8 January 2004 Edition

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Sinn Féin no threat

A report from April 1973 reveals that British Government officials only legalised Sinn Féin because they believed it was a means of halting the party's rise. The report, by one F Steele, is an account of his visit to the Bogside and Creggan where he met with, amongst others, John Hume. It reveals the British habit of both patronising those in the nationalist community who were prepared to be anti-republican, and of profoundly underestimating the abilities and electoral prospects of Sinn Féin.

The report begins with a discussion of the community relations with the army (apparently these were "so good one feels that they cannot be true") and the police and then turns to the matter of republicans. Steele relates that he is urged to legalise Sinn Féin, with those present apparently believing that the party can be undermined with a public demonstration, via the ballot box, of "how little support" the Republican Movement has in the two areas.

Steele reports that his "contacts" tell him that the "revelation of how little public support they now had would really demoralise the IRA".

"The Provisionals" he continues, "were having great difficulty in finding people who would agree to stand for them in the Local Government Elections. The IRA candidates would probably be low-grade people of little standing or influence in the community."

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