Sinn Féin edges toward old all-Ireland solution

Posted By: June 08, 2016

Fionnuala O Connor. Irish News. Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Sinn Féin is still transitioning, and as before wants company as it travels. The latest variation on the theme arrived in a Corrymeela weekend speech from Matt Carthy, the young Midlands North West MEP who has the title of head of the party’s ‘United Ireland Strategy Group’.

A reunified Ireland, said he, might include ‘transitional arrangements’, perhaps including devolution in Belfast ‘within an all-Ireland structure.’

We’ve heard a republican recipe for a northern assembly before, all the way back to the first years of the Troubles. John Hume once said he didn’t care what the arrangements were, as long as they were agreed. Sinn Féin used to call that kind of talk a sell-out, of course. But young Carthy’s performance is a cheeky elaboration of what the party has been edging towards admitting.

Stormont may be DUP-dominated but it’s what they’ve got and will hold; bookend to the Dáil – though that is not how they say it.

Carthy’s version was that failure to “realise the objectives of the 1916 Rising had negatively impacted on the lives of ordinary people north and south’. Then the financial crash politically educated an entire generation, producing “an urgency to confront the shibboleths, hypocrisy and cant of the past and to build a much more open, progressive and equal society”.

He kept one shibboleth, though. Should the UK vote in a fortnight to leave the EU, there would be a “democratic imperative’ said he, for a referendum on unity – the old cry for a border poll. Reporting on the Carthy speech, Steven McCaffery of The Detail website made clear he had been advised this was development of the Gerry Adams line delivered last September, that a reunified Ireland might not be as ‘traditionally envisaged”.

When in sermon-mode Sinn Féin grinds exceeding small, no i undotted. Supporters of Irish unity, said Carthy, needed to be “open, imaginative and accommodating”, because unionists opposed constitutional change. Hence devolution within an all-Ireland structure, transitionally. ‘What else could it mean?’ ‘Why don’t we have some discussions about that?’ This was the language of the seminar and the workshop, not to everybody’s taste.

Young Matt, seasoned as he must be by dealing with the Republic’s media, will hardly have expected warm applause. His hymn to openness and imagination comes not a minute too soon. The last Adams/McGuinness prophesies of SF ministers in government north and south by 2016 seem no time ago, replacing in their turn the always OTT prediction of a united Ireland for the centenary of the Rising. And we’re not even out of 2016 yet.

Last week was one of those mixtures of best of times, worst of times, of a type probably bound to beset any organisation ‘transitioning’ from espousing political violence to wholly political means. The Kingsmill and Birmingham inquests with their freight of horror, reminders of lives taken, wrecked, Paddy Hill’s haunted face, shared coverage with Martin McGuinness pitching up at the Somme to talk about the duties of leadership after smiling scenes at Stormont.

Then came Colm Murphy’s claim that he was being set up to wreck the Kingsmill inquest, and so protect Sinn Féin from fuller revelation of south Armagh IRA sectarianism.

Drafts of the Carthy speech will no doubt have circulated internally for weeks past, as is the SF way. After the week that was in it, the past weekend could have appeared a fine moment for a bright young face to spool out another stretch of line. Carthy had a second go in a letter to this paper published yesterday, declaring that analysis of SF strategies was welcome – though it must be logical – and complaining about misrepresentation. Bah, for example, to the suggestion they had settled for partition. ‘Building a united Ireland is a process.’ Entirely logically, they wanted ‘non-unionist parties and sections of civil society’ to become persuaders of unionists.

It turned out to be a bad moment for teacherly lecturettes on how others should help peace-loving 21st century Sinn Féin to demonstrate anti-sectarianism. The Colm Murphy claims look set to hang around. The intervention of Chief Constable George Hamilton will stoke curiosity instead of shutting it down.

This week brings a second Police Ombudsman report on Loughinisland, the PSNI outlining a Stakeknife investigation, delivery from the panel tasked to say how paramilitarism can be disappeared. It’s as well the recent McGuinness media honeymoon smoothed over niggles; his supporters short changed, restive, his triumphant DUP job-sharer uncaring.

Current and upcoming events could make things worse. But it would be good to be wrong.