Fionnuala O’Connor has a particular sharp piece of observation in her IT column this week. She notes that all parties are preparing for a prolonged stalemate, (subs needed) the length of which is likely to be dictated by Ian Paisley.
The SF leaders are more concerned about internal management than they are about holding their northern vote – stiffened with each Paisley decibel – and not nearly as anxious about potential damage to their vote in the Republic as the other parties would like them to be.
Indeed, she goes on to point out that political hardship is part of Sinn Fein’s political DNA. Having chatted to a few delegates to the recent Ard Fheis, she concludes:
If they face accusations and criticism about money-laundering and continued IRA activity, they conceal it well. “You only ever get that from members of other parties,” was how one summed it up. After decades of defending murder, republicans are connoisseurs of condemnation. In the post-decommissioning age and from unpopular sources, it is no hardship. Indeed, being lambasted by the right people can rally existing supporters and attract new ones. Better yet if you can swing in behind popular indignation at criticism of someone else.
And yet, she detects one possibly crucial dynamic:
A demagogue who spouts wild charges against a popular head of State is always going to lack conviction as a judge of Sinn Féin’s fitness for government. He may be the best weapon republicans retain. And the more the IRA fades while loyalist violence continues, the more unlikely his strictures will sound.