage in the sty is much more difficult to explain. Not one IRA volunteer is known to have died on active service in pursuit of it. All those we are aware of lost their lives opposing it. So while Mark Durkan’s suggestion that the ugly scaffolding buttressing enforced coalition should at some point be dismantled may be inconsistent in terms of SDLP history and tradition, the irony for Raymond McCartney is that the SDLP leader is advocating a position that is eminently reconcilable with republicanism in a way that power sharing is not.


  1. "the SDLP leader is advocating a position that is eminently reconcilable with republicanism in a way that power sharing is not".

    I had asked if you saw majority rule as a "never but maybe" for SF.
    I think the above answers my question then. Gerry standing on the steps of city hall shouting NEVER,NEVER,NEVER seems more likely.

  2. Durkan's suggestion that the ugly scaffolding be removed is compatible with a republican position - any proposal that majority rule be restored within a six county context is hardly compatible with republicanism.

  3. I agree with the assertion made of the frequency of Raymond McCartney's and Sinn Feins' backtracking' on former sacred cows, one fine example of this is the recent abandonment of children in Derry's only meanscoil, (Irish language secondary provision). The school has since closed, with precious little support from McCartney nor his comrades; at any other time the outrage would have been vociferous. Why was it not? Could it be that they had an alterior motive, something up the Party sleeve. Explain these motives to the children they abandoned,and surely be prepared to do it on the hustings.

  4. Many of those who had faith in him went to their graves believing that De Valera had something up his sleeve. Too late for them to discover that it was only his arm