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Bloody Sunday, election, Irish, Ireland, British, Ulster, Unionist, Sinn Féin, SDLP, Ahern, Blair, Irish America

Blanket protest website waves the white flag

(by Breandan Morley, Sunday Times)

A web site that has offered a platform for republicans opposed to Sinn Féin's involvement in the peace process will log off this evening (Sunday), seven years and 25m "hits" after it was launched.

The demise of The Blanket, named after the five-year protest by the Provisional IRA in the Maze prison during the 1970s and 1980s, is likely to be welcomed by Gerry Adams, the Sinn Féin president, and his inner circle.

The site, set up in 2001 by Anthony McIntyre, a former IRA prisoner, and Carrie Twomey, his American-born wife, had proved a thorn in the side of the Sinn Féin party leadership.

Described as "a journal of protest and dissent", it served as a space where various dissident groups tried – but failed – to find a way forward for the divided strands of republicanism that opposed the Good Friday agreement.

Twomey has said the site proved so controversial that the couple's home had been picketed by Sinn Féin and the family were threatened by the Provisional IRA.

The decision to close it was taken because of time pressures on the McIntyres, who recently moved with their two young children from Belfast to the republic. The success of the peace process was also a factor.

When McIntyre, who served 18 years in jail for the murder of a Ulster Volunteer Force member, and his wife created the site, they declared its purpose was to protect freedom of speech from what they claimed was an attempt by the Provisionals to crush opposition to Sinn Féin.

McIntyre was released from jail in 1992, having spent several years on The Blanket protest, which started in 1976 when the IRA prisoner Kieran Nugent refused to wear a prison uniform. It eventually escalated to dirty protests and hunger strikes.

In 1998, McIntyre resigned from Sinn Féin in protest at its endorsement of the Good Friday agreement. Since then, he has castigated the party's leadership, while remaining apart from any of the dissident groups, and vehemently opposing the continued use of violence by groups such as the Real IRA and Continuity IRA.

The Blanket has published contributions from a wide variety of authors, including loyalists such as Davy Adams, the former Ulster Democratic party politician.

The Blanket can be found at lark.phoblacht.net.

May 21, 2008

This article first appeared in the Sunday Times on May 18, 2008.