Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Ard Fheis reveals alarming divisions

Old attitudes die hard among republicans.

Even as Sinn Fein's leadership speaks encouraging words about working more closely with unionists and uses harsh words to describe dissidents, the view from the grass roots of the party is at least disquieting, at worst alarming. While it has to be accepted that our snapshot of views from party members at the Ard Fheis is not a scientific poll, it nevertheless shows that hardline opinions remain.

A quarter believe armed struggle is justified while British rule remains; only one in eight agree with Martin McGuinness' description of dissidents as traitors; a majority view dissidents as political offenders not criminals and only a third feel it is their civic duty to report dissidents to the police.

Even though the party signed up to policing and justice, just over half of those questioned believe the PSNI is not an impartial force.

It can be argued that these statistics show some progress, but they are alarming views for a party which is in government in Northern Ireland and which wants to hold office in the Republic.

Governments should not condone the action of terrorists nor doubt the impartiality of its police force, one of the bedrocks of any democratic society.

Allied to some ambivalence about the Queen visiting Ireland and a clear majority against a united Ireland joining the Commonwealth, it is clear that for many within the party Sinn Fein means exactly what it says – ourselves alone.

There is a clear division between the views articulated by the leadership – which certainly in the case of Martin McGuinness has been courageous of several occasions – and what a significant number of rank and file members feel.

It shows that the party, while disciplined, is open to greater internal debate than is generally believed. It means that other parties will remain suspicious about Sinn Fein and its members' dedication to the peace process and the rule of law.

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