Sunday, 22 January 2017

Sinn Fein's successor to Martin McGuinness

Martin McGuinness has announced that he will not be standing at the forthcoming Assembly election.  That decision has been prompted by poor health but it has faced Sinn Fein with a choice.  Who will succeed him?

Conor Murphy and Michelle O'Neill
The speculation from the media and the commentariat is that it will be either Conor Murphy from South Armagh or Michelle O'Neill from Mid-Ulster.  It has also been suggested that Michelle O'Neill is the preferred candidate of Gerry Adams and one can understand why.

Conor Murphy is fifty-three, has an IRA past and was also mired in controversy when he was Minister for Regional Development.  In spite of attempts at rehabilitation those things have not been forgotten.  In 1982 he was sentenced to five years in prison for IRA membership and possession of explosives.  Then in 2011, as DRD Minister a tribunal found that during his tenure there was 'a material bias against the appointment of candidates from a Protestant background.'  Murphy had appointed Sean Hogan to the position of head of Northern Ireland Water and afterwards a Protestant candidate, Alan Lennon, was awarded £150,000 damages for religious discrimination.

On the other hand Michelle O'Neill has just passed her fortieth birthday and does not have a record of involvement in the IRA  As a result she is seen by some nationalist commentators as the face of  'new Sinn Fein'. 

Michelle O'Neill at a commemoration for Luke'Dynamite' Dillon!
There will be questions over her competence and as yet she has not really been properly tested but she is younger, female and free of  any charges of IRA membership.  When she was appointed DARD Minister in 2011, Eamonn Mallie wrote: 'She comes from a pedigreed republican Tyrone family.' He didn't explain the pedigree there is no evidence of any paramilitary involvements in her past. and she is seen by some as the Northern Ireland version of Mary Lou McDonald.

On the other hand such is the nature of Sinn Fein that all of their politicians, including those who were not involved in terrorism, cannot distance themselves from the Provisional IRA and from endorsement of its terrorist campaign.  The Easter Rising commemorations and the calendar of local IRA commemorations require speakers and provide a platform for Sinn Fein politicians and aspiring politicians.

So Michelle has had to do her round of Easter Rising platforms, reenactments and other commemorations.

She came in for some flack in 2010 when as the Sinn Fein mayor of Dungannon she hosted a reception in honour of IRA man Martin McCaughey, who was a Sinn Fein councillor as well as a member of the IRA.  McCaughey was shot dead by the Army on 9 October 1990 while he was collecting an AK47 rifle from an IRA dump.

O'Neill was the speaker in 2012 at Sinn Fein's 'national hunger strike commemoration' in Dungiven.  There is an interesting film of the event on youtube, produced by An Phoblacht News, and it includes an interview with Michelle O'Neill as well her speech.  During the interview she says: 'The British Government can make a start by butting out of our country.'

In 2013 Michelle O'Neill was the speaker at the Easter Rising commemoration at Edendork.  She told the gathering: 'It is the task of this generation of Irish Republicans to make our vision of a United Ireland a reality.  This is the best memorial to all of Ireland's Patriot Dead.'

That speech was given at the republican plot in the Edendork graveyard where some of Ireland's 'patriot dead' are buried or commemorated.  Among those buried in the plot at Edendork is Patrick Joseph Kelly, who was the commander of the notorious East Tyrone Brigade of the Provisional IRA.  This was the most active unit in the IRA and the most extreme but Kelly's terrorist career was ended on 8 May 1987.when the SAS ambushed an IRA murder gang at Loughgall.
Luke 'Dynamite' Dillon -
Irish republican bomber in both England and Canada

In April 2014 Michelle O'Neill even spoke at a commemoration in Pennsylvania. for Luke 'Dynamite' Dillon, who took part in the Fenian 'Dynamite' campaign in England in the 19th century.

In March 2016 she spoke at the Easter Rising commemoration in Coalisland.

A few days ago Martin McGuinness said that he did not regret his terrorist past and of course if you were to believe him Gerry Adams 'has no terrorist past to regret'.


But Sinn Fein want to expand their electoral base, especially in the Irish Republic, and that is the reason for the elevation of someone like Mary Lou McDonald in the Republic.  Sinn Fein may well look on Michelle O'Neill in the same way and she may or or may not be elevated to replace Martin McGuinness but until Sinn Fein abandons this fixation with the past and what Patrick Pearse called 'our Fenian dead', we will continue to see young nationalists radicalised and drawn into the ranks of the terrorist force of the day.

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