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INLA show of strength: Populist soundbites and 1980s rhetoric from councillor who stood by as shots were fired

By Liam Clarke

Published 21/07/2015

Gary Donnelly
Gary Donnelly

To someone who doesn't agree with him, independent republican councillor Gary Donnelly sounds like a dinosaur, but he is playing fairly well in the republican areas of Londonderry where he is affectionately known as "Donzo" by supporters.

He narrowly topped the poll in the last local government election for Creggan and Bogside and has seldom been off the radio since. His growing popularity, and his skill in putting his ideas across, is what makes matters so difficult for both Sinn Fein and the PSNI.

That is why he, a member of the 32 County Sovereignty Committee which has been linked politically to the Real IRA, ended up handling the media at a funeral arranged by the rival INLA. He was also present during the firing of a volley of shots over the coffin by masked men.

"He is articulate and he is well respected" said Dixie Elliott, a former republican prisoner who was there.

Mr Elliott said: "The conditions don't exist for armed struggle and I don't want to see it back. At the same time I don't agree with the arrangement at Stormont; it is a farce. A lot of people feel like that in Derry".

His disillusionment mirrors similar feelings of being let down in some loyalist areas. Donzo stokes republican discontent skilfully; he does not call for violence but he paints a picture where violence seems almost a logical next step.

Yesterday, on BBC's Nolan Show, he dusted off some elderly soundbites from the Sinn Fein playbook for republican funerals circa 1980. A masked and uniformed colour party more than 40-strong plus a volley of shots were a sign that "these croppies won't lie down". Nothing more could be read into it, he suggested.

"Republicans don't accept the legitimacy or the legality of the British state... It is a part of tradition in republican military funerals, such as that of Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa," he added.

O'Donovan Rossa's funeral a century ago was the prelude to the Easter Rising and next month Sinn Fein will be celebrating it in both Cork and Dublin. We are a long way away from another Easter Rising and Gary Donnelly is no Padraig Pearse but he is an accomplished demagogue.

A conviction for violence came in March 2010 when he got seven months for assaulting a police officer.

These sorts of scrapes with the law all add to his image which is already feeding on disillusionment with Stormont.

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