Sinn Fein/ Fine Gael Failure?

Posted By: August 21, 2013

The noted columnist argues that both  Sinn Fein and  Fine Gael/Labor have failed the North — and the South…


Brian Feeney.Irish News ( Belfast). Wednesday, August 21, 2013

LAST Wednesday Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin gave the opening address at the Merriman Summer School in Lisdoonvarna.


The main theme of this year’s summer school was north-south relations in the context of the Good Friday Agreement. Martin’s speech was full of awkward truths and warnings about the future direction of the agreement. He expressed ‘great concern’ about the relationship between the British and Irish governments in their handling of the north and deplored the ‘dangerous complacency’ in London and Dublin as well as among parties in the north.


He pointed out: “There was nothing inevitable about the success of the peace process and there is nothing inevitable about its longer-term course.”


However, he reserved his most detailed criticism for the complete failure to develop north-south social and economic ties. Of course a speech in such a forum is always an opportunity to take a swipe at political opponents and Martin attacked the complacency of Taoiseach Enda Kenny. The main failure, however, lies with Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore whose typically vacuous statements about the north are notable for their rarity as well as their lack of ambition and drive. Leaving political point-scoring aside, Martin had some powerful points to make. For example, the so-called ‘New Economic Pact’ for the north, laughably called, like some soviet era five-year plan, ‘Building a Prosperous and United Community’ was announced on June 14 and promptly forgotten. Martin pointed out that it was announced with David Cameron in Downing Street where the first minister and deputy first minister travelled for the occasion.


Martin noted, tellingly: “The ‘pact’ does not include even a single mention of the border region or cross-border cooperation. The only mention of the south comes in a point saying that efforts are to be made to get tourists to go north. I can think of no comparable example in the last 15 years where there were no north/south or east/west discussions before such an announcement or where the Dublin or London governments ignored a clear opportunity for shared action.” There are a couple of observations worth making about this state of affairs. First, Sinn Fein and in particular Martin McGuinness played a full part in all that PR hype in Downing Street and in its window dressing in May called ‘Building A United Community’, after the events of the past nine months, even more laughable than ‘Building a Prosperous and United Community’. Remember all that rubbish about 100 this and 10,000 that, accomplished by well, maybe, 2022? All uncosted and done on the back of an envelope without any consultation? Hot air.


Go on, admit it, you’ve forgotten.


In his speech Martin laid out a programme for cross-border cooperation in health, energy, transport, education. Now have you noticed anything that’s missing? Which party do you think should have established a detailed programme for cross-border cooperation? Which party would benefit most from presenting a detailed, costed programme to the electorate? Yes, Sinn Fein. Instead there’s nothing. It’s not simply a case of having achieved nothing in north-south development which they haven’t, but they haven’t even said what they want to achieve or how they would go about it. At various times Sinn Fein ministers have been in a position to present an agenda for all-Ireland development but they haven’t even tried. They claim they have plans but what are they? It’s like the strategy they claim to have for achieving a united Ireland. Ask them what it is and they can’t tell you because they haven’t got one. There’s a 2005 document saying it’s the Irish government’s responsibility to develop a strategy. Is it not ridiculous for Sinn Fein to tell people they have a strategy but it’s, y’know, nod, nod, wink, wink? At least they’re honest in the case of north-south development. There is no strategy. They don’t even claim to have one and when there was an opportunity to insist on including something even for the border region in the, don’t laugh now, ‘Building a Prosperous and United Community’, they did nothing. Talk about Peter Robinson’s U-turn? What about Martin McGuinness standing grinning in – of all places – Downing Street, extolling the benefits of developing Norn Irn while ignoring the all-Ireland dimension he spent years fighting for.