I think it was Brian Feeney who described (early 1970s) Sinn Féin as the non combatant fathers, mothers, wives etc of IRA members.
Sinn Féin likes to spread the myth that they are the political descendents of the Sinn Féin founded in 1903. But frankly, in 1969, they did not really exist. True, you will read archived copies of The Irish News and see letters signed by “PRO” of a Sinn Féin Cumann in West Belfast.
But the first time I ever encountered Sinn Féinwas when I was attending a meeting in the home of SDLP Assemblyman, Desmond Gillespie. It was a protest against the SDLP joining the power-sharing Executive in 1974.
The most vocal protestor, a woman, had been crying in SDLP offices the previous week and Dessie (who always gave me a lift home after meetings) drove to a couple of RUC stations to locate one of her sons who had been “scooped by the Brits”.
That kinda hypocrisy is all I really need to know about “Sinn Féin”.
But in fairness to Sinn Féin, they do look after their own.
Famously Sinn Féin MLAs, Special Advisors and TDs don’t take their full salaries. They only take the “average industrial wage”. In putting all their cash into one kitty, it means that a lot of advisors, constituency staff can be employed. Sinn Féin has the power of patronage.
If a Sinn Féin MLA blots his or her copybook, he/she resigns and a new person is co-opted. The ex-MLA will be found another job. If a MP places a loaf of Kingsmill bread on his head …coincidently…on the anniversary of the Kingsmill massacre (a republican atrocity) he will resign and the safe seat will have a new MP elected. The ex-MP will be re-assigned to the back room of his old constituency office and be re-cycled as a councillor in due course. If a Sp Ad is considered a liability, she will resign and be re-located.
It is how Sinn Féin works. Every canvasser is valued and on election day, the rank and file dutifully sit under gazebos at (say) St Oliver Plunkett school in West Belfast, eating sandwiches.
They really do look after themselves…and each other.
And it seems to work. Discounting the government money going to enterprises in West Belfast….there are two District Electoral areas in West Belfast electing thirteen councillors …ten Sinn Féin, two People Before Profit and one SDLP.
Four of the five MLAs in West Belfast are Sinn Féin. And of course the current Westminster MP.
That’s a lot of constituency offices and support staff.
I was born into a unionist one-party state. West Belfast with its regulation murals, monuments and the rest feels like that.
Should there be a statue to the two West Belfast women who won the Nobel Peace Prize? . Or should there be a monument on the spot where those two British corporals were murdered in front of a watching world?
Not very likely to happen.
Remember reading of the days of the Civil Rights marches and in particular the students marching from Belfast to Derry in January 1969. Burntoolet Bridge etc sticks in the mind when what was youngs kids were attacked the B Specials and assorted unionist types. Gerry Adams was asked if he was on the march years later and his answer was, nope i was working in a pub but i watched it on television!!!