SF must address the weakness inherent in its unrequited desire for Executive unity

On Sunday Politics today, Fionnuala O’Connor once again correctly noted the growing sense within nationalism that the power relationship between the DUP and Sinn Fein is increasingly vertical and not horizontal at Stormont, with the republican party very much playing the deputy’s role.

Martin McGuinness and other republicans have spoken publicly of their desire to build a strong and close relationship with the DUP, and he was at it again today on the programme.

But the response from the DUP could not be any clearer.

The DUP have their own agenda and they will pursue it regardless of the opinions or actions of their Executive partners in Sinn Fein. We heard this during the election campaign, when the DUP were only too happy to imply that any similarities between the manifesto commitments of the two parties were because Sinn Fein had followed the DUP agenda in these areas.

Peter Weir’s visit to an Irish medium school last week was a welcome step (as was Michelle O’Neill’s decision to lift the ban on gay men donating blood)  but it does little to soften the effect of the shuffle of blows delivered by the DUP’s Simon Hamilton and Arlene Foster respectively when they recently and very publicly ruled out an Irish Language Act and a nationalist Justice Minister prior to Sinn Fein endorsing a unionist for the position. For a nationalist electorate increasingly disillusioned with a delivery deficit in the post-peace process era, this can only have cemented that belief.

Sinn Fein will know that the DUP’s decision to block the building of a community centre for the largely nationalist community of Glenariff on account of the presence of a gate inscribed with the names of two 1920s republicans will only further anger republicans and feed the desire for a more assertive approach to countering the DUP’s actions. The silence of leading party figures on this issue since the news broke earlier in the week is quite revealing, implying that they believe acknowledging it may be construed as an acceptance of their weakness at a time when they would appear to want to sell a narrative that the DUP and SF shared a unity of purpose.

Ironically, it is worth remembering that the next time the Sinn Fein Ministers meet their DUP counterparts on the Executive, they will be forced to pass a statue of the founder of the Ulster Volunteer Force……

Only time will tell if the DUP warm to an approach which will ultimately only succeed if they are forced to give (and do so publicly) as well as take. Much of that may depend on the ability of the developing Opposition to present an alternative vision, both individually (at a distinct political party level) and collectively (as an alternative Executive in waiting.)

The early moves made in the life of the DUP/SF Fresh Start Executive show signs of small-step choreography, but a substantive commitment to want to make a two party power-sharing government work will require much more than picking low hanging fruit from the tree of positive publicity.

  • murdockp

    agreed. taking on 300,000 ish angry loyalists is not something Kenny or Martin or anyone who wants an easy life is going to do.

  • Declan Doyle

    Covenant mart two? And refusing a vote because of that angry mob will only serve to breed another angry mob. So either way; angry mob it is.

  • Jollyraj

    No, they don’t. But they have members who sit in the Irish Parliament – and their ultimate goal is to win power in, and thus control over, the entity they wish NI to be transferred to.

  • murdockp

    SF can’t even take over Ireland never mind NI.

  • murdockp

    some one should have the decency to tell SF that ROI is a nation of grafters and entrepreneurs and horse trainers who have worked thier balls off to attract the world’s best companies and horse owners to these shores and they aren’t going to vote a bunch of left wing socialists into power any time soon.

  • Jollyraj

    I’d say the Irish as a whole are far too savvy to ever elect a bunch of chancers like, sinn Fein, yes.

  • murdockp

    my problem with the Irish language act is poverty and wider society.

    spending millions on Irish schools with low attendance seems an act of folly when the broader society is told get used to 35 kids to a class and funds that could build homes is being invested in duplicate school facilities.

    i learned and spoke irish myself( not great admiditly) . but i have noticed that most of the SF die hard rarely converse in Irish. i walked past the bunscoil in newry last week and the parents were chatting away in english happy as larry which I found peculiar I must say.

    our foreign nationals are the ones getting good a raw deal in all of this but no one ever speaks up for them. it is if SF and DUP expect them all to go home at some point.

  • murdockp

    don’t kid yourself that the DUP are in alliance with the British. dup are tolerated and that’s about it.

    a much warmer relationship exists betwen the british and Dublin.

    just last week Charles was in donegal having a great time with the locals. I don’t think he would have a similar experience in East Belfast.

  • kensei

    St Andrew’s was meant to be qualitiveky different; it was meant to be the deal that stuck.

    I don’t doubt that ultimately a deals are subject to the Goodwill of the signatories. But reneging has cost. It had a cost on SF in the early part of the millennium – I’d argue it may have kept the movement together but it blew a lot of goodwill, good opportunities and good momentum in hindsight. And it had a cost on the last Assembly which was paralyzed. Its unsustainable.

    I take exception that its some principled stand on finance though. That’s the type of dishonest but plausible post hoc justification you see as dog whistle on the American right. And SF have to get some slack on the grounds they actually negotiated the item, and have been totally blocked by the DUP – not here’s a counter vision, not here’s an offer. Point blank ruled out.

    But to circle back to the topic. That’s not the puzzle. The puzzle is SF are taking all of it – not just the ILA, but everything on the chin. They don’t have too. They undoubtedly have some leverage between the Assembly and the councils. If they were in the mood they could undoubtedly cause the DUP a good deal of public pain.

    They aren’t though. Not even really at the low Simon Hamilton “No ILA” level really. They definitely some vakuenin it, between the south and the middle North. But it definelynrisks being seen as weak, and some vote shedding from the edges. Game theory says they should probably give the DUP a tweak, to stop future bad behavior.

    So they must be convinced of the rightness of their course, or they are weak. Its a puzzle, and interesting to see if it holds.

  • kensei

    Perhaps he’d be happiernliving here under a different political arrangement?

  • murdockp

    the rates Bill cannot be translated into Irish.

    the Irish language does not have numbers that have that many noughts.

  • mickfealty

    “Meant to be”? What does that mean?

  • Croiteir

    I was talking about a specific. The DUP and Cameron met in the summer of last year to discuss SF pressure on the issue of cultural rights and they managed to completely out manoeuvre SF on the talks, so much so in fact that Flags,,marching and Irish Language were not even mentioned. The SDLP did not even notice either. and they wonder why nationalists are not voting for them a they slavishly did before.

  • Jollyraj

    He might. But then again, some people simply aren’t happy unless they’re unhappy – and that unlucky breed finds fertile soil in the self-thwarting dreams of Irish Republicanism.

    Back in the real world – we live in a democracy, the majority don’t want it so it simply isn’t going anywhere.

  • Ciaran O’Connor

    Can you explain why bus loads of the students at St. Malachy’s continue to take themselves for 3-4wks of a year to Loch an Iúir, Gaoth Dobhair, Achill etc… to immerse themselves in that language?

    Additionally your point about people taking the language to GCSE/ A-level has holes in it. If its the same St. Malachy’s then you have to take Irish as an option, over and above the 5/6 no-choice GCSE’s the students are forced to take. You must take English for instance, you’ve no choice in the matter. The point is you have fewer slots in terms of the optional subjects. In most cases, even at GCSE level, you have to take as options those subjects you are going to take forward to a vocation. For instance if you are aimed for the sciences, then for most its Physics, Chemistry and Biology as three options on top of your fixed no-choice subjects. In the modern day there is maybe a slot needed for IT, or computing as well. So where does Irish fit in? I know personally many had to give up Irish at O-level, in my day, at St. Malachy’s, because they had no slot free to continue it. That is a disgrace on the School. The wider criticism however is that the provision for Irish education is not what it should be. St. Malachy’s is just an example of that poor support for Irish language education. Its why we really need to get formally moving forward in the Irish language so that people can realise their wishes to learn and immerse themselves in the language.

  • Tochais Siorai

    Deliberately learning Irish???? This sort of thing has to be stopped. Next they could be doing French or Astronomy or Quantum Physics.

    I tell you, there’s no knowing where this deliberate learning carry on could end up. Remain Resolute.

  • kensei

    What do you think? No messing about on committed items. Apparently that only applied to SF.

    Has you a substantive point?

  • Kev Hughes


    I did not go to St Malachy’s (I believe my dad did though), as I went to St Colmans in Newry, but a few observations also to add would be:

    i) Uptake of languages at A-Level are low across the board;
    ii) Languages are optional now and doing well in a language at GCSE and/or A-Levels is not guaranteed;
    ii) Irish was when I was sitting it in 1996-98 an incredibly competitive GCSE, especially owing to the large number of people speaking it with their parents/family and who went to the Gaeltacht also. I went once and was at a noticeable disadvantage compared to my class mates who went every summer and also, at Easter from lower sixth form onwards.

    I’m minded of my gf telling me of her time in Jersey. She originally went to teach children German and would see a large number of students at GCSE and then this number would drop off a cliff for A-Levels. Now, maybe she was an awful teacher (personally, I don’t think that was the case), or more likely, the kids all continued with Spanish, if any language, as it is simpler (for me also).

    Irish is not a simple language to learn but one that I enjoyed immensely and it has helped me understand other languages too, for what it is worth. I would love to take it up again but am obviously constricted living here in Germany. So, what I am trying to say is that the yard stick of GCSE/A-Level uptake is a shitty measurement especially when we bare in mind the set-up of GCSEs and A-Levels, coupled with the lack of adequate support for the language. It would make far more sense for it to be developed from primary school onwards, much like English is in German schools or Luxembourgish is in, of course, Luxembourg, side by side with German.

  • Brendan Heading

    Can you explain why bus loads of the students at St. Malachy’s continue to take themselves for 3-4wks of a year to Loch an Iúir, Gaoth Dobhair, Achill etc… to immerse themselves in that language?

    Yes, I remember the trips to Loch an Iúir (organised by an Tuas Andarsan if I recall correctly) in the earlier years, specifically 1st-3rd year. There are two explanations; first, teenagers, especially younger ones, will readily sign up for anything that allows them to stay away from home with their mates for a while. Secondly, it’s fairly common to have trips away as part of modern language studies – there were German and Spanish trips too that were well patronised (French trips didn’t happen during my time there, but maybe that was rectified).

    f its the same St. Malachy’s then you have to take Irish as an option, over and above the 5/6 no-choice GCSE’s the students are forced to take

    Irish at St Malachy’s when I was there was compulsory in first year and optional from then on. By comparison, Latin, an utterly boring and useless language, was compulsory all the way up to third year.

    The rest of your contribution doesn’t address the issue at hand. If Sinn Féin voters are anxious to support the Irish language, why is this not reflected by an enthusiasm on the part of their sons and daughters to study it; and why do Catholic schools not make it at least compulsory up until third year or even GCSE level ?

  • Brendan Heading


    Each of your three points are undoubtedly correct and I think they illustrate my point. Faced with a choice between being part of the Irish language movement to preserve and extend the language, and the need to make the right choices for the future in education, unsurprisingly people choose the latter.

    I’ve got no particular problem with Irish or Irish education (I found it hard too, which is why I didn’t do it at GCSE), I’m just not sure that people who vote nationalist are in any hurry to either educate their kids with it or divert public money towards promoting it. This isn’t some sort of northern phenomenon; Irish medium education is not especially commonplace. That said, my ex was educated in an Irish primary school in Kilkenny, and she remembers at the time that she thought in Irish (especially when counting etc) but she lost most of it later on.

  • Kev Hughes

    No, you’re taking an unnecessarily simple point there.

    It is difficult, so there should be sufficient support for it, and tbf, it occupies are far more culturally important place on this island than any continental language.

    You contend that a choice away from the Irish language is ‘the right choice’, which tbh gives you away on where you stand, as in, Irish isn’t important. I beg to disagree and perhaps to correct the challenge the mean could be moved left seeing the competition already self evident?

    As for nats not being big into supporting the Irish language, really? I think you’re slightly deluded there.


    Also, how my points raised reenforce your points I fail to see. I would say it reenforces the notion of languages being poorly funded and supported, a pretty common phenomenon in English speaking countries tbf.

  • Kev Hughes

    Do you have figures for SF members’ uptake or are you clutching there fella?

  • mickfealty

    Tell me again, how did your own stint as a blogger on Slugger go? Pete knows more about blogging than most people I know and have worked with. If you don’t like it, fine. But counter it with something rather than yet another tedious beside the point attack on the man.

  • mickfealty

    It’s all classic prisoner’s dilemma tit for tat stuff. The failure to play out a positive game has reduced the returns for all parties, from Trimble to Robinson and (dare I say it, because I’m still not clear what his game plan, if he has one, actually is here), Adams.

    ‘Meant to be’ is fine. The Maze was meant to be, but we got the hauling down of the flag at City Hall which provoked months of civil disorder ending (at the every end) with the kiboshing of that plan. If you cannot play plus sum, you should not be in a game that only works for everyone if everyone co-operates.

  • Glenn

    So what you’re saying Mick, is that the shinners/provos can legally discriminate against Unionists and Loyalists who are not being full represented in Parliament a place where our laws are made???

  • Robert ian Wiliams

    Irish Nationalists now having abandoned Catholicism are making a god of the Irish language. The language issue in Wales actually blocks Plaid Cymru from ever becoming like the SNP an alternative to Labour. There is whole industry costing millions propping up the language:a language commissioner, an excellent tv channel
    ( with viewing figures in the tens of thousands) and bilingual signs even in areas where there is no Welsh. Welsh language schools are popular ( as many people perceive them as being smaller and better than the mainstream), but few of the children go on to establish Welsh speaking families.