Quarter of Sinn Fein members still back terrorist groups against British
MORE than a quarter of Sinn Fein members still back an armed struggle so long as British rule remains over Northern Ireland.
And almost half say they don't feel a civic duty to report the activities of dissident republicans to the police to prevent an attack.
A poll of Sinn Fein members taking part in the party's annual ard fheis held in Castlebar, Co Mayo, at the weekend covered a range of issues, including dissident activity and abortion.
The snap survey of 50 members, conducted by the 'Belfast Telegraph', shows surprisingly sharp divisions on several key issues.
On dissidents, a picture emerged that showed grassroots attitudes are not as strongly opposed to such republican terrorism as the party leadership.
Party members were asked if an armed campaign was justified while British rule remained. Some 26pc agreed it was, while only 66pc disagreed.
Only 12pc agreed with the North's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness's statement that the dissidents were "traitors to Ireland", while 72pc disagreed.
Mr McGuinness said this after the murder of PSNI Constable Stephen Carroll, a crime claimed by the Continuity IRA in 2009.
The results of the survey suggest that he was attempting to lead opinion, taking a risk for peace, rather than simply reflecting the views of his followers.
This is called "stretching the republican constituency".
Mr McGuinness used the ard fheis to voice criticism of dissident republicans yet again, saying they had been "swamped by ruthless criminal elements".
But just over a third of delegates (34pc) believed that violent dissidents were criminals and a majority (58pc) regarded them as political offenders.
There were other worrying signs for the PSNI. More than half of those questioned (54pc) felt that they were not "an impartial force" as against 36pc who felt they were.
Sinn Fein is pushing for a border referendum and a debate on what "a new Ireland" might mean.
The survey showed delegates willing to make some concession to unionists if Irish unity was agreed. Nearly two-thirds (64pc) felt that the Stormont Assembly should remain with power devolved from Dublin.
And 58pc also favoured Stormont-style assemblies in other Irish regions with just one in five opposed to the idea.
Nearly four out of five (78pc) felt citizens of a united Ireland should be allowed to hold UK passports if they wished.
Sinn Fein on road to nowhere