Pre-election ‘smear’ has opposite effect

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A cynical move to publicise an attempt by Sinn Féin to contact Saoradh as part of a peace effort has seen overwhelming public support for the gesture.

Details of the two-year-old contact were published in The Sunday Times, just days before Thursday’s election, in an apparent effort to embarrass the party.

In a letter in November 2020, Sinn Féin national chairman Declan Kearney invited the hardline republican party to take part in talks about a united Ireland as a peaceful alternative to conflict.

For decades Sinn Féin has sought to marginalise Saoradh and others opposed to its political strategy, while for its part Saoradh has repeatedly denounced Sinn Féin as betrayers of republicanism and the national struggle.

Mr Kearney’s letter, which was addressed to the Saoradh party chair and sent to its Derry headquarters, came just three months after several leading members of Saoradh were interned by British forces.

In his correspondence Mr Kearney, who is a former Stormont junior minister, said the “imposition of Brexit and its implications for Ireland underlines the enduring undemocratic nature of partition”.

He added that the Covid pandemic “has brought the contradiction of our country’s division into even sharper focus”.

The Sinn Féin Assembly member added that the “prospect of securing a referendum on Irish unity is very real but we must make it a reality”.

“Winning a unity referendum on Irish unity will bring a new momentum to the achievement of a national republic,” he wrote.

“Sinn Féin believes such a referendum should be an immediate political priority for all republicans, progressives and democrats.”

Mr Kearney said his party is “committed to encouraging an inclusive, popular debate in Ireland about how a transition to national unity can be organised, and on the type of constitutional, political and civil rights and guarantees which citizens should enjoy in a unitary state”.

“In order to promote engagement on developing common strategy and co-operation towards achieving that outcome I invite you and a delegation from your party to meet with myself and other members of the Sinn Féin leadership.”

Saoradh spokesman Paddy Gallagher said his party remained opposed to the Sinn Féin position as its “current political outlook has led them into a strategic cul-de-sac of collaboration that has actually consolidated partition.”

Mr Gallagher added that it has “no interest in engaging in private dialogue”.

“Saoradh are on public record stating that public debate, rather than private dialogue, is the best place to gauge differences in the core positions between republicans and constitutional nationalism as led by Sinn Féin,” he said.

Unionists used the revelation to absurdly depict Sinn Féin as cooperating with Saoradh and the New IRA, but it was a sister of a victim of a New IRA gun attack who denounced the efforts to politicise her death.

Lyra McKee was struck and fatally wounded by a bullet fired at a PSNI armoured vehicle amid heavy rioting in the Creggan area of Derry in April 2019.

Nichola McKee-Corner said the leaking of the Sinn Féin outreach bid to Saoradh had exploited her sister’s murder for political purposes.

Ms McKee-Corner described the timing of the revelation of the letter, now more than two years old, as “entirely reprehensible”.

“I have been aware since 2019 of Sinn Féin’s efforts to encourage dissident republican groups, including Saoradh, to move away from violence and engage with the political process,” she said.

“I am also aware that this encouragement has been unsuccessful to date.”

She added: “The people who chose to do this should hang their heads in shame for using my beloved sister in this way.”

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