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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent


Anybody who knows anything about anything is suspect. Unless you have the right views you are not allowed to speak, and if you do, you do so at your peril. - Rashid Khalidi

Anthony McIntyre • 21 March 2004

Martin Cunningham’s account of his experience within Sinn Fein is replete with the type of vignettes which form a pastiche of severe internal party authoritarianism. But procedural issues alone have not formed the basis of either his critique or his disillusionment. Of equal concern is the working out of the GFA and the leaderships handling of international issues and the policing question.

Not only has the GFA not reached Kilkeel, civil rights have not even reached Kilkeel, as is clear from the beating of a nationalist by a loyalist gang outside a pub. The police were informed of the identities of the mob responsible but not a thing has occurred since. It is the Good Friday Disagreement. It was a great idea at the time. But looking back at how the Brits and Ahern have handled it I think it was a strategy to defeat the IRA. It was built on a very, very rocky foundation. Sinn Fein has walked into it.

He felt that his day-to-day political life was bringing him into conflict with the party hierarchy and that he was being targeted for coming up with ideas that no longer suited.

Their attitude was ‘this boy is not a good one.’ I was told at one stage that I was being too hard in Kilkeel, because I opposed the idea of putting up Christmas trees alongside UVF flags. I argued that these flags should come down. Their attitude was more or less let them fly their UVF flags. The more that radical issues were raised the less the leadership were prepared to support me. UVF flags still fly in Kilkeel. I was putting it up to the police over this. Maybe I was getting too much publicity.

Many within the party when it accepted the agreement recall Jim Gibney telling a public meeting that from the perspective of republicans the best place for it was the bin. And we also recall Gerry Kelly claim it was a ‘transition to a transition.’ But Sinn Fein have since invested a lot if its energy and credibility in the Good Friday Agreement, and it is now virtually impossible for the leadership to admit is was all a nonsense. How could it admit that it accepted the British state’s alternative to republicanism?

People often talk about this Stakeknife character and I am forced to ask myself is there a Stakeknife in the middle of all this because of the way they are going and the direction they are heading. The GFA is not working. The Brits had a Plan B and we didn’t. And the Brits’ Plan B was to ensure that it never worked. Bertie Ahern facilitated this by being a very junior partner in the whole thing. Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness are very committed people but they have had the wool pulled over their eyes and they can’t admit it to their people. They have decommissioned their weapons, the war is over even if they won’t admit it. And the leadership is now determined to beat its own people into submission.

How does he account for republicanism going belly-up? Has the leadership lost the run of itself? What now drives it?

Wealth, ego, power – a mixture of all three. They enjoy being welcomed in the States, Australia and other countries. I remember seeing Gerry Adams on TV discussing Michael Collins and whatever error of judgement Collins had made Gerry said that he would never have made that mistake. Surely a man of his capability couldn’t let becoming the most popular party leader in the country go to his head – or could he? If Adams is such a big egotist - I don’t know - is it this that prevents him from being honest with the party and telling them that he has done much worse than Michael Collins. The party has been sold a pup with three legs.

But setting aside its major flip-flop on partition, Stormont and national unity, could the argument not still be made that the party retains its radical soul and has only made necessary strategic compromises? Is Sinn Fein not still a radical party, even if in terms of gas and water socialism? Fundamentally, is it a party of the left or right?

Definitely heading right. Not a radical party. They were on the middle and have now moved to the right. In the next couple of elections Sinn Fein will make gains but at the rate which Sinn Fein are getting rid of republicans it will lead to a drop. The SDLP are making more republican speeches than Sinn Fein. Take the Greens, they are far to the left of Sinn Fein on a wide range of issues. They are actually more radical than Sinn Fein.

What then did he think of the attitude of the Sinn Fein leadership to the war on Iraq and the Palestinian question?

Well, Gerry Adams said it all by shaking hands with George Bush. That could never have happened 15 years ago. He was away in America launching books and whatever else and he had the perfect opportunity to speak out against the war in Iraq and the treatment of prisoners in Guantanomo Bay. What purpose does Adams going to the States serve if he does not raise the issues that republicans should be raising.

I expressed the view that, from a radical perspective, one honourable course of action for the Sinn Fein president to have pursued in the situation he chose to be in at Hillsborough was to have treated Bush in the manner Bernadette McAliskey did when she confronted Reginald Maudling after the Bloody Sunday murders; then walk out, align himself firmly with the Global Justice Movement and offer leadership to progressive and radical forces throughout the world. But it was never going to happen like that. Not because Adams lacked the personal courage to do so but because the political choices he had made effectively precluded any such course. Once he and Martin McGuinness had embarrassingly participated in a Mexican wave for Bill Clinton in Belfast after the then US president had armed the Israelis so that the latter could more efficiently murder the Palestinians, they had effectively told the world, whatever side of the mouth they spoke from, what actual side of the great global divide the Sinn Fein leadership stood on.

I was down at an ard fheis a number of years ago and there was a Palestinian man up speaking. And it would have brought tears to the eyes. But he was only there as a sideshow to give some radical cover. They haven’t really spoken out about the Palestinians. They aren’t really interested because it may affect their relationship with the great white leader George Bush. At the end of the day they are jumping to George Bush’s tune all the time. It is an embarrassment. We had Davy Hyland leading a rally in Newry and genuinely speaking out against the war in Iraq but then we had the leadership down not only hugging trees but hugging George Bush. How humiliating does it get?

For Martin Cunningham, the party leadership not only lets itself down on the international front as a consequence of kow-towing to the dominant capitalist power, but also the manner in which it allows itself to be used by the White House for nothing in return is all too evident in the administration’s attitude towards other party activists at home.

There are a lot of ex-prisoners on the councils who can’t go anywhere. People such as Charley Casey are not allowed into the States. He is the second most prominent person on Newry City Council. Yet the leadership seem to have made no effort to get him in.

Much of the public pressure on Sinn Fein lately has been as a result of its attitude to the policing question. Have the police transformed sufficiently enough for Sinn Fein to now support them?

The mess Sinn Fein are in over the Bobby Tohill affair will lead to them joining the police, but not because the police have changed. I think this is why they are getting rid of republicans like myself. They want to make it easier to support the police. They are getting rid of republicans who will oppose the police. The police are still the first line of defence for the state of Northern Ireland. It sounds as if Sinn Fein wants to change Sinn Fein rather than changing the police. The chairman of the new cumann wouldn’t join us at one stage and said we were ‘a shower of bastards’ who would end up supporting the police. Now he is saying for the public to go to the police. They will all sit on the policing board together and maybe the police and Sinn Fein can hug trees together. But I think Sinn Fein really want to move away from the tress and start hugging the special branch.

I inquired if he was still a supporter of the Adams leadership. He stated that he retains a lot of time and respect for many people currently in the party including some who work at senior level. He felt that Martin McGuinness was personally very humble and showed great sensitivity. He doesn’t intend to be a thorn in the leadership’s side although he accepts that his voiced opposition probably makes that unavoidable. ‘I still see myself as a republican. It is not the Sinn Fein I joined. I haven’t left Sinn Fein, Sinn Fein have left me.’

Did he believe that a united Ireland would emerge by 2016?


Will he even see it in his life time?

I can’t see it happening I don’t think Sinn Fein want it any longer. They are happy in the six county state having the power. In the south they will enter into some dodgy arrangement with Fianna Fail. Sinn Fein are happily entrenched in Stormont. A lot of people died to bring it down but Sinn Fein more than anybody else want to put it together again on terms more suitable to the Brits than republicans. And the thing is, there are elements who would kill other republicans to make it happen again.

He admits to being totally disillusioned with the party. He looks at ‘good republicans’ who have served time in prison and who are now being got rid of to make way for people who before the ceasefire ‘would not even talk to us on the street because we were in Sinn Fein. Now Mitchel McLaughlin comes down and tells them to sell a few tickets to free Ireland. It is now that the more tickets you sell and money you raise the better republican you are.’

Martin intends to carry on representing the people he was elected by. Sinn Fein could hardly ask him to stand down given that they took Billy Leonard in without asking him to give up the council seat he won while a member of another party.

I will not be standing down for Sinn Fein. The people of the constituency put me there. 50% of my council business is on behalf of the Protestant community. Protestants have told me that I am ‘the man who gets things done round here.’ If they want me to go they can elect somebody else. But no dictator is going to come along and tell me that I will step aside because he rather than the people decide it.

It was a strange irony to see a republican leaving the party around the same time that a former cop was coming in. It merely led me to speculate that neither man had really changed over the years. Only Sinn Fein had. When all the rhetoric is set to the side and the smoke and mirrors are allowed to fade away, the testimony of republican activists like Martin Cunningham serves as a serious indictment of a leadership that bullied, misled, lied and duped in a bid to conceal just how complicit it was in cooperating with the British to strip republicanism of its essence – republicanism.




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

5 April 2004


Other Articles From This Issue:


Following the True Tradition
Eamonn McCann


Sinn Fein - Sold a Pup: Martin Cunningham Interviewed
Anthony McIntyre


Going to the Flix
Brian Mór


Reports and Inquiries
George Young


State Department Flip-flop to Offset Cory?

Sean Mc Manus


Updating Capitalist Rule
Liam O'Ruairc


The Rush to Judgement: Binary Thinking in a Digital Age
Michael Youlton


"Poor people can't be engineers" - Free Market Corruption, Neo-Liberal Pretexts
Toni Solo


28 March 2004


Trials Under the Shadow of Irish Emergency Laws
Marianne Quoirin


Sinn Fein A Dictatorship: Martin Cunningham Interviewed
Anthony McIntyre


How to Get to 2016
Brian Mór


Desert Pong

Eamonn McCann


Reading the Future from the Past
Mick Hall


Bush in Haiti: Operation Enduring Misery
Brian Kelly


No Promise, No Hope?
Danielle Ni Dhighe




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