Anthony McIntyre ✒ wonders about the turmoil plaguing Derry Sinn Fein.
It is not very often that internal disputes within Sinn Fein are played out in public. The party prefers to reveal as little as possible about internal machinations and even less about ructions. For whatever reason it has not kept the lid on its Derry problem. Some suspect that it made no real effort to bottle the thing up, but opted instead to wash its dirty linen in public and tear strips off some of its better known figures in a bid to gain back lost ground with the electorate by publicly humiliating those who voters blamed for the failure to significantly improve the quality of their lives.
Since the massive defeat of Elisha McCallion in the 2019 Westminster election, followed by her fall from grace over a financial scandal, it has been evident that all was not well the other side of the Glenshane Pass. Derry republicans not associated with Sinn Fein have been complaining for years that the party in the city was a nest of cronyism and nepotism: jobs for the boys, jobs for the girls, jobs for their relatives, but few jobs for anyone else in an urban setting scourged by economic and social deprivation compounded by Tory welfare cuts which Sinn Fein gets blamed for facilitating.
The complaints about nepotism and cronyism have been echoed elsewhere across the North without any serious turbulence occurring. The probability is that the internal Sinn Fein status quo may have remained undisturbed in Derry were it not for the electoral plummet. The former blanketman Dixie Elliot some time ago identified the soft underbelly of Sinn Fein in the city, predicting that it would take a serious hit: voters were unafraid to enter the booth and decline to tick the Sinn Fein box because they knew that in doing so the seat would not be lost to unionism.
When it came, the event, "dear boy", that tugged the rug away was the funeral of Sinn Fein member Peggy McCourt, who family and friends felt had been snubbed in death. Once the genie was out of the bottle there was no getting it back in.
A Sinn Fein source told the Irish Times:
There was a sense that people have really fallen out with us in Derry ... we’re hated by the community we would seek to lead.
Strong stuff which nevertheless failed to identify the drift away from republicanism in the city, where the discourse seemed an inversion of what had previously articulated a republican ethos. Sinn Fein members certainly do not do irony, some former blanketmen among them objecting to Bobby Sands’ comm about his funeral preferences being published on the anniversary of his death. Is there ever a time not to publish what Bobby Sands wrote? Running parallel to this was the Sinn Fein family, black sheep included - a flock of them in the city by now – becoming immersed in a public squabble over jobbery.
Given the amount of things that people describing themselves as republican could be complaining about, the Derry Sinn Fein family opted to become embroiled in a dispute about people being moved out of their well remunerated posts, the former IRA prisoner Martina Anderson being the most high profile casualty. It was all dressed up in the language of her jettisoning being a "far cry from the ethos of republicanism.” Yet as Suzanne Breen pointed out:
With no disrespect to Anderson, much has occurred over the years which has been a “far cry from the ethos of republicanism”, and her demotion doesn’t rank high on the list.
Some republicans opposed to Sinn Fein have sought to defend Martina Anderson in claiming she has been shafted by the party. The implication was that because of her past IRA life - which was very arduous and involved a lot of sustained deprivation - she should somehow be immune from the axe when it falls. Not only is this thinking immune from her having been part of the SF revolution that is devouring its children, it seems to suggest that allowance should be made for the queen syndrome and a sense of entitlement.
What black marks Martina Anderson might have chalked up I have no idea. Anderson herself did not make the point that she had been publicly humiliated; that was left to her supporters. It does however afford her a measure of plausible deniability if the men in grey suits knock on her door to "chide" her for any badmouthing from her quarter. The Do you know who I am? Gang no longer arrives in masks. Hers is unlikely to be a visit like that made to the young Meath activist Christine O’Mahoney, where the unwelcome visitor was told where to go.
While I don't care one way or the other about Anderson's political career, or wish her any harm, it is impossible to disagree with the former republican prisoner Alex McCrory’s assessment:
Martina is not a victim. She knew every step of the process. She was rewarded for her support of the leadership and reaped the benefits. I simply cannot feel sorry for her.
Too few careers and too many careerists.
⏩Follow on Twitter @AnthonyMcIntyre.