Equality over terror ‘real test’ for new SF leadership

Gerry Adams dancing with Michelle O'Neill in a picture posted on Twitter by Mr Adams on Saturday
Gerry Adams dancing with Michelle O'Neill in a picture posted on Twitter by Mr Adams on Saturday

The treatment of Troubles victims says more about Sinn Fein’s commitment to equality than having a female-dominated leadership, the son of an IRA victim has said.

Rev Alan Irwin was speaking after it emerged that Michelle O’Neill, the republican party’s current “leader in the north”, is now a candidate to become vice-president of the party.

If successful, she would be deputy to Mary Lou McDonald (the current vice-president), who will soon take over from Gerry Adams as president.

Some commentators suggested having Ms McDonald as leader may represent something of a break with the past, both because of her sex and political background.

For example The Guardian reported at the weekend – in an article headlined ‘Sinn Fein to be led by a woman for the first time in its modern history’ – that because Ms McDonald has “no direct association” with Troubles-era republicanism, it might be “easier for other parties in the Irish Republic to enter a coalition” with Sinn Fein.

Rev Irwin, a Church of Ireland minister whose father and uncle were both shot dead by the IRA in Co Tyrone in separate incidents, spoke out publicly against Michelle O’Neill’s participation in a commeoration for Tyrone IRA members last spring, calling it “another glorification of those who had deliberately set out to murder”.

Yesterday, he said that he “can’t see [them] moving away from the past if she’s going to put her name in the hat”.

He said: “You often wonder: is Gerry Adams going to move away completely or is he still going to be in the background dictating what should or should not be done.

“I wouldn’t have very much faith in the fact they’re moving away from the past with the new change in leadership.”

He said perhaps having women in the two top leadership positions is the “image they want to portray”. But he suggested the more significant equality issue is “whether or not they’re prepared to come out and denounce all terrorism and all terrorist atrocities across the board irrespective of who carried them out ... that’s the real test”.

Nominations for vice-president of Sinn Fein opened yesterday and close this coming Monday. The successful nominee needs a majority of votes from delegates at a Sinn Fein ard fheis gathering.

Ms O’Neill’s candidacy comes as the main Stormont parties get set to reconvene talks tomorrow aimed at resurrecting Northern Ireland’s moribund government.