Self effacement from Martin McGuinness is a sign of maturing power sharing, not nationalist sell-out

Was it only yesterday that conventional wisdom had it that a confident Sinn Fein were carrying all before them and that the DUP were left lumbering behind, cross and near to open rowing? The result ending in  deadlock and near-breakdown?

Two subtly written articles in the Irish News this week speaking with the voice of moderate nationalism have sounded notes of alarm that the boot may now be on the other foot and it’s feeling uncomfortable. The unsubtle version of the point is that Arlene Foster has been raising the dreaded standard of unionist triumphalism once again and that Sinn Fein and Martin McGuinness for some unfathomable reason are letting her get away with it.  This is a misreading.

For Fionnuala O’Connor, Sinn Fein’s calm acceptance of a unionist, albeit an independent one as justice minister, was a cardinal point. Where pray was the trade off?

There was no lingering McGuinness awkwardness. He had nothing to announce as his gain from the deal. Clearly, the deal was everything in itself.
Playing chief stooge in Arlene’s show will stretch every sinew of the retired warrior. Participation in a cross-community Stormont at the cost of holding his tongue will further test Sinn Féin’s northern electoral support, and strategy.
Arlene’s ‘The DUP c’est moi’ routine (must irk the colleagues eventually, no?) got another weekend airing, in reply to a question about the new justice minister’s talk of possibly ‘some constructive change’ on single-sex marriage and abortion law.
As the new executive was a-making former SF press officer Jim Gibney wrote in these pages, in a slot that until now has invariably toed the party line, that Sinn Féin would ‘no doubt respond to the hubris of Arlene Foster and Simon Hamilton who have said there will be no Sinn Féin justice minister, no money for legacy inquests and no Irish language act.’
So far, the SF response has been to roll over again.


Denis Bradley makes a similar case  more diplomatically, beginning with recognition that that we are in a new era.

On the surface, it is only a short step and a few seats away from the last mandate but in the realm of psychology and expectation it is a different universe.

The next few years will see a heavy concentration on the economy, jobs and good governance. The two party executive will be out to prove that they can do better this time round. The lack of money and oppositional criticism in an atmosphere of public scepticism may even goad the parties into quicker and more difficult decisions. That is likely to give rise to the impression that the constitutional issue is going to lie dormant or that it has lost its impact. And that would be a foolish impression.

For a time it will delay or dampen the debates that are the next necessary stage in the journey. Conversations about convergence of the public services on this small island; the convergence of health, energy, travel, training and infrastructure. Conversations about being British in Ireland and Irish in the United Kingdom, implications of a majority becoming a minority and vice versa

It is very hard to have a conversation with someone who doesn’t want to talk back and there is a growing suspicion among nationalists that Arlene closes down uncomfortable conversations with a snarl. She is in danger of being seen as a wolf in woman’s clothing.

Denis raps Arlene and Fionnuala tilts at Martin. Both fear that progress of a certain kind is about to be sacrificed for an even tighter DUP/SF carve- up concentrating on relatively uncontroversial “ bread and butter issues” that chime with the pragmatic approach of Arlene Foster more than nationalist ambitions. Is this such a bad thing? Surely even with bread and butter issues the sectarian litmus test will be applied in issues like health and welfare provision, job creation and infrastructure for the west? Is this not enough to be going on with?

A political veteran said to me the other day that a basic problem of interparty negotiations is the contrast between the Protestant and Catholic habits of mind . The Prods want to stick relentlessly to a point by point agenda and are suspicious if anyone diverts from it. The Catholics keep their eyes fixed on the vision thing and are impatient when mere details get in the way.

For Denis a test of power sharing is “conversations about convergence of services on this small island… and conversations about being British in Ireland and Irish in the United Kingdom, implications of a majority becoming a minority and vice versa.”

No doubt so. But just now? Convergence between north and south is hardly anyone’s financial priority and money talks very loudly.

Apart from concerns about DUP triumphalism on top, unexpressed in the articles may be fears of republican fragmentation that stirs the pot of violence more vigorously. There will be a lurking fear too that the SDLP  in opposition will fall into terminal decline, leaving a highly undesirable SF near-monopoly further exposed to dissident-type breaking away at the edges.

Thus the desire to advance a broad-brush agenda appealing to liberal  nationalists  in case the GFA settlement is starting to fray. And thus the need for both sides to begin to consider of the implications of a Catholic majority.  The crystallised fear is that setting nationalist  terms for power sharing too low could threaten peace and  stability in nationalist communities.

But this is a projection too  heavy to load onto the  first few weeks. Much of politics is about timing, and time will tell. An interpretation, that by cutting Arlene Foster slack to consolidate her leadership, McGuinness is selling the wider nationalist pass is highly questionable. It argues against all we have known about SF since at least 1997.

Neither writer acknowledges here that a different approach to government may be emerging. If both parties are feeling their way towards less reliance of mutual vetoes  and trade-offs it’s surely to be welcomed. We are only a few weeks into the mandate for goodness sake.

If the boot was back on the other foot, the criticisms would be condemned as DUP exaggeration.  The articles show that despite all the advances of the decades, nationalist insecurities still run deep, even in the most civilised of minds.

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  • Roger

    “this small island” says Denis Bradley
    The island of Ireland is the 20th biggest island in the world.

  • Teddybear

    But there are only 21 islands in the world

  • Nevin

    Self-effacement, the keeping of oneself out of sight or in the background, isn’t a label I’d pin on Martin; perhaps he’s just out of his depth. Once the violence was largely relegated to the background, especially in Ireland and the rest of the UK, movers and shakers in the Irish and British establishments moved on to other things, leaving SF struggling.

    Arlene’s ‘The DUP c’est moi’ is just a manifestation of, a domain that was registered on 7 March 2011 during Peter’s era. I’ve previously pointed out that Jim Allister got a swipe from the Norn Iron Lady’s handbag in a Stormont plenary session so Martin can expect the same.

  • Dominic Hendron

    It’s not up Martin McGuinness to do the digging for nationalism

  • Kevin Breslin


    The Isle of Man is the 461st somewhere between Ibiza and Phuket!

  • mac tire

    “But there are only 21 islands in the world”

    Are you from Gallifrey because I know that here on earth there are many, many more islands than that.

  • Redstar

    The Shinners appear to be pushovers because that’s what they are. No amount of clever doublespeak will hide that fact. Rolling over is what self serving career politicos do.

  • Croiteir

    OOps – he has just attempted humour – death by a thousand indignant posts to follow.

  • mac tire

    Ah, I see that now. Hard to know with Teddybear sometimes.

  • Croiteir

    The GFA has failed nationalists but not unionists. mainly because it was a unionists document which sold out on nationalism. Nationalists are starting to wake up to the sell out engineered mainly by the NIO, London and Dublin’s foreign office dept.
    Al that has followed is the natural outworking of the acceptance of the legitimacy of British rule. If you accept it why not accept British normalisation of the local govt and the normalising of British policing, British military commemorations and so on.
    The SDLP and SF are totally sucked into the maelstrom and it will eventually engulf them for a new political party/ies to emerge.
    SF and SDLP have failed. It is as simple and as tragic as that. Stormont should have been a battle a day.
    If a new set of parties, and perhaps the extremists in PBP are a precursor of this development, do not emerge I sincerely expect a new term of political violence will ensue. We are now in the preconflict stage. I do not know how long this stage will last.

  • NotNowJohnny

    When Northern Ireland was a sectarian one party unionist controlled state, many nationalists claimed (not unfairly) that unionists discriminated against them, gave them no say in the running of the country was run and treated them as second class citizens. Now Sinn Fein is the equal of the DUP in government, the UUP is now in the seat of opposition where the old nationalist party once sat, the DUP first minister (with all her triumphalism) can do absolutely nothing in the executive office without MMGs consent, SF now holds the Stormont government purse strings and despite being the largest party MMG steadfastly refuses to allow the DUP to get its hands on the policing and justice portfolio (which is probably a good thing for all of us). Meanwhile the RUC is no more, the soldiers are off the streets, the union flag no longer flies 24/7 at BCH while the new Minister of health Michelle O’Neill gets straight down to business this week delivering SFs equality agenda as triumphant Arlene talks up the benefits of the new PFG process and her hopes to develop an action plan before Christmas. Wake up nationalism to the sell out. Wake up nationalism, wake up.

  • Reader

    Kevin Breslin: somewhere between Ibiza and Phuket!
    The Isle of Man is somewhere between England and Ireland.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Since we’re both using occidental travel here, yes.

  • cu chulainn

    Northern Ireland is a sectarian state, its entire reason for existence is to promote colonial sectarianism. Fiddling around with the details of government has been welcome as far as it goes, but it does not change the sordid character of NI.

    As an example of their bad faith in the process, the DUP have supported Brexit in an attempt to get border controls and the like and overthrow the GFA and bring us all back to chaos.

  • Croiteir

    1 SF is not the equal – it is the lesser party
    2. The UUP is not the opposition, it is just in opposition, not the same thing
    3. AF cannot do anything without MMG say so – yet to be seen, the past is not a good indication that this is true.
    4. SF now is allowed to cut the cake given to them by Unionists in England
    5 Arlene does not allow nationalists near justice – MMG not only meekly accepts but praises Fosters nominee Sugden to the post.
    6. A British police force rebranded from RUC to PSNI incorporating the RUC patrols along with the award for their rule of terror from the queen is fully supported by SF.
    7. The soldiers are off the streets and their guns are surrendered and decommissions. Meanwhile the British downgrade their presence to the usual garrison force to ensure any local difficulty can be quickly and efficiently dealt with.
    8 The Union flag flies in accordance to British guidelines
    9 Michelle O’Neill gets down to business unifying with British and breaking with Irish guidelines as they are obviously better.
    10 Arlene accepts SF compliance and boasts about being able to deliver unionists pfg.
    All looking good for nationalism

  • cu chulainn

    It isn’t a big enough island to warrant this ridiculous partition.

  • Croiteir

    Never hear of the Great Circular Route?

  • NotNowJohnny

    You sound like a nationalist version of the TUV. What did you expect the GFA to deliver?

  • Granni Trixie

    Surely most people see that the big benefit was an end to physical force tactics?
    Many also assumed that following GFA ‘reconciliation’ would be top of agenda – also,not so.

  • NotNowJohnny

    What changes would you propose making to northern ireland that would make it less sectarian?

  • NotNowJohnny

    I’m not sure what you are asking re your first sentence or what you mean by physical force tactics. Regarding reconciliation, of course I think it is a good thing. However I’m not sure that most people assumed it would be top of the agenda. In my view there are a lot of sectarian people in Northern Ireland who vote for sectarian parties and many of these people don’t particularly want to be reconciled with anyone. The GFA provided the framework for the parties to work together in government and for the betterment of relations in a north south and east west basis but it can’t deliver reconciliation on its own. My view is that it has delivered broadly on most of its key aims and this has contributed towards reconciliation. Remember the DUP wouldn’t even talk to SF a few years ago. Of course reconciliation is not only for political parties. It is something which everyone can participate in. Of course some people appear not to wish to do reconciliation. Or, if they do, they appear to have little idea how to go about it. Reconciliation requires a change in mindset and having a mindset that causes one to write the word ‘British’ four times along with the words ‘terror’, ‘surrendered’, ‘queen’, ‘guns’ and ‘garrisons’ in a short post mainly about Sinn Fein shows what the GFA is up against.

  • Skibo

    I doubt the imposition of border controls has anything to do with the DUPs decision to back Brexit. Think it has more to do with not wanting a British government to be all powerful and not beholding to the EU parliament and particularly an EU commission.

  • Skibo

    We are actually still in the middle of a peace process. The GFA and all that went before is merely a game plan to make us all get along with each other. It states that the final political solution of the state will be within an all Ireland when the people vote for it. Until that time it will remain within the UK.
    The United Ireland project, at the moment is just a dream. There is no plan, there is no economic figures, there is no vision of what kind of Ireland it will be.
    Republicans have to show the people of NI that a UI is a feasible solution, a practical solution and a preferred solution. That will not happen at the end of a gun.
    There will be difficult times ahead and hard to swallow at times.
    MMcG said in Theipval that he was out of his comfort zone but leaders have to lead. That is what he is doing and credit where credit is due.
    I look forward to seeing Arlene getting out of her comfort zone. She has partly with a DUP minister visiting an Irish College and the Gay blood situation moving forward. Perhaps she could look at an Irish Language Act. It doesn’t have to cost the earth and could be limited but it needs to be resolved.

  • Redstar

    Why should she leave her comfort zone when she has absolutely no need to do so.

    Her underling does what he’s told to by her and spouts the appropriate line as required by his British masters/ handlers.

    He is the epitome of a middle aged greying out of touch career politico who’s only remaining aim is to make sure he gets a good thirty pieces of silver pay off for his twilight years and no doubt he will go to his grave still spinning to the gullible that UI is in sight.

  • Croiteir

    I expected it to reflect the greater wishes of the majority of the people living in Ireland and give assurances and reassurances to those who wanted to maintain division by investigating the reasons behind their reticence

  • Croiteir

    I would say Granni that is a fair enough statement, however to state that the GFA arrangement was the only way to deliver that is just a fallacy.

  • Roger

    Debatable. But an understandable viewpoint. On the other hand, check out St. Maarten/St. Martin or the islands of Märket or Usedom. Less extreme examples are Hispaniola, Borneo, Cyprus and Timor. Greater Samoa, greater Solomon Islands and greater Virgin Islands (admittedly, not involving land borders) are somehow akin too. There are a few islands, some much smaller, that have been partitioned. Often very successfully. Sometimes not so successfully.

  • Redstar

    It’s pretty clear that after the Provos surrendered and SF accepted they would administer British rule in Ireland that we simply had the repeat of what has dogged Irish Republicanism for centuries- sell out politicians who for pure selfish gain doom future generations to the unending bitterness and division which is the inevitable result of not addressing the underlying problem of Britain occupying part of this island.

  • NotNowJohnny

    I’m afraid I have no idea what this means.

  • Skibo

    And so lays the reason why Nationalists should not accept Northern Ireland.
    Doff the cap Croppies and know your place.