6 March 1997 Edition

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Westminster election debate in Dublin

Aine Keane was in UCD to hear Pat Doherty debate with Joe Hendron

Following the largely unionist debate involving Mayhew, Magennis and De Rossa last October, UCD's literary and historical society bounced back last Friday night with what was billed as ``the nationalist NI debate''. The motion for debate received a last minute change from ``a vote for Sinn Fein is a vote for terrorism'' to ``a vote for Sinn Fein is a vote for progress'', in the hope of some fresh discussion - if only everything in politics was so easy!.

Further confusion arose over guest speakers. Gary McMicheal refused to share a platform with Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil's senior advisor Martin Mansergh dropped out due to Bertie Ahern's criticism of Sinn Féin earlier in the week.

The final line-up including SF's Pat Doherty and the SDLP's Joe Hendron ensured that the debate would become a pre-election platform. Pat Doherty told the large audience; ``Nationalists are demanding progress and Sinn Féin gives the strongest and fullest voice to this demand. Sinn Féin is determined to confront Major with a nationalist alternative and we want to make sure that the new opportunity for peace which this election presents is fully grasped''.

Correctly anticipating Hendron's contribution Doherty said, ``Hendron has a single agenda platform. He blames the IRA for everything - the easy option, the easy soundbite which doesn't honestly address the problem we all find ourselves in.''

Hendron unleashed the old SDLP rhetoric, attacking republicans and making snide remarks about vote rigging yet failing to level any blame on the stagnation of sucessive British Governments. Furthermore he refused to apply similar terms to loyalist paramilitaries and would not deny collusion with the East Belfast UDA to secure loyalist votes in the last 1992 election. Here again Hendron laid the blame at someone else's door, he said Fr ALex Reid asked him to meet loyalists to prevent further atrocities. In effect Hendron himself personified the lack of progress made by the SDLP. When asked about the SDLP's failure to achieve even an apology for Bloody Sunday after 25 years of Westminister representation, all he could say was, ``Well, the British have admitted that those murdered on Bloody Sunday were unarmed civilians''.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
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