A Sinn Fein leader regarded as a force for moderation within the

movement will be in Glasgow this week for a televised debate.

BRIGHT, personable and unthreatening, Mairtin O'Muilleoir -- or Martin

Miller, as he was before adopting the Irish version of his name -- could

fairly be described as the respectable face of Sinn Fein.

Not for him the strident graveside orations or belligerent ''Brits

out'' speeches in Belfast city council. He is one of the party's

backroom boys, who devotes his time mainly to the cause of spreading the

Irish language and exposing the ''winner-take-all'' attitude of the

Unionist majority in the city hall.

That is why he and his supporters in West Belfast were taken aback by

the weekend story in another newspaper that the BBC were treating an

''IRA man'' to a free trip to Scotland, to appear in a TV programme. He

was then due, said the newspaper account, to take part in a march by

Irish nationalists in Edinburgh on Saturday.

In fact O'Muilleoir is a member of Sinn Fein, a legal party regarded

informally -- but not officially -- as the political wing of the IRA.

He travels to Glasgow tomorrow to take part in a recorded TV

discussion on Ireland for BBC's Axiom programme, along with other Irish

politicians, and will be flying straight home whether he is invited to

the march or not.

''I'm a freelance journalist and I cannot afford to lose more than a

day's work,'' he said. ''I am doing the BBC a favour, not the other way


O'Muilleoir is taking legal advice about the accusation that he is a

member of the IRA. Not only is membership an offence but the claim, he

said, puts his life at risk and would amount to a breach of the oath

taken by all councillors, promising neither to ''support or assist the

activities of any organisation proscribed by law in Northern Ireland''.

He is one of the hunger-strike generation, drawn into politics from

the Irish language movement by his anger over the deaths of 10 IRA men

in prison in 1981. To him they were innocent victims of the political

system, protesting with their lives against the partition of Ireland.

Like all Sinn Fein members he denies any connection with the IRA,

while refusing to condemn any indidivual acts of terrorism. ''All death

is regrettable. One of the reasons I agreed to take part in the TV

debate was that there is a need to begin a real peace process --

including, not excluding, Sinn Fein.''

He prefers not to comment on tragedies like the bomb in Warrington,

which killed two young boys.

''There were five shot dead here in the same week, one of them a

teenager. I don't believe in the politics of the last atrocity. I want

to increase people's understanding of what is happening here and why all

deaths must be ended.''

The starting point to a settlement, he believes, must come with talks

between all parties to the conflict. That was the solution to all such

problems, whether in Cambodia, South Africa, Yugoslavia, Central America

or the Middle East.

''The British accept that everywhere but in Ireland, where they say we

must first condemn the IRA. It isn't logical -- especially now that we

have a mandate.''

Sinn Fein did surprisingly well in the local government elections last

month, capturing an extra eight seats and taking 12.5% of the poll --

1.2% more than 1989 -- equivalent to one third of the Nationalist vote.

In Belfast they finished with 10 seats out of 51 -- second only to the

Ulster Unionists -- and topped the poll with nearly 24%, an increase of


''It tells me that our policy of standing up to the Unionists and

fighting discrimination pays dividends. Only last year Gerry Adams lost

his Westminster seat in West Belfast, but unless Loyalists vote in large

numbers for the SDLP, it will be ours next time.''

The election successes took place against a background of bitter

sectarian warfare in the council chamber, where right-wing Unionists

have refused to recognise Sinn Fein's right to participate.

Why should they have to sit beside Sinn Fein councillors, they

complain, when Government Ministers refused to meet them?

But instead of joining the free-for-all -- where whistles have been

blown and rape alarms sounded -- O'Muilleoir quietly led an effective

challenge through the courts. As a result, Sinn Fein's exclusion from

sub-committees has been abandoned, a ban has been lifted from its

participation in civic functions and it will now have access to all


Republicans come in all varieties, from the gunmen to the gurus, and

O'Muilleoir is one of the leading intellectual lights. The author of

novels in Irish, he epitomises, at 31, the dedication that has made Sinn

Fein such a force to be reckoned with in ghetto areas like West Belfast.

What would his new Ireland offer to Unionists, if the British decided

to leave? They would have to be accommodated, he says, ''as much as

possible''. Nationalists would have to be more imaginative, making

concessions which in the Irish context would be ''radical and


The problem, for Sinn Fein, is that any withdrawal by the British

Government would have been obtained, as Unionists would see it, through

IRA violence. In a Bosnian-type situation, the pleadings of moderates

like O'Muilleoir would be in vain.

Picture: JOHN HARRISON/Pacemaker

One of


reasons I

agreed to

take part

in the TV


was that


is a need

to begin a



process -




Sinn Fein