JOHN O'CONNELL says it is time for those who burnt Brian Tierney's car to come clean:

The burning of SDLP councillor Brian Tierney’s car last week will bring back harrowing memories of the attacks on SDLP members, their homes and cars over the course of the 1980’s when Sinn Fein first entered the political arena.

Councillor Tierney received many messages of support but the question has to be asked if the SDLP has a future in this city and across the North: are the bully boys going to win?

To answer that question, we need to examine the political arena for potential sources of the attacks on SDLP personnel and their property.

The most obvious source of this unacceptable conduct would be the Republican Movement itself, as it was the source of many of these attacks over the course of the Troubles.

I don’t think that we need to go any further than that, given that most dissident republicans seem to take their instructions from their source – or at least, events happen at convenient moments. A political source is more likely to benefit from these attacks on politicians than a paramilitary one.

In relation to the purpose of the Republican Movement, it would be very easy, and even appropriate, to take the view that the Provos, the IRA, were not interested in a united Ireland. Controlling this city and other areas of the North was all they seem to have wanted.

If they were interested in a united Ireland from the beginning in 1970, they might never have started their campaign. They would simply not have started along that path at all.

As John Hume stated many times, “It is the people who are divided, not the territory.” Killing to achieve unity of the people is simply illogical and counter-productive if your goal is truly a united Ireland.

But, even if they were not primarily interested in a united Ireland, the Provos will have had some kind of goal, albeit unstated, that most, if not all, Sinn Fein politicians and their supporters were not aware of? Was the goal of the IRA different to that of Sinn Fein? Had Sinn Fein misinterpreted the goal of the IRA? Indeed, were Sinn Fein politicians in any way in control of the goals of the IRA, or were they still taking orders even then.

There are only two concerns that I can think of that would explain why the Provos were not really interested in the united Ireland that they said publicly they were fighting for.

One would be the business interests that needed to ensure political stability across Ireland; the other is the Catholic Church interest that wanted to ensure that Ulster Protestants didn’t “contaminate” the Southern state and thereby undermine the control that they had of it. Of course, we cannot rule out the possibility that these two interests were linked.

Both of these concerns seem quite valid in many respects. However, both would be much less potent in this era than they would have been in the 1970s when the Provos started their war against the British and the unionists.

In the 1970s the North was ungovernable and the South was practically bankrupt. The Catholic Church was still very powerful with almost complete attendance at mass. There were many orphanages, mother and baby homes, Magdalene laundries, industrial and reformatory schools for troubled children and, most important of all, many schools the Church jealously controlled.

It is a different Ireland now, almost half a century later. Nevertheless, what the people of this city need to know is whether there is still a desire to prevent and undermine change in the North by the SDLP and others, to bring about a united country. Will the Church and the business interests put themselves before the interests of the people?

What I’m suggesting is that these powerful interests coming forward from the Troubles are still able to influence republicans to send violent messages to SDLP politicians.

What people like Brian Tierney and other SDLP politicians in this city signal is that there is plenty of energy left in order to do the job. But I would ask the leaders who order these attacks on the SDLP to reveal the source of their anxiety about the SDLP. Why are they really attacking them? Do they really know? Is it because they are social democratic?

For it is not because the SDLP are against a united Ireland. They are the only party that is transparent and who, in their transparency, demonstrate their path to a united country.

The truth is that Sinn Fein have no strategy and are simply hoovering up votes to undermine those who do – on behalf of God knows who.

Is it because they are right-wing business types fearing socialism or are they control freaks in the Catholic Church fearing not just non-Catholic influences on the South but also Northern social democratic politicians? In other words, is it really a united Ireland that they fear?

It is time for those who ordered the torching of councillor Brian Tierney’s car to come clean.

*John O’Connell is a political commentator.

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