Today Sinn Fein is having a “cavalcade” from Londonderry to Stormont to highlight what it perceives as a disparity of funding which afflicts the North West. This cavalcade, we are promised, will contain cars and buses and will be a “colourful and noisy gathering”.The demands this “cavalcade” seems to be making include more tourists, though how exactly Stormont can force tourists to go to Londonderry is a little unclear. In addition it is demanding improved road and rail links to Londonderry. This is probably not unreasonable but it must be remembered that Ms. Anderson and her “cavalcade’s” target in this would presumably be the Department for Regional Development headed by her Sinn Fein colleague Connor Murphy. As such one wonders if she could have spoken to him. Clearly, however, that would be much less fun than a “cavalcade”.
Of course what it would also not do is heighten Ms. Anderson’s profile as much as the “cavalcade”. People have frequently laughed at Ms. Anderson with her apparently comical attempts at “unionist engagement” and her concerns about foreign Roman Catholics being “other”. I must confess I have always been sceptical of those who dismiss her as a sectarian joke; on the contrary I have always been a fan in an odd way.
I have said this before but will reiterate it: Martina Anderson is a highly intelligent woman who plays her role quite brilliantly. She articulates the grievances of a particular segment of society namely the hardline republican, economically disadvantaged, urban, predominantly young; who may be in danger of seeing Sinn Fein, now in government, as no longer being interested in their cause. Her status as an ex prisoner helps her credibility and no matter what derision the idea may attract her good looks and apparently friendliness can do her no harm. Laughable as her antics may be to the chattering classes they have an important function within Sinn Fein; they help hold onto an important segment of voters in urban areas who thus far have remained very loyal to Sinn Fein. Her high profile and vociferous support for her Foyle constituents should also not be ignored by the SDLP especially with a Westminster election not that far away. Those who dismiss this woman and her populism may live to regret it.