by Mick Browne
Irish Daily Star

Differences of opinion about the direction of republican politics and
claims of intimidation have surfaced with a public letter by a stream
of high-profile republicans calling for an end to the "tyranny in our

But an ex-IRA veteran has said the appeal is also aimed at
encouraging people in republican communities to 'show courage' in
speaking out against the intimidation of those opposed to Sinn Féin

That was the message from Tommy Gorman, a community worker in
Belfast, and leading critic of Sinn Féin policy over recent years,
and co-signatory of the letter.

He told The Star: "Republican debate has been stifled, and people
intimidated, in recent years, as Sinn Féin sought to maximize its
political support."

Gorman was a Provisional IRA volunteer who served 13 years in jail.

"If people are dissatisfied with the peace process they must
show 'courage' to speak out. This letter came after a series of
meetings of people dissatisfied with either the drift of Sinn Féin in
the talks process or intimidation, in Belfast over May."

Speaking about his own experiences of intimidation, he said: "Every
time we tried to open up debate, we were vilified.

"That's not healthy, and that's all this letter is aimed at pointing
out. People need to speak out if they feel their views are not being
represented, or they are being intimidated into being quiet.

"But sometimes people need others to take the lead, and so we decided
to speak out, if only to encourage others, who may also be having
doubts about the talks, which seems to have hit a roadblock."

The letter was signed by amongst others former IRA leader
Brendan 'The Dark' Hughes, ex-IRA hunger-striker Dolours Price,
former Sinn Féin MLA and IRA prisoner John Kelly, and others from
around the north, representing a range of political viewpoints within

The letter states republican ideals have been dropped as a trade off
in the peace process, and republican communities subjected to
violence. It added: "No more…WE stand against the tyranny in our
midst. It is time to come together, to convene a congress of

Gorman said: "Recently, when party members of long standing, like
John Kelly and Martin Cunningham, spoke out over their respective
difficulties with party decisions and policy directions, they had to
leave the party.

"John had been a republican since the 1950s. But when he left the
party he took a measured position on the reasons why, but was
vilified, and the messenger in his case, was attacked. That cannot be

He also says the timing of the letter just ahead of next week's
European elections, in which Sinn Féin are in the running for perhaps
two seats, was "purely coincidental".

He also said that the idea was a "forum for debate", adding: "I would
disagree with many of those on the list have to say about politics.

"But this is about allowing the space for that type of analysis to be
heard, and not having to fear the consequences of speaking out.

"I always remember the poster of a Union Jack gagging people, and
that was a very effective image in terms of encouraging people to
debate. But that has now become a Sinn Féin gag.

"We are totally for peace, but we just have problems about whether
the current process is helpful in achieving that peace. And that type
of debate is going on within the Unionist and loyalist communities

"People in west Belfast have a palpable fear about speaking out,
because it makes it look as if you are anti-peace process."

Gorman and colleague Anthony McIntyre were vilified for their work
investigating the killing of Real IRA commander Jo Jo O'Connor in
2000, allegedly after disputes with the local IRA.

Gorman said: "We tried to practice free speech after that, and we
were vilified for it, but unless there's debate this process is going
nowhere. This is a like a benign apartheid."

A Sinn Féin statement rejected the criticisms however: "This group
has not contacted Sinn Féin. What they do is not a matter for
themselves. Sinn Féin have a strategy to achieve peace and deliver a
united Ireland and that remains our focus."

June 5, 2004

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?