Sinn Fein/DUP relationship was never going to work

Posted By: September 17, 2015

Sinn Fein/DUP relationship was never going to work
Any independent Monitoring Commission to help unionists save face at Stormont is likely to highlight the elephant in the room – that loyalist paramilitary groups are far from withering away and in some areas are still actively recruiting

Allison Morris.Irish News(Belfast). September 17,2015 

I haven’t had a great week. Much like devolution I lurched from one crisis to the next ending with my washing machine packing in with a load of dirty towels trapped inside.

I stared through the glass porthole of the knackered machine and thought: “Ah well it could be worse, I could be Theresa Villiers”.

The Secretary of State, who since her tenure began in Northern Ireland has always looked like she has one eye on the airport departure gate, this week attempted to create a diversion to keep the now farcical institutions alive.

Since the return from the summer recess Stormont has been on life support with no one person or party brave enough to admit defeat and pull the plug.

While Ms Villiers attempts to conjure up an Independent Monitoring Commission Mark II out of a hat in order to buy more time, I wonder was she looking through her own glass porthole thinking: “Ah well it could be worse, I could be Peter Robinson”.

The DUP leader, at least I think he’s still the leader, looks like a man defeated.

If he’d any sense he’d have jumped ship after all that Lock Keeper’s Cottage carry on that we’re not meant to speak about any more. Instead his ego kept him in a position of power that everyone but himself could see was built on a foundation of sand.

Outsmarted by Mike Nesbitt while on holiday, he’s returned looking far from relaxed and all too aware he’s in a mess that is almost impossible to fix.

Politicians rarely tend to know when it’s time to bow out with dignity. Ian Paisley hung on until he was marched out of the building, old and slightly confused; Gerry Adams seems intent on staying on until he’s, well, old and slightly confused.

The genesis of the current political crisis can be traced back some considerable time.

Peter Robinson reneged on his deal to back a reconciliation centre at the old Maze site under pressure from the hardliners in his own party, leaving republicans with egg on their face.

But in reality the relationship between Sinn Fein and the DUP was never going to work.

Following the murder of two soldiers at Massereene by dissident republicans in 2009 and the shooting of police officer Stephen Carroll a few days later Martin McGuinness, himself a former IRA man, put himself in a precarious personal position calling those responsible ‘traitors to the island of Ireland.’

Given that some of his former comrades had been responsible for founding the Real IRA that claimed the Massereene attack this was a noteworthy political development and caused a massive rift in republicanism. Sinn Féin was heavily criticised from within their own strongholds.

 The party who refused to condemn violence throughout the period of the Troubles was making a massive statement about their commitment to peace with the deputy first minister drawing a clear line between what he saw as the old IRA and those who continued to endorse violence.

Putting himself in the firing line is something he has continued to do since, meeting the Queen – again to republican criticism – it is McGuinness and not Adams who is chosen by the party to make the dramatic gestures.

In recent weeks since the murder of Kevin McGuigan senior figures have been lining up to condemn those responsible and call them criminals, despite knowing full well that those responsible are members of the IRA that Sinn Fein once refused to condemn under any circumstances.

Contrast that with the actions of Unionists.

When loyalists engaged in violence linked to the now infamous flag protests unionists not only stoked tensions with a leaflet blaming Alliance on the removal of the Union flag from Belfast City hall, but refused to face down loyalists holding the city to ransom.

Members of the DUP at times joined road blocks which didn’t bode well for already crumbling unionist/republican relations.

And isn’t it now ironic that one of the leaders of those flag protests is now instrumental in helping hasten the end of Peter Robinson’s political career.

The DUP have refused to use their political influence to get the handful still gathered at Twaddell to wise up and go home, despite the astronomical and ever mounting cost of policing that particular charade. Members of both the DUP and UUP continue to sit in forums and work alongside leading loyalist paramilitary figures.

And so they need to be careful what the wish for in that any IMC commissioned to help Unionists save face is likely to highlight the elephant in the room, that loyalist paramilitary groups are far from withering away and in some areas are still actively recruiting.

And all this is just buying time. The assembly is set for collapse and we’re heading for fresh elections.

Whether they come after yet another boringly predictable round of failed all party talks or a period of direct rule is irrelevant.

All that remains to be seen is who will step forward and finally pull the plug on what was an ambitious but failed political experiment.