Meehan in London
Sinn Féin's Martin Meehan was in London on Friday 8 October to meet republican activists and discuss with them the current direction of the peace process.
At a well-attended public meeting held in Camden Irish Centre he, together with London-based former POW Nick Mullen, explained the current Sinn Féin position and answered questions on a variety of issues of concern to activists and supporters, including decommissioning, sectarian attacks, and the party's response to the Patten Report.
The meeting was held on the day the Conservative Party conference ended, after increasingly shrill calls by its extreme unionist element for a halt to prisoner releases. Nick Mullen was scathing of the Tories, pointing out the party's malign history in the affairs of Ireland. He re-emphasised the role of prisoners in the peace process but also made clear that they would not allow themselves to be used as political hostages, saying ``POWS are not pushing for any concessions to be made on their behalf. They are fully behind whatever it takes to achieve the objectives.''
Martin Meehan, a prominent republican activist for over 30 years, asked the audience to consider, on the cusp of a new millennium, the lives which had been lost as a result of political conflict in Ireland over the course of the past century:
``The painful truth is that it should never have been like this, and I say this from the bottom of my heart. Conflict should never have been a feature of political life in Ireland. Conflict was never wanted by the Irish people and most certainly was never at any point in time the preferred option for Irish republicans.
``But the reality, which makes me extremely angry, is that conflict was forced by those who, having first established the illegitimate control of our country, used the widest possible array of foul means to maintain that control.''
He spoke about his own experiences over the past three decades, saying that ``many of the underlying problem which brought people onto the streets to demand civil rights remain at the centre of the Six Counties' problems today.''
He confessed that although Sinn Féin is participating fully in the Mitchell Review, it was difficult to be optimistic about the outcome, and he expressed his view that ``there will be no IRA surrender and there will be no IRA decommissioning.
``There have been hundreds of Catholic families intimidated out their homes since the Good Friday Agreement. There have been several Catholics shot dead by loyalist assassins. Decommissioning is about trust, building confidence and about people feeling safe in their own areas. It's about people feeling confident that all the issues in the Good Friday Agreement are moving forward. But the reality is that since 1998 not a single thing has been done to convince anybody, who, because of 30 years of inequality and injustice believed that armed struggle was the way forward, that the playing field has been levelled, and that politics can work.''