14 May 2005

Daily Ireland

**Via News Hound

TAKE FIVE - The personal is political

Laurence McKeown
To comment:columnists@dailyireland.com


Lady Sylvia Hermon, BBC photo

I sent an email last Saturday to newly elected Unionist MP, Sylvia Hermon. I don’t usually send emails to MPs, not even to Conor Murphy whom I wrote about in such glowing terms recently. I wrote not to congratulate her on her victory but for the manner in which she dealt with the DUP hecklers. At the end of a long day during which the electoral decimation of her party had become increasingly apparent, leaving her the sole remaining Ulster Unionist MP, she behaved like a true star. She smiled at the hecklers and carried herself with style and even a smile upon her face.
I didn’t hear her the following day when interviewed by RTÉ but apparently she spoke in very gracious terms about how Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness during the negotiations had inquired about her husband’s health (he has Alzheimer’s disease) whereas the DUP members (so loud in their support for the RUC) had never once done that. For republicans, Jack Hermon will be remembered for his role as Chief Constable at a time of shoot-to-kill policies and collusion with unionist paramilitaries but it didn’t make Gerry or Martin any less republican to behave towards his wife, Sylvia, in the manner they did. I would expect nothing less from them.
Republicans have a humanity, derived to a large extent from the suffering our community has experienced - often at the hands of the RUC - but also because republicanism is about an objective, an ideal, a better way of life. It’s not about bitterness, revenge, or gloating, nor do republicans personalise conflict. They can argue vociferously against their opponents’ views without degenerating into personal abuse and bad manners.
Maybe if David Trimble, like Sylvia Hermon, had been a bit more gracious in his dealings with republicans and hadn’t tried to mimic his unionist rivals he would have achieved much more and we might all be in a very different place today. He and his party certainly would be.
The UUP will choose a new leader and won’t want any advice from us in that regard but just imagine if it was someone with flair and style and confidence who wasn’t afraid to praise his political opponents when appropriate? I say ‘his’ because the thought of the Ulster Unionist Council electing a woman as leader just seems so far off the radar screen at the moment. But then again, just imagine.

Laurence McKeown was a republican prisoner for 16 years in Long Kesh and spent 70 days on the 1981 hunger strike. He is the author of a doctoral thesis, the co-author of a feature film, H3 and two plays, The Laughter of Our Children and A Cold House.








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