Raymond’s critique is certainly informative. It succinctly traces a number of previous SDLP positions endorsing power sharing and holds them up against Mark Durkan’s seeming abandonment of a principle which has been an integral component of SDLP identity since its first leader Gerry Fitt, and the cornerstone of its policy for three and a half decades. But Raymond’s own party has performed more about turns, abandoned more positions and slaughtered more sacred policy cows than virtually any other party in Irish history. When Sinn Fein somersaults it is invariably courageous and imaginative but anyone else who wants to try an old back flip will be considered fair game to be hunted down and ridiculed.
Probably the greatest sacred cow of modern republicanism to be slaughtered at the Sinn Fein altar of volte face occurred when the party moved to subvert the logic of the hunger strikes which was that republican activity no matter how illegal could not be deemed criminal. Raymond served a life sentence for exactly the type of activity his party now contends is criminal. Moreover, he endured a prolonged hunger strike to proclaim such activity political in nature.
Although later acquitted on appeal decades after initially being found guilty Raymond did not embark upon the 1980 hunger strike to proclaim his own innocence or to highlight the fact that he was subjected to brutal torture by British police officers. While he at no time freely admitted culpability for the offences for which he had been sentenced to life, his hunger strike was a demonstration that the actions for which he was serving life were republican in character regardless of what individual carried them out, and therefore could not be categorised as criminal.
But selective memory permeates Northern Irish political culture. It sends the one-eyed orange tribe into a frenzy against the actress Rose McGowan because she understood the IRA or catapults the one-eyed green tribe along the Falls Road in search of half truths.
Raymond McCartney, if he is of a mind to, might just consider that one solid reason for opposing enforced power sharing from a republican perspective is that it is intrinsically anti-republican. It institutionalises sectarianism. Government by sectarian headcount might appeal to communal Catholics but why republicans might wish to rummage in the sty is much more difficult to explain. Not one IRA volunteer is known to have died on active service in pursuit of it. All those we are aware of lost their lives opposing it. So while Mark Durkan’s suggestion that the ugly scaffolding buttressing enforced coalition should at some point be dismantled may be inconsistent in terms of SDLP history and tradition, the irony for Raymond McCartney is that the SDLP leader is advocating a position that is eminently reconcilable with republicanism in a way that power sharing is not.