I, like others, gave Sinn Fein a fair chance of taking a serious step forward in this election. But perhaps it is possible that we’ve been viewing them too much through the prisym of their Northern Irish success, and not as they are viewed by southerners. One Northern unionist, Steven King, clinically picks apart Sinn Fein economic policy, what there is of it. He argues it is long on promise of state help, but short on explaining where the money will come from that will pay for it.
Gerry Adams’ foreword to his manifesto lists a 10-point plan. Priority Number 1 is, surprise, surprise, a United Ireland. Priority number 2 is about Partition. A strong economy comes in not 3rd, not 4th but – you guessed it – 10th. According to Sinn Féin, the economic prosperity Ireland now enjoys is down to “the hard work of all our people”. It’s a charming idea – except it presupposes that everyone in Ireland was a work-shy layabout until 15 years ago. Policies had nothing to do with it, apparently.
Sinn Féin makes passing mention of unionists in its plans – a small step forward. But is a party that demands inquiries into abuses by anyone and everyone except the IRA, which goes beyond (and therefore undermines) the Good Friday Agreement, which talks about human rights but has a long history of excusing mass murder, and which (still) has nothing good to say about the Gardai in its manifesto really a party likely to inspire confidence among sections of this island’s population?
Sinn Féin has a glib response to this: if them being in government is good enough for Ian Paisley, it should be more than good enough for everyone else. After all, didn’t unionism take the brunt over the years, without for a moment overlooking the Jerry McCabes, the Billy Foxs and all the rest? But that is to pretend that Dublin and Belfast are just two sides of the same coin when there is, in fact, a world of difference.
The Northern Ireland Executive levies no taxes. It doesn’t determine its own spending. It has no role whatever in foreign affairs or defence. It still has no responsibility for policing and the administration of justice. And there are a whole range of issues it is expressly prohibited from legislating on.
There might be fancy titles and long limousines and a very grand setting but the Northern administration bears closer relation to a county council with attitude than a national parliament. As the Good Friday Agreement states, “Northern Ireland in its entirety remains part of the United Kingdom… [Westminster's] power to make legislation for Northern Ireland would remain unaffected”. End of story.