The question being asked, he said, is: “Why are you up there [in Stormont]?”

Highly insightful reporting and analysis from Brian Rowan in the Irish Times on Monday re the current rumblings inside Sinn Fein and its leadership class of old IRA men, which (if we’re lucky) will raise serious internal questions about direction of the project:

Republicans are now questioning the worth of the Stormont institutions and a decade-long relationship with the DUP at the head of the Northern Ireland Executive.

This was the mood inside the Felons Club that Saturday in January. Within hours, news filtered out that when that republican gathering moved into private session, the loudest cheer was in response to a call to “bring the institutions down now”.

In other words, collapse Stormont. “People have reached the end of their tether,” a senior republican said that evening. “The anger in our community is palpable.”

The question being asked, he said, is: “Why are you up there [in Stormont]?”

For now, the Sinn Féin leadership has no answer to that question and, after the McGuinness resignation, the message being delivered to the republican grassroots is that there will be “no return to the status quo”.

The audience at the Felons Club included many of Sinn Féin’s elected representatives in the North – including party chair Declan Kearney, MEP Martina Anderson, Stormont MLAs Gerry Kelly, Raymond McCartney and Michelle Gildernew and, on stage with Adams, new party leader at Stormont, Michelle O’Neill.

Adams has not only heard what people are saying. He has heard what he was being told to do. For over two decades, a key consideration for the republican leadership has been the cohesion of its movement and party and community.

During that period, Adams and McGuinness have relied on a small group of senior republicans to be their eyes and ears, to take the pulse and to know the mood.

Among that small group are a number of Belfast republicans, who were significant figures in the IRA leadership and who have been part of the transition into peace and into politics. Bobby Storey, Seán Murray and Martin Lynch were all inside the Felons Club.

“They are not just reflecting it, they are the mood,” another republican told me.

He means that key group, working closely with Adams and McGuinness and other senior republican figures such as Ted Howell, have come to that point of questioning the credibility and viability of the Stormont political project.

This is the team to whom Martin McGuinness had to answer at every twist and turn over his ten years as dFM. None are elected or accountable to the electorates, north or south. Yet every elected SF councillor, TD, MLA and pensioned MP answers directly or indirectly to them.

In times past, the names of men like Howell would never have made it into the public domain. And yet and withal, these are the people with whom the buck stops for the party’s (by its own account) epically failed engagement with Stormont.

Theirs was less a strategy than a series of tactics aimed at keep ‘the unionists’ dancing. Peter Robinson’s peculiar in-out hokey-pokey, for instance, was to keep the institutions up and running, after the murder of Kevin McGuigan was linked to the IRA.

These days, none of them live in a bunker. Around them in west Belfast, despite having by far the best election machine in NI, the Sinn Fein vote stagnated at first and then latterly has begun slowly leeching away.

They’d had warnings that this barren approach to Stormont would cost them in loss of public sentiment amongst base voters.  A criticism which was shut down almost as quickly as it would sprung up.

Now they face an election in which their arch rivals in Dublin, People Before Profit present a significant challenge in West Belfast, and perhaps even in Derry.

Cllr Seanna Walsh calls these men “the risen generation of 1969“. They played a vital role in what became a baby boomer-led IRA: eventually coming  into their force in the late 70s and early 80s as overseers of the famous Armalite and ballot box strategy.

When the peace came not only did they play their hands carefully and well, they were also dealt some handy trumps (along with some letters of comfort) from the bottom of the British government deck.

But having forced Sinn Fein in particular and Irish Republicanism in general into this cul de sac they have surely some responsibility to demonstrate they have a more productive plan than the one they’ve been using for the last ten years?

As Rowan perceptively notes towards the end of his Irish Times piece:

Leaving another Sinn Féin event at the Felons Club last week, the influential Belfast republican Bobby Storey shouted across the road towards journalists: “Let’s go.”

It was a reference to the election – scheduled for March 2nd. But, let’s go where? This is the unanswered question.

Where, indeed.

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  • Brian Walker

    There is force in your argument but how much force depends on two factors; the final Brexit outcomes and the evolution of the British constitution along more federal lines. It is doubtful though if self determination for the various UK nations would ever extend to something as basic as EU membership. It might though have changed the route to holding a referendum in the first place.
    The Brexit referendum result was England’s contribution to the ferment.

    The GFA is already ahead of the game. For Irish nationalists more interested in solutions than searching fruitlessly for a quick route to unity, the GFA structures provide effective machinery for mitigating the Brexit result because tbey contain all the elements of the necessary relationship bar one, some new link to EU insitutions for the specific all-Ireland measures that will probably be needed. No other way is in prospect except a lenghty standoff.

  • mickfealty

    Are you in sixth form? [Just checking.]

  • Gingray

    Startling analysis! But poor deduction.

    Are you only posting silly articles knowing they will provoke outrage, and thus drive up interest in Slugger? [Just checking ;-)]

  • Fear Éireannach

    If self determination for NI does not allow more influence for the people of NI over the conduct of relations with the ROI than people in Kent, then any notion of devolution or an Irish dimension is a complete fraud.
    And these new All Ireland measures are very much needed, to replace EU based arrangements, but these are entirely at the whim of the British government and it seems that people in NI have no rights whatsoever in the matter.

  • mickfealty

    No harm to you Ging, but this is a space for grown ups. I spent a good ten minutes I’ll never get back trying to figure out what you were on about.

    I do teach and train people, but that’s a premium service you’d have to pay for. In the meantime, leave the quote manipulation to the experts.

    You don’t like Bryson? Fine. Keep it to yourself and deal with what he’s written. Ditto for me. Now, what were we talking about?

  • Gingray

    Mick, ouch, the grown up attack, fantastic.

    It is not my fault that your quotation was misleading. Reads like it is from your sindo article, and not Bryson.

    What we are talking about is the fact that this article focuses on SF, just wondering why, given all the revelations about the DUP, you have yet to do something on the strong influence unelected appointees have on their party policy?

  • SDLP supporter

    Decision of the Ard Fheis 1983. Check it out.

  • Anthony O’Shea

    You are trying to present it as is if they ‘teamed’ up, and you know it. Neither Mary Lou nor anybody in SF is on the side of Farage and his UKIP la la land looneys. So you grow up!

  • mickfealty
  • Gingray


    Seriously Mick, ask anyone you have near you, does that line read as a quote from someone else, or a quote from your OpEd piece.

  • Casual Observer

    I suspect it’s more than the UK Govt’s whims. Any North/South agreements will have to be agreed by the 27 remaining EU member states also. So in that respect the self determination of NI folk does not allow more influence over such arrangements than that held by the people of Greece, Poland, etc.

    Any rights we have come on the strength of our UK status. Which isn’t changing anytime soon.

  • babyface finlayson

    Give it up. It is obvious the quote was not Mick’s.
    Quotation marks, text in italic,context,allmake it clear it was from Jamie/Eamonn’s piece.
    There is even a link to the original piece.
    Stop digging man.
    Do I get a gold star Mick?

  • mickfealty

    It could have been a little tighter, but you’re trying to drive a coach and four through a door that’s only slightly ajar. I’ll come back to yer other point about why I’m not rigidly focused on the DUP shortly.

  • SDLP supporter

    Anthony O’Shea, is there something over there in the air in Glasgow which is affecting your mental faculties? Farage and McDonald shared a platform, they spoke in support of each other using the same Eurosceptic and Europhobic arguments. Just have a look at the UKIP site, for heavens sake, and look at Youtube.

    Why are you in such denial about plain facts? And, please, try to have some respect for the intelligence of others even if you don’t have any regard for your own intelligence.

    Sinn Fein have never, ever said anything warm or positive or supportive of the EU up to the time that McGuinness ran for the Irish Presidency (2011) when he mumbled in an interview with Eamon Dunphy that Sinn Fein were maybe mistaken in their opposition to the EU. The audio tape is still on the Slugger site.

  • MainlandUlsterman


  • MainlandUlsterman

    A lot of us did wonder at the time why they were so confident the GFA would take them to the Promised Land. My pet theory is they put way too much faith in demographic shifts seen in the 1991 Census figures in particular. They must have had what my dad used to call a “quare gunk” when they saw the flattening off in 2001 and 2011, plus the loosening of the old ethnic block voting habits.

    Stormont itself was never going to deliver SF’s agenda, because the system requires inter-ethnic-block consensus. They got their way in the past not by dealing fairly with unionists and trying to agree things with us, but by using various levels of veiled threat to engineer concessions especially for them, direct from London. With devolution, their little device is no longer so available. They are stuck having to try to do real politics, which involves compromise and deal-making within Northern Ireland. They don’t like that, not really. There is no dynamic in there towards a united Ireland, nor towards Irish nationalist cultural hegemony (the “greening” of N Ireland) which might have kept the troops happy.

    A whole lot of atavism, nowhere to put it. My heart bleeds for them.

    There’s plenty of life in them yet, but they certainly seem to have reached a bit of a crossroads. Let’s hope sane, constructive heads prevail.

  • Skibo

    It is not a fair comparison to say that as SF opposed a number of the treaties produced by the EU, that they are an anti-EU party. There were a number of issues with the treaties and some of those issues were resolved before the treaties were passed by referendum. Had Westminster given their people more say into what was being agreed at EU level, they may have taken more ownership of the EU project.

  • Croiteir

    You are right, getting rid of abortion and same sex marriage doesn’t, and I didn’t say it did. I just want them to drop it as a policy.

    I am sure that they have support, just as they have opposition. I did not comment on that either and I am making my point of what I want just as you as making your comment on it.

    You may have other issues which you believe are more important I however believe that they basic right of all, the right to life, is the most important right of all. On it all rights depend.

    Just as the collapse of the Assembly proved – if you do not get it right from the bottom up the whole lot will collapse. The house needs to be built on a rck not sand or the rain and winds will bring it down.

  • Croiteir

    I looked at it, and I am not getting your point. Are you saying that the support abortion as it will lead to a reunited Ireland?

  • SDLP supporter

    Oh, for heaven’s sake, Skibo!

    What is it about Sinn Fein supporters like you that they go to into Moonie/Scientology mode when faced with uncontrovertible facts that they find doesn’t fit with their current narrative?

    Is it something about their absolutism or fundamentalism that they have to constantly screech that they, and nobody else, have always got it spot on right from the start?

    Next you’ll be telling me that the Provo IRA never killed circa 1,600 people and that Gerry Adams was in the Civil Rights movement.

    Why can’t they just say something like “Yes, we were against the concept of the Common Market/European Union for several decades on various grounds (capitalist club, threat to Irish neutrality, blah, blah) but over the decades we began to see the advantages of the EU and we changed our stance, signalled by McGuinness’s admission in his 2011 interview”.

    There’s no shame or disgrace in changing stance over the EU, or other issues, just like the British Labour Party did. The great JM Keynes once asked the rhetorical question: ‘When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?’

    I am old enough to remember the first European Parliament election in May 1979 when Bernadette Devlin stood against John Hume on an anti-Common Market tickets. It is a FACT that Sinn Fein called for a boycott and that the Provo IRA shot up polling stations on election day in Tyrone in attempt to dissuade voters.

    I could give you hundreds, maybe thousands, of examples of anti-EU positions by Sinn Fein people over the decades, but life is just too short.

  • SDLP supporter

    I despair. I am simply saying that people who support the killing of other people for a ’cause’, especially a secular one like a United Ireland, cannot logically say they oppose abortion because it means killing the child in the womb and the taking of a life.

    Similarly, people in the US etc who support capital punishment but say they are anti-abortion are, even to the extent of shooting doctors and nurses who perform abortions, are at the least, deluding themselves and are criminals.

    If you say you are pro-life, and want to retain a modicum of moral integrity, you have to be pro-life in ALL circumstances.

    If you want to access the Clar of the 1983 Sinn Fein Ard Fheis, you can apply to Sinn Fein or check the newspaper records in the Belfast Central Library or elsewhere. You can even Google it.

    But I’m not spoon-feeding you.

  • Korhomme

    My apologies, Croiteir, I misunderstood your original post.

    What you say makes a lot of sense. I’m not sure how our politicians will get themselves out of the hole of their own making; perhaps we get the Direct Rule in the interim. As for UI and the end of partition, I’d say that this is a step too far at present for many both in the 6 counties and the 26 counties.

  • Croiteir

    Nor would I want you to, I will be mannerly enough to accept your bona fides on that issue as it is easy to answer it whether true or not.

    To murder a child in the womb in abortion is clearly different from fighting for a cause. They are fighting for the survival of a country, a culture et cetera, an they are prepared to sacrifice themselves in that pursuit. Clearly different.

    I will not argue the issue of maniacs who somehow believe they are right in being the judge, jury and executioner when they kill people who get paid for committing murder in abortion mills.

    If the state/other authority believes that it needs to kill to protect the greater number of people I will not argue against that with one proviso, I do not accept that is an absolute, if the state has the capacity to avoid doing so it must not kill.

  • Skibo

    SDLP S, First thing is I am not a SF member. At the moment their politics match mine but if their politics differ from me, I will make it known.
    I believe SF attitude to the EU is similar to Jeremy Corbyn’s. They can see the benefit of being in the group but prefer to protect Ireland’s neutrality and sovereignty.
    SDLP would be further down the road of federalism and I think that could be dangerous.
    No I do not contest that the IRA killed people during the Troubles.
    I believe Gerry Adams was present during the Civil Rights movement and have spoken to people who heard him speak at meetings.
    As I said above, I believe SF were concerned at the loss of identity and sovereignty of Ireland, a small nation within a grouping of much greater ones. Ireland has shown, however that she can punch above her weight in the EU and has benefited from it’s membership.
    I too would be old enough to remember Bernadette standing for election but you forgot to add, Bernadette was not a member of Sinn Fein and would be quite critical of the movement and their acceptance of Stormont. Interesting that you mention her running in an election, in an effort to link her to SF yet point out that SF demanded a boycott of the election!
    I am sure you can give many examples of SF positions of anti EU policies and treaties. I probably could also

  • Katyusha

    You’re way, way off track, here MU. SF have shown willingness to compromise at every turn, which is very jarring when their “partners in government” have thrown everything back in their face. The DUP have refused to follow through even on agreements with SF that they already signed! SF have also been the primary force keeping Stormont on the road despite numerous scurrilous threats to scuttle it, the DUP zombie executive being a prime example. Even when SF threw the DUP a life-bouy over RHI (which they didn’t need to do and drew a lot of criticism from their supporters for doing so), the DUP were too belligerent to take up the offer. Arlene couldn’t even compromise on a measure designed to save her own skin. If they had accepted the offer, we wouldn’t be in the mess we are right now.

    This siege mentality is unedifying to watch. When SF yield to the DUP its somehow still construed as an “inability to compromise”; if a compromise is struck in the other direction its seen as a “concession”. But at least the DUP can be proud that their obstinacy has collapsed the government, which also gives the lie to the idea that they care one jot about the welfare of the people of Northen Ireland.

    There is no dynamic in there towards a united Ireland, nor towards Irish nationalist cultural hegemony (the “greening” of N Ireland) which might have kept the troops happy.

    You must be delusional if you think there ever was a move towards nationalist “cultural hegemony”, or even that is something SF or the nationalist population have been aiming towards or even wish to achieve. What cultural hegemony exists is precisely the other way around, no? The DUP will block everything that the far-right wing of their party disapprove of with no regard for the consequences, whether that is anything remotely connected with republicanism (Maze centre is a good example), the Irish language, gay marriage or anything related to sexuality. They have never compromised on anything, and on occasions where they have struck a deal, they promptly welched on it.

    I don’t know, MU. Your view of the last ten years at Stormont seems completely independent of anything that has actually happened.

  • Anthony O’Shea

    When you feel the need to insult others you clearly know you are losing.

  • Reader

    Skibo: It is not a fair comparison to say that as SF opposed a number of the treaties produced by the EU, that they are an anti-EU party. There were a number of issues with the treaties and some of those issues were resolved before the treaties were passed by referendum.
    Similarly, when a party opposes a number of power sharing proposals that doesn’t prove they are anti-power-sharing. There were a number of issues…

  • SDLP supporter


    I take, broadly, the Catholic position on a ‘just war’ in relation to these matters and I trust you are not saying that the ‘armed struggle’ could not in any way fulfil the conditions for a ‘just war’.

    You say that abortion is clearly differentiated from ‘fighting for a cause…the survival of a country…they are prepared to sacrifice themselves in that pursuit’.

    My objection to that is that in our squalid conflict far more innocent, uninvolved civilians were killed compared to the number of self-styled combatants who sacrificed themselves.

    Those uninvolved civilians, say in Claudy, were every bit as innocent as the baby in the womb.

    Sorry, but I just cannot make sense of your final sentence.

  • Croiteir

    I believe it was just. to precis the last sentence – if the state/authority can avoid killing it must.

  • SDLP supporter

    I never said you were a Sinn Fein member. I said you were a supporter.

    And, yes, I agree with you that Sinn Fein’s attitude to the EU has a lot of similarities to that of Jeremy Corbyn, whose brainless, laughable, contradictory and blundering stance on the EU and the Brexit referendum has made him the current laughing stock of British politics.

    Sinn Fein has, of course, the right to express fears over the loss of sovereignty and identity.

    You entirely miss my point about Bernadette Devlin. I was not trying to link her to Sinn Fein, I am aware that there is mutual loathing between the two. The point I was making was that though Bernadette was standing as an anti Common Market candidate, the Provo IRA arrogated itself the right to disrupt her campaign, even though she was of a similar mindset, by shooting up polling stations.

    As for Gerry Adams and the Civil Rights Movement (CRM), I have made this point several times. I was in Duke Street on Saturday 5th October 1968 which, coincidentally was Gerry’s 20th birthday and he was not there, maybe understandably.

    The Provisional IRA was founded in January 1970 and tooled up, though not participating, through the disaster of the Falls Road Curfew (June 1970) and the killing in 1971 of the first British soldier (Trooper Curtis).

    Gerry, as a person of considerable ability, was making a name for himself in the Provo IRA while the leaders of the CRM, Hume, Cooper, Currie, etc and others who were not in the SDLP were trying desperately, and ultimately unsuccessfully, to keep things peaceful and the CRM was finished after Bloody Sunday.

    I and others have written quite a bit about the period 1968-71 and there is, I believe, no record of Gerry having addressed a CRM meeting. People who tell you that are, I believe, deceiving you. it would have been mendacious and dishonest of him (heaven forfend!) to speak at rallies of the movement while simultaneously playing an leading role in a nascent paramilitary organisation.

    Gerry has gone on record to say that he was active in a body called the Divis Flats Housing Action Group. I have spoken to many of the people who research that period and no-one has ever heard of it.

  • SDLP supporter

    We will agree to differ on whether it was a ‘just war’. Your last point, if the state/authority can avoid killing it must, this applies a fortiori to self-appointed groups with no mandate.

  • Fear Éireannach

    A United Ireland is simple normality and is inevitable. SF’s weakness is economics, which was never their strong point and which is the main issue for the large block of middle of the road people.

  • Fear Éireannach

    There is a different in the right to propose and the right to agree to a proposal. The movement for change in NI’s relationship with the ROI should come from the people of NI and not little Englanders.

    There would be no need whatsoever for the 27 remaining EU member states to have any opinion on NI if little Englanders did not want to change the present situation which the majority of people are happy with.

  • Croiteir

    Absolutely, due to their lack of an authoritive position

  • eireanne3

    “You have to accept that the old way of doing things cannot continue” – the judgement told us devolution is dead, and the myth of the UK is dead.

  • eireanne3

    that old shibollith “refuse to say “Northern Ireland,”
    So what?

    “What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
    By any other name would smell as sweet;”
    Romeo and Juliet Act II. Scene II.

    If William Shakespeare knew this over 400 years ago – why don’t you today?

  • Msiegnaro

    I think it was Oscar Wilde who said “We’re all in the gutter, it’s just that some of us are looking at the stars”.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I also think the security issue is a big unspoken barrier.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    “history” is inert

  • MainlandUlsterman

    If you think there should be a united Ireland now, presumably you’re comfortable with the idea of the wishes of Northern Ireland people being overridden by votes elsewhere.

    If you are a unity by consent person then obviously that doesn’t apply and my apologies. But I know quite a few on here think Ireland is the only legitimate political unit and N Ireland is a “partitionist statelet”, or whatever. For them, I’m sure you’d agree any talk of their talk about standing up for N Ireland’s right to decide its own future is utter garbage.

  • Jollyraj

    Uhmm….reading the above exchange, Anthony, it sure doesn’t look like he is losing.

    What is your stance on the EU?

  • Jollyraj

    “To murder a child in the womb in abortion is clearly different from fighting for a cause. They are fighting for the survival of a country, a culture et cetera, an they are prepared to sacrifice themselves in that pursuit.”

    The IRA were almost universally prepared to sacrifice the lives of others, not their own lives. That is a key difference.

  • Croiteir

    Isn’t that the essence of soldiering

  • Croiteir

    We are – but the keep coming into the county from the Netherlands of Ulster