Stop-start Stormont did not work for republicans

Posted By: April 12, 2017

Has Sinn Fein already decided to turn its back on Stormont? 


Allison Morris. Irish News. Belfast.Thursday, April 13, 2017

AS we head towards the talks deadline this Friday, I’m less than optimistic of any deal being struck.

The language being used, particularly by Sinn Féin is interesting, more for what it doesn’t say than for what it does.

Stormont didn’t work for Republicans. The ten years of stop-start devolution may have matured many of their top team, but it proved itself as completely the wrong vehicle to achieve their aims.

“No return to the status quo,” the Sinn Féin 2017 election slogan, can be translated to: “No return to a mandatory coalition, not in the current climate anyway.”

The party has been buoyed by recent election success – success that was driven by a toughened stance against what was a DUP policy of “not an inch.”

Sinn Féin has been holding a series of public meetings over the last number of days, though the media was asked to leave the one in Derry.

Going by what was said at those meetings – the ones people were allowed to report from, that is – the party is back in election mode.

The late Martin McGuinness, with his many grand gestures of reconciliation – meeting Queen Elizabeth, condemning dissident republicans as “traitors to Ireland,” making a friend of a one-time enemy in Ian Paisley – had not seen his actions reciprocated.

Arlene Foster couldn’t even bring herself to watch the Ireland football team play in last year’s Euros.

The fact she debated for so long over whether to attend Martin McGuinness’s funeral is a sign that unionism has a long way still to go on the road to peace.

Ms. Foster, as a victim of IRA violence, was personally challenged by attending the Derry funeral – that is entirely understandable.

But she willingly chose a career in politics, put herself forward for the leadership of her party, into the role of the first minister, and worked for many years in the executive with Mr. McGuinness – that made her uncertainty over the funeral attendance significant in itself.

The DUP leader, as Sinn Féin is now, had been equally buoyed by her 2016 election success. But the DUP overplayed its hand; it pushed too far and then, when it had got away with that, pushed a little more.

The party faithful will say they were tough on Sinn Féin and that Republicans couldn’t handle strong, unionist leadership.

But as a commentator and front seat observer, that doesn’t translate when the last year is looked at in its entirety.

The green energy scheme that helped collapse the assembly – and, by the way, that money is still being paid out – provides a perfect example.

As public anger at the botched boiler scheme grew in early December, Sinn Féin was still refusing to attack their partners in government. Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, then the finance minister, refused to be drawn on whether or not he had confidence in Ms. Foster’s leadership.

Martin McGuinness gave her a ‘get out of jail free’ card by asking her to step aside for just a few weeks. It wouldn’t have solved a single thing, but was offered for public optics and in an attempt to save devolution.

Far from eating humble pie, the DUP plowed on with its uncompromising ‘We are the people’ style of government, with the removal – albeit temporarily – of an Irish language bursary.

It is increasingly obvious that for unionists the war still isn’t over. Their anger at the past and inability to come to terms with being equals to people they still – in the main – consider as either terrorists or terrorist apologists hasn’t changed with the passage of time.

The only difference between many in the DUP and their rival Jim Allister is that he says out loud what many of them are thinking.

And so you have to wonder how on earth the train managed to stay on the tracks for so long.

Two partners in government, both with very different views on a range of social and constitutional issues and with barely concealed underlying resentment.

The mandatory coalition experiment is over. What remains to be seen now is what replaces it. New elections? Direct rule? Or a change of legislation to allow a voluntary coalition?

It now all lies in the hands of the rather magnolia Secretary of State James Brokenshire – now there’s a comforting thought.