Belfast Telegraph

Murphy could emerge as new face of Sinn Fein

By Liam Clarke

If Sammy Wilson looks to be the coming man in the DUP, then Conor Murphy looks like Sinn Fein's equivalent - perhaps the next deputy First Minister.

He could even be First Minister after 2016 if Sinn Fein manages to keep the lead over the DUP it established in last year's European election.

Sinn Fein were nearly five points ahead in Europe and nearly six points behind in the council elections, which were held the same day.

Mr Murphy is the centre of speculation because he is generally considered one of Sinn Fein's most able politicians and he is suddenly being returned to Stormont.

He was removed as an MLA in 2011 to contest the Newry/Armagh Westminster seat. Thanks to Sinn Fein's policy of abstentionism, which means they don't attend Westminster, this isn't a naturally busy job.

However, Mr Murphy made the most of it and has become a familiar face at Westminster. He also speaks at the British party conferences, most recently the Tories', and impresses those who meet him.

His background, though, is a traditional south Armagh republican. He lives in Camlough, a 98.8% Catholic village, with his wife, Catherine, and two children.

Camlough is at the heart of the heavily militarised area known as 'Bandit Country' during the Troubles.

The most serious Troubles' incident there came on May 19, 1981 when five British soldiers were killed in an IRA landmine attack. That was during the 1981 Maze hunger strike, when 10 republican prisoners died.

That was the same year that Mr Murphy joined the local IRA and, a year later, he was sentenced to five years in prison for membership and possessing explosives.

Mr Murphy made no secret of his links. He has described Sean Gerard Hughes and Thomas "Slab" Murphy, two of the most famous IRA men in the area, as friends.

That track-record might not be a help in the south, where Sinn Fein seems to be looking for people with no IRA background to contest seats.

Here in the north, Mr Murphy, a successful former minister, who is also an able graduate, might be seen as bridging a gap between the old IRA generation of republicans and the younger professionals the party is seeking to attract.

He also enjoys crime drama. Love/Hate, the gory RTE gangster drama, elicited the tweet "holy s**t! what an ending" from him this week.

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