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.

  • DC

    ‘Evangelicalism and Conflict in Northern Ireland’

    It may well be a good book Mick, but while religion was the glue power was the actual, lacking, substance.

    So the:

    “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’.”

    I would like to agree but cant. As Republicans are in power now, not the old nationalists, it is that sharpest sense of the old warring northern Republican movement that is now in power at Stormont. So that ‘saying’ has done, in as much as was possible in terms of the arms and ballot box. The arms as a means to just violent separatism were never going to work even in the 70s, hence the political aspect which was always constrained by political goals and political acceptability in the Catholic bloc.

    So, it wasn’t all about religion but power too and if SF can work that democratic and legal power to its advantage, which now in recent months is becoming questionable, it nevertheless may still be possible to become the largest party in Northern Ireland.

    Ethnically speaking that speaks volumes in national terms re Northern Ireland, Britain and indeed the Republic. It is not a politik that I support, neither is Unionism, but it was a similar stance Unionism used in the 50s and 60s to misrepresent the Orangeness of Northern Ireland, at least with equality and democracy real feelings can be shown, and hopefully real change to away from ethno-national politics.

  • Ulsters my homeland

    I’m glad to see the Bishop questioning the ‘Derry’ brigade regarding this delicate issue. Republicans for too long have tried to hijack issues for their own political ends including the civil rights protest.

  • XraySpex

    Those behind the petition should be pushing SF over the McCartney and Quinn murders if they don’t want to continue to look like hypocritical political opportunists.

  • Chris Donnelly


    I think this is being overplayed to meet a narrative that doesn’t quite fit.

    The essential element of this is that the broad community revulsion at the killing of Emmet Shiels has precipitated a reaction against the dissident republican groupings in the city, channelled positively through a petition.

    The support of Sinn Fein for such a development is entirely logical: having endorsed the political and peace processes, including ending of armed struggle, decomissioning and full support for PSNI, clearly mainstream republicans want to ensure that as many people within local communities endorse that project as opposed to any being developed/ expounded by dissident groups.

    The idea that this is somehow linked to the need for ‘transformative’ change is quite a stretch, given that examples of the type of transformative changes articulated by Ganiel in an Irish context are extremely hard to come by.

    The truth is that republicans aren’t about to jettison old discourses any more than unionists are likely to- though republicans have shown themselves in recent years to be significantly more willing to open up their discourses for critical review eg. from attitudes to Michael Collins, acknowledging the role of Irish men fighting in British uniforms during the world wars and, of course, articulating a policy of ‘equality or neutrality’ over the display of flags and emblems (with the implicit legitimisation of the British identity.)

    The fact that unionist political parties have not been the subject of ‘transformative’ change does not mean that policing and justice should be less likely to be devolved; nor should it be the case for republicans.

    After all, the articulation of contradictory positions is hardly the exclusive preserve of Irish republicans; indeed it is a common theme of political- and religious- organisations, which I’m sure Bishop Hegarty could be reminded of if anyone so wished…

  • Ulsters my homeland

    So what are you trying to say Chris?

  • Mick Fealty


    The book is a respectable anthropological, peer reviewed work, not an act of faith. To gather which of the three ‘types’ fits this situation you just have to listen to the interview and listen how the guy ties himself in knots.

    That’s not because he’s not bright, sincere and articulate. He self evidently is. But the movement’s stance on violence in Derry does not scan easily. By the time it got to Talkback at lunchtime, he was accompanied by local SF MLA, Raymond McCartney.

    If Mr Heaney makes a tactical mistake it was blasting the Bishop of Derry’s stance at the start.

    But the petition itself is fundamentally in line with SF’s own position that the IRA of the past are above reproach, but their modern day equivalents are somehow wrong. It’s confused and confusing.

    And this is not just a question for Sinn Fein by the way. A certain Mark Durkan, MP for the area, has also signed it. And may be similarly confused on the matter.

  • Davy

    The Derry Journal should be renamed the Republican Journal, its a Sinn Fein petition

  • Chris Donnelly


    But is it “confused and confusing?”

    Maybe to those who disagree with the basic premise that the IRA pre-GFA were fighting a legitimate war, but not to those who advocated such a campaign and who have since argued that armed struggle is no longer a viable option in the new political dispensation.

    Is that really confusing any more than, say, the DUP arguing that power-sharing with republicans is now acceptable post- SAA (or for the UUP, post-GFA) in the face of criticism from the TUV?

    This is hardly the first juncture of its kind in Irish history. Fianna Fail might have separated from the IRA in 1927, but it certainly didn’t criticise the anti-treaty stance from that day forward- and, as in the case of Sinn Fein today, it soon become the predominant electoral voice within its community (ie the 26 county state.)

  • Mick Fealty

    I completely agree with you that the DUP have similar problems. The TUV serves as a constant reminder of that. It’s not all one way by any means. Although clearly it cannot be in denial of history either. Neither party is like to come up with a comfortable solution in the shorter term.

    It’s not a position I would like to find myself in, but then if I were younger, more ambitious and minded to join a political party, I’m not sure I’d want to join one of the more marginal players either.

    Nevertheless, if you listen to the guy on Foyle this morning, the not very aggressive interviewer lets him tie himself in knots. I had transcribed it this morning (my blasted PC crashed and I lost it) and I just couldn’t find a suitable place to stop. It was little short of a political car crash.

    Again, that’s not the guy’s fault. He was trying answer questions openly and honestly. (He’s clearly not a professional politician ;-)) But the policy of telling others they should not kill, when the law clearly states they must not kill is politically weak as well as inconsistent with the various obligations that they have freely taking on under the SAA and other specific commitments.

    These are things that the party has undertaken in the full light of day but which it clearly can’t bring itself to argue to dissidents in Derry. In the meantime, it is simply adding fuel to those who are that P & J should be delayed as long as possible at the very least until the movement gets beyond such compromising stands.

  • Dave

    This is all very flattering to the Shinners because it creates a false impression that these fascist thugs are from the same linage as those from whom they stole the historical names Sinn Fein and the IRA when they are patently nothing of the sort.

    The IRA’s campaign secured the principle of self-determination for Ireland; and once they had secured it, they were bound by it. That principle was then exercised by Irish people to assert that Ireland should be unified by exclusively peaceful means. The Shinners and the Provos (and those that spawned them and their spawn), on the other hand, show absolute contempt for the principle of self-determination and what was determined by it. This is a matter of profound ideological difference which means that those groups who do accept respect the principle of self-determination cannot be included in the same category as those who do.

    The claim to self-determination that the Provos and their ilk make is based on being a part of the Irish nation, and that nation holds the legitimate claim to it, exercising their will counter to the sectarian murder campaign of the Shinners. It is the Shinners and their ilk who are the dissidents, and it is the Irish Republican nation who were always the mainstream and in opposition to sectarian murder, proscribing that ilk as illegitimate murder gangs. That was always the case despite the propaganda campaign of the Shinners to seek glory by unmerited association with legitimate Republicanism and the corresponding propaganda campaign of pro-British elements to undermine legitimate Republicanism by associating it with the sectarian murder campaign of the Shinners.

  • Ulsters my homeland

    This site should be renamed, “round about way to support past terrorism”

  • earnan

    good post dave

  • Brian Walker

    Far be it for me to play the fact-based journalist, but does anyone know the actual genesis of the petition? That might tell us a lot. And we need to know more about the bishop’s thinking. Does he suspect a Sinn Fein stunt he wants no party of?

    More broadly, it would be valuable to study how the hierarchy are keeping carefully aloof from sanatised SF, unlike the old days with the SDLP.

    Frontal attacks on the bishop aren’t new, when you recall the outrage over the payments he made to sex abuse victims without donors’ knowledge and then had to give them back.

    Different issue, yes ; he wasn’t dealing with a quasi-political response to murder; yet the mystique has vanished, I suspect.

    Mr Heaney’s interview is different from those earlier criticisms. In the interview, he carried moral relativism to extremes ( i.e. the act of killing not the killer is not the same as the sin not the sinner), when we might have expected him to defer the bishop’s moral authority and at least say nothing.

    Taking up Mick’s analysis and running with it, might he be a Sinn Fein proxy?

    I don’t recall a word against Bp Ned Daly from Martin McGuinness in all the years of the IRA campaign, when Ned was attacking them every other week. I suspect it was IRA good tactics to ignore the bishop and let him blow himself out.

    Today is different. Perhaps even bishops are being pressed into line with establishment Sinn Fein?

    Or else Chris is right and too much of a web is being spun here. Maybe the petition’s just a gesture of simple humanity and the bishop’s too stuck up to sign it.
    I think I know how the heart of Derry beats on that one.

  • harry.

    “community worker”. there is lots of these guys floating about… where do they get the money from to employ so many “community workers”?

  • Mick Fealty

    I’ve added the Bishop’s statement. And a link to later discussion this morning between Father Kenny and Heaney in which Heaney tells us that he was an IRA volunteer.

  • The salient point we would well not to ignore is that this is antichristian Sinn Fein in opposition to the Christian Catholic Church.

    It is Christ versus Antichrist – the morality of Gerry Adams versus the morality of Jesus Christ.

    Can anyone really dispute my claim that Gerry Adams is the Antichrist? – see my website, click on my name. If the hat fits…

    It is a really bad day for Sinn Fein in Derry.

  • Damien Okado-Gough

    The central point of criticism of the PRM regarding their stance on traditional republicans is that you are basically arguing that they are wrong for taking the very same ideological stance that you folks took before embracing the Peace Process, a stance that you maintain was a correct one.

    I’ve posted very recently that you are not the people to challenge the 32CSM or RSF on this, simply for this point. You have no crediblity with these groups at all. Even less than the SDLP or the Irish government.

    The PRM never had a mandate from the Irish people, yet you still argue that the armed stuggle was completely legitimate. That may be necessary for internal cohesion, but its exposes you to justified charges of gross hypocrisy.

    A petition to demonstrate opposition to armed struggle is a fine idea, but it could only be effective if it was undertaken by a group other than yourselves and one with a consistent position of being against the use of physical force.

    I should also mention that the celebration of the 1916 Rising by the Irish government and others allows traditional republicans to continue to justify their position to themselves and it also gives them serious ammunition against those who argue against their position.

    Either a minority of Irish people have a right to assert themselves with arms or they do not. A little consistency across the board would be valuable in the pursuit of national unity.

  • hypocrites the lot of em

    Damien, such a peititon against the use of armed struggle could be effective if the Provos weren’t speaking with forked tongue over the corpses of Robert McCartney, Paul Quinn, with dubious criminals as their bodyguards and drivers (worded as to avoid libel). Whatever the contradictions between their view of the shifting sands of legitimacy, as long as they continue to murder young Irish men and employ their killers to protect themselves and tell the rest of the world ugly lies about their victims and their victims’ families, people will spit on their stupid peititons and rightly so.

  • cynic

    The sad thing is that the Church didnt do more to stand up to them when they were busy killing people .

  • “a typology for the reframing of sociopolitical projects”

    Could we not keep to Plain Speak, the language of the Plain People?

    “letting the PSNI get on with their jobs”

    Is this some fanciful notion about the police ensuring that the ‘bad people’ are brought to justice? Close scrutiny of local events will demonstrate that London and Dublin have ceded control of many communities to ‘chosen bad people’ and the police are obliged to assist these ‘community representatives’.

    “Sinn Fein has serious ambition”

    Can we not call a spade a spade? SF is the political face of the Provisional Republican Movement, a fascist and mafiaist organisation.

    Bishop Hegarty knows how difficult it is to face up to the truth, he knows how uncomfortable and stark it can be.