Mary-Lou’s savvy is leaving DUP behind

Posted By: June 19, 2018

Tom Kelly. Irish News. Belfast. Monday, June 18, 2018

“So when you get a Queen’s pardon, it’s only natural that you would take the first opportunity to thank her son,” said one of the wags on social media about Gerry Kelly’s natter [conversation] with Prince Charles during the latter’s visit to Belfast.

Gerry and the former culture minister, Carál Ní Chuilín, did not seem ill at ease with the next in line to the throne. They would have been delighted when during his visit to Cork, Prince Charles regaled his hosts with a cupla focail as gaelige.

It’s only a mere year ago when the Sinn Féin mayor of Derry snubbed Prince Charles, and it has only been a few years since Sinn Féin suspended a mayor who agreed to meet the Queen.

The late Martin McGuinness told me that at times he felt quite isolated within his own organization over his courageous decisions to meet the Queen most notably when during the president’s state visit to the UK, it looked like he may have been the only Sinn Féin member present at Windsor. As it turned out,  at that event, there was eventually enough Sinn Féin members in Windsor to have a mini ard fheis.

There’s no doubt that despite how many IRA commemorations Michelle O’Neill attends or how many old guard Sinn Féin meet in the Felons Club, that there’s a new stiletto in town, and it belongs to Mary Lou.

The ambitious former Fianna Fáil member desperately wants to be tanaiste and to achieve that Mary Lou can’t just put the old Sinn Féin laundry through the mangle as before. She has to buy it some new clothes. And would-be tanaistes can’t afford to snub distinguished visitors such as the Royal Family.

Mary Lou will be determined to re-image Sinn Féin, and she has wasted no time in doing so. Getting Gerry Kelly to meet the Prince of Wales would have used a week’s worth of candles at the Clonard Novena.

It seems as if the Sinn Féin leadership has finally caught up with the logic of Martin McGuinness who always understood the necessity of big gestures in politics – even though those same gestures caused major unease within his party. Though if devolution is to be restored then Sinn Féin will have to go beyond gestures. Michelle O’Neill could do well to take on board Mary Lou’s pragmatism.

On the other side of the fence, the DUP leadership is showing no generosity at all. Their press statements have become increasingly more belligerent and bellicose. The Tory government is embarrassing in their fawning and kowtowing to the DUP. There’s not a single DUP member of parliament who would get elected in Britain.

Sammy Wilson’s intervention in the abortion debate at Westminster was horrendous and with any luck the more he speaks the more likely those on the Tory benches will squirm in discomfort. In any other part of the UK,  a political party laid bare as it has been through the Renewal Heat Incentive (RHI) inquiry,  would have the public breathing fire on them, but not here in Northern Ireland.

Former first minister Peter Robinson in his misunderstood speech at Queen’s University pointed out the blindly obvious to his former party colleagues. Demographics suggest a less than rosy future for a Unionism that only appeals to its own constituency.

Unfortunately, Unionist leaders appear to be reading the runes the wrong way. It would seem that they believe more Catholics share their moral values than aspire to a united Ireland. That’s a huge mistake. A few clerics doesn’t a constituency make. Ian Paisley could have letters from every priest in North Antrim and it wouldn’t matter a fig to the wider nationalist population. I doubt if a priest has any more political pull on his congregation than a Presbyterian minister.

The attacks by unionists on the Taoiseach for launching the West Belfast festival was short-sighted and misdirected. In one day, the image-conscious Varadkar was fawned over by our media, feted by Baroness Paisley, hosted by the Orange Order, hugged by loyalist residents, had a pint in a gay bar and got regaled by the GAA.

By contrast, Mrs. May, allegedly the Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, came here for a few hours, avoided the public and never strayed from the confines of a shed on a north Down farm. Her visit was so understated that cows nearby never broke from chewing the cud. And they say nothing changes here.