Bishop Hegarty refuses to sign Derry Journal petition…

There’s an absolutely gripping interview on Radio Foyle’s morning news programme (click FRI, click 30 mins), between Enda McClafferty and Seamus Heaney, a community worker in Creggan who was one of the key people behind a local petition hosted on the Derry Journal site calling for three republican organizations to cease their campaigns of violence. It’s clear that Heaney is absolutely ripping with Bishop Hegarty for refusing to sign. So much so that at one stage he compares the Bishop’s stance that the petition should be cast in broader more general terms, rather than isolating just three organisations on their own with that of Margaret Thatcher’s.

: Paul McFadden’s programme is worth following the whole way through. Heaney and Kenny have a fascinating head to head. Hegarty’s statement here. The bit at the end is worth quoting (faoi dhó):

Ní síocháin bhuan go fírinne. Ní comhréiteach go fírinne. Bíonn an fhírinne searbh agus lom. Éilíonn cothú na fírinne agus tacú chomhréitigh léargas leathan cuimsíoch a chur san áireamh. Níl an sprioc seo sroiste go fóill againn. Ar an ábhar sin tá an achaine ag lorg tacaíochta easpach.

[You cannot have lasting peace without truth. Agreement cannot be reached without truth. Truth can be uncomfortable and stark. Promoting truth and supporting mutual agreement requires very wide and comprehensive understanding. That objective has not yet been reached. For that reason the petition seeking support is defective.]

As Eamon McCann has noted, one of the underlying problems here is political. He was highly critical of Tuesday’s editorial in the Journal:

Tuesday’s editorial writer seemed to me to be squirming to avoid is that the ‘dissidents’ aren’t dissident at all, but are following the path already trodden by every previous generation of Republicans. That doesn’t mean that they are right. It means that if they are wrong, then so is the Republican tradition itself.

In a recent round robin email, Mr Heaney put the problem rather more temperately than he did this morning:

I believe that our message to those still involved in the use of violence has be one of outright rejection of violence as a means to achieving political aims but that we should not be dismissive of those who cannot accept the current political context. People have a right to be in opposition and should be supported and encouraged to express their beliefs and/or opposition by any and all peaceful means.

These are two sides of a similar political coin. McCann asks a searching question of the Republic conscience. But the answer does not have to be the singularly negative one he suggests. Yet the movement’s muscular avoidance of this large elephant in the room has led to huge cognitive gaps between the new and the old narrative. Gaps that can only be bridged by the movement itself.

In a cracking new book, ‘Evangelicalism and Conflict in Northern Ireland’, soon to be published, social anthropologist, Gladys Ganiel puts together a typology for the reframing of sociopolitical projects:

No Change: Use the old discourses. Risk alienation.

Some change: Retain the old discourses, while simultaneously adopting new discourses that are acceptable in the new public sphere. Risks presenting a ‘contradictory’ stance but able to participate partially in the public sphere.

Transformative change: Criticise and abandon the old discourses, while simultaneously adopting new discourses that are acceptable in the new public sphere. Able to participant in the public sphere.

Heaney gives Hegarty and the Catholic church a tongue-lashing for taking a stance that is absolutely in line with its own moral teaching: a point he later concedes in the interview. But the real problem here belongs to the Republican movement’s. When all of this is peeled back to its essentials, without a transformative change within the movement, it is resorting that old bad parenting line: ‘do as I say, not do as I do’.

This matters. Sinn Fein has serious ambition in terms of the developing local administration of policing and justice. These issues cannot be dealt with in a clandestine, partial and specific manner. Solutions need to be general, open to scrutiny and robust.

At the base of this is the tragic death of a 23 year old man. But if it has proven one thing it is that sub rosa management of the movement’s problems in Derry has not worked. For them, there is no alternative to stepping aside and letting the PSNI get on with their jobs, both centrally and locally. And regardless of the political damage they are likely to sustain in the meantime.

Whether they can manage such a transformation with a leadership that is now nearly 25 years at the helm, is another matter. Old habits of mind, die hard.