Republicans battle in County Down
Republicans battle in County Down

Sinn Fein has suffered fresh defections from the party in County Down following “reorganisation” within the party structure in the area.

Martin Cunningham, a councillor and Sinn Fein member since 1972, resigned last year following the selection of human rights activist Catriona Ruane as a candidate in last November’s assembly election.

That move came as part of the constituency was brought under the control of South Armagh, raising tension with local activists.

Cunningham says he stepped aside as candidate in favour of a female candidate, who he was led to believe would be Bairbre de Brun. However, he was critical of the choice of Ruane, who joined the party relatively recently.

“An unknown person who does not even live in the constituency was imposed on the people despite the misgivings of the local cumann and many in the constituency,” he said in a recent interview.

“Consequent to her imposition, the party has saw fit to ignore, marginalise and, without any consultation, decommission the local party structures, which have worked hard for years to build the profile and status of the party in this area.

“It is a violation of democracy and I cannot sit lightly with a party that allows a few individuals to violate party principles and procedures. These particular individuals seem to be well versed in the British methods of divide and conquer.”

He accused Sinn Fein of abandoning republican principles and threatening violence against dissidents like the Ba’ath party of Saddam Hussein. He accused the Sinn Fein leadership of “dictatorship”, “censorship”, and of losing contact with the party roots.

“The leadership is inebriated with its own success,” he said.

“In its bid to top the poll and overcome the SDLP it has in fact become the SDLP.

“When I read Eamonn McCann recently saying Sinn Fein was now a unionist party I felt that had I read this a year ago it would have seemed like blasphemy.

“But now it is true. Anybody who disagrees with the party is sent on their way - quite a few republicans have gone and what have they been replaced with? It is not a democratic party.”

Sinn Fein’s Mitchel McLaughlin has offered to meet with Mr Cunningham to discuss his criticisms.

But last week three more activists in the area were understood to have resigned from the party. They include Hugh Gerard Carville, one of the 1981 hunger strikers and two other prominent republican activists in the area, Michael McClelland and John Smyth.

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© 2004 Irish Republican News