Writing at the beginning of what has proven to be a hectic week, Malachi O’Doherty believes that Sinn Fein has finally lost Ulster’s long running blame game. The real cost, he argues, is not in votes for the party, but rather what the party can do with those votes when none of its democratic partners trust a word it says. For good measure, he also believes it’s not just Sinn Fein’s problem!
From this simple premise he extrapolates four implications:
The first is that there is no point in voting for Sinn Fein now if what you want is the fulfilment of the Good Friday Agreement and the restoration of the Executive. Gerry Adams’ problem is not that he doesn’t yet have enough votes to carry things his way, it is that he has no credibility with other parties.
Unfortunately there isn’t any other party that nationalists can vote for that can bring back the Executive because the SDLP is committed to the untenable, the inclusion of Sinn Fein.
The second implication of Sinn Fein’s losing the blame game and its credibility too is, therefore, that the Executive is not coming back.
The third implication is that if nationalists do give their votes to Sinn Fein they will be empowering a party which cannot adequately represent them. Not only will this party not take its seats in Westminster, it will not be trusted to play fair when it seeks to negotiate with others or represent nationalist community interests.
The fourth implication is that, having taken the blame for the collapse of talks and having squandered its credibility by planning a bank robbery during those talks, Sinn Fein has lost the moral advantage with which nationalism entered the long political conflict in Northern Ireland.