Gunrunner in poll threat to Sinn Fein

· An ex-IRA activist is ready to stand against
· Adams policy in a protest over policing pledges

A former IRA gunrunner has been approached to stand against Sinn Fein in the next Assembly elections.

Gerry McGeough, who served three years in a United States prison for conspiracy to purchase and export SAM missiles, told The Observer he was 'giving very serious consideration' to stepping forward as a candidate in the Fermanagh/South Tyrone constituency.

The former IRA activist's intervention is yet another headache for Gerry Adams and the Sinn Fein leadership. The party has been hit by a series of resignations over Adams's move to get the republican movement to support the police in Northern Ireland.

McGeough said that, while he has not fully made up his mind, he has received messages of support and encouragement from both inside and outside the republican movement to stand.

'I have never run away from my patriotic duty,' he said. 'I have never refused to do what I thought was right for my country. There is intense disillusionment both inside Sinn Fein and outside in the wider republican community. I am picking this up all over the north of Ireland and it's all to do with the policing issue.'

McGeough claimed that traditional republican loyalty to the leadership throughout the peace process 'had been the draught that sent republicans to sleep'.

He added: 'Policing and the idea that republicans should embrace a British police force has finally woken many up from their stupor. There is some free thinking at last emerging.'

Under the deal hammered out at St Andrews last October, Sinn Fein can only enter a power-sharing executive with Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionists when the republican party swears an oath of allegiance to the PSNI and the judicial system.

'The present battle over policing is a struggle for the heart and soul of republicanism,' said McGeough.'

Sinn Fein has dismissed republican dissenters as being unrepresentative. McGeough, however, is unconcerned about pulling in few votes if, as seems likely, he stands for election.

'This is a principled stand and it would be a greater shame if no one stood up finally and took on this leadership at the polls than the so-called shame of polling badly.'

The ex-IRA man, who was first arrested back in 1977 by SAS soldiers while on South Armagh Provo boss Thomas 'Slab' Murphy's farm, said the feedback from grassroots republicans was 'very encouraging'.

'I was in west Belfast on Wednesday last week speaking to people who were loyal for so long to the leadership. These people were the backbone of the movement through thick and thin. Even they are saying they don't trust the leadership any more, which in republican terms is like a Catholic saying that they don't believe in God.'

Asked why he took so long to speak out against the present Sinn Fein strategy, McGeough said: 'Being honest I had my epiphany while in the United States in prison. I was just reticent then to talk about my concerns, out of blind loyalty to the leadership. I suppose I believed as late as 2001 there was hope, a forlorn hope in the end, that I and others like me could influence things and change the movement's direction.'

Despite being outside Sinn Fein, he is senior figure in northern republicanism. A member of the IRA's feared East Tyrone Brigade, McGeough was a personal friend of Jim Lynagh, the IRA leader shot dead, along with seven other Provisionals, in the SAS Loughgall ambush twenty years ago.


Henry McDonald, Ireland editor

The GuardianTramp

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