Sinn Fein again outmanoeuvred by Foster’s dominant DUP

Posted By: May 27, 2016

Sam McBride. News Letter (Belfast). Thursday, May 26, 2016

There was a political maturity to the formation of this Executive which suggested that this Stormont term might just be different.

Coming out of an election where the DUP held its 38 seats but where Sinn Fein lost a seat due to an alarming drop in the nationalist vote, First Minister Arlene Foster has fairly effortlessly presided over the formation of a new Executive.
In doing so, she has secured Sinn Fein’s support for a unionist – Claire Sugden – to replace the constitutionally neutral David Ford as Justice Minister.

There is no tangible benefit to Sinn Fein from supporting Ms Sugden’s candidature.

When I asked Martin McGuinness what his party received in return for supporting Ms Sugden, he did not point to anything specific.

Instead, he set out a pragmatic defence of Sinn Fein’s position, saying that the party was “dealing with the uniqueness of the situation”.

In reality, there was little room for Sinn Fein to manoeuvre, with the nuclear threat of refusing to appoint a unionist minister, hence leading to fresh elections, clearly not judged to be a palatable alternative.

Instead, the DUP and Sinn Fein have attempted to present a united front in the face of what is now a numerically significant official Opposition.

Their approach to the contentious issue of the Justice Minister is instructive of how they are likely to approach future challenges.

In effect, their choice has been to make Stormont work, as the alternative is likely to strengthen the Opposition.

But while on issues such as job creation they can jointly win, there are other areas – such as the Irish language or flags – where a win for one almost inevitably means a defeat for the other.

On those decisions, the overall victor in this Executive will be decided by who can best position itself behind the scenes to secure gains.