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Peter Hadden

Sinn Fein ministers are toeing
a Thatcherite line

Letter in the Irish News

(December 2007)

From The Irish News, 1 December 2007.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

I doubt if even many Sinn Fein supporters are impressed or fooled when party leaders try to invoke the memory of the hunger strikers to deflect attention from the right-wing policies being carried out by their Stormont ministers.

Paul Butler (November 19) wants Nipsa to apologise to the people of west Belfast for the fact that striking classroom assistants dared carry posters comparing Caitriona Ruane to Margaret Thatcher during a protest outside Sinn Fein’s Lower Falls office and close to the Bobby Sands mural.

Bobby Sands, according to Richard O’Rawe’s book Blanketmen, said that “he would not be interested in a united Ireland that wasn’t socialist” and that “a capitalist Ireland wasn’t worth the life of one Irishman”.

True, the Sinn Fein leadership dispute some of the claims of that book although none have contradicted that particular quote.

In any case the more “favoured” biography of Sands – written by Denis O’Hearn – is similarly peppered with direct quotes from Sands emphasising that his was a socialist as opposed to a purely nationalist outlook.

If these quotes are accurate – and those Sinn Fein leaders who were in prison with him, and who know the truth better than me, are free to contradict them if they want – it is not hard to work out what attitude the Bobby Sands of 1981 would have had to a Sinn Fein minister cutting the hourly rate of low paid workers to conform with Peter Robinson’s “Made in Northern Ireland” (in reality “Made in Westminster”) budget.

As to the posters of Thatcher carried by classroom assistants, it is obvious to all but those who want to deliberately twist things that these were not in reference to her callous and intransigent role in the Hunger Strike but to the all-out assault on trade unions and workers’ rights for which she is chiefly remembered.

Caitriona Ruane may defend herself from the strikebreaking, anti-union charge by pointing to those unions, apart from Nipsa, who either have endorsed her miserly offer or else are permanently “consulting” their members rather than join the strikes.

She should remember – and so should those trade union leaders currently sitting on their hands – that during the historic 1984/5 miners’ strike Thatcher was similarly supported all along by the misnamed Union of Democratic Mineworkers who kept the Nottingham coalfields going throughout.

It is also fair to say that Caitriona Ruane’s attempt to face down strikes to impose a pay cut on classroom assistants would have Margaret Thatcher’s enthusiastic approval.


Regional Secretary
Socialist Party, Belfast

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