Posted By: August 25, 2014


THE shadow-boxing between Sinn Féin and the DUP is easy to indulge because it's the
summer and it's not unusual for our politicians to indulge in all kinds of holiday

It's not that welfare reform is not important - it is - but the Punch and Judy show
being enacted out through the media is the very reason why people are switching off
politics. Sinn Féin are playing a form of roulette with the northern economy and
they are doing it for very real reasons. They have a lot to lose.

They are riding high in the Irish polls as the angry party and the Irish electorate
never seems to learn. They listen to unreal promises made by unrealistic politicians
and they fall for it every time.

While opinion polls are just that and elections in the south are at least 18 months
away, Sinn Féin have no intention of forfeiting their Indian summer with the Irish
electorate by implementing welfare cuts in the north.

They know too that a British general election is imminent next May and they are
banking on Labour overturning Tory welfare policies.

If they are reading the British runes in that way they are mistaken. Labour may be
ahead in the polls but not by a large enough margin for any comfort.

Their two weaknesses are a leader who is not viewed as prime ministerial material
even by some in his own party and a public still sceptical of Labour' s economic

As Labour enters the last lap before the elections it will not want to be seen to be
weak on the economy and that means taking a tough line on welfare reform.

So Sinn Féin are hugging the wrong tree on this issue.

Sinn Féin have a more pressing problem a lot closer to home and that's their senior
partners in government, the DUP. That party holds all the key ministries in Northern
Ireland and they have also managed to thwart Sinn Fein in two of their own
departments - namely education and agriculture. The DUP is playing a cat and mouse
game with Sinn Féin by blaming all the cuts and pain on the latter's failure to
implement welfare reform. At the moment the DUP has the upper hand both in terms of
public opinion and the media.

That's not likely to last as gaping voids appear on roads in south and east Belfast
as if to emphasise the Hades awaiting any executive ministers not able to fix
problems where the public is on the receiving end of logjams.

Some in the media are being distracted by the gossipy wishful thinking of marginal
DUP elements who still dream of a pre-peace Paisley like theocracy with the swings
locked up on a Sunday and Ulster being saved from sodomy. It's not going to happen.
The DUP is too pragmatic for turning that clock back. It does not take a Mystic Meg
to know that Peter Robinson is in the twilight of his political career - so too are
Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams - check their birth certificates for that
predictor. But Robinson will choose the time of his going.

It's reasonable to think that if his party re-took East Belfast from Alliance -
which is highly likely - and if he got affirmation that corporation tax was in the
bag that he would be insane to try for some kind of political hat-trick. The rule is
simple get out when you are a head.

But it would be wrong to think that there is not a leadership issue bubbling away
elsewhere in the north. The SDLP is rumbling with discontent again. Alasdair
McDonnell seems to have all the luck of Lot's wife. Affability is no longer enough
to cover the mistakes that have plagued his leadership from day one.

Sometimes when a politician covets a job too much it's actually a huge mistake.
Think of Brian Cowen or Gordon Brown - competent in their own right but totally
incapable of leadership when the respective crowns finally passed to them.

McDonnell is like the guy in the skittles ad - everything he touches seems to fall
apart. It's unfortunate because he's perhaps the best intentioned politician on the
island of Ireland. He has a tendency to surround himself with his own acolytes and
that does not help his judgment. Some in the SDLP now want to change the leader but
as the old adage goes about marriage "ye made your bed - now lie in it!"