Is Sinn Féin fit for government?

Former vice chair of the Policing Board, Denis Bradley, writing in Thursday’s Irish News, takes issue with the Irish government’s lack of clarity and courage on political parties’ support for law and order here, something which has been highlighted on Slugger over recent weeks, and he asks the question, “Is Sinn Féin fit for government?”. Denis Bradley’s answer is “Yes”, but he adds an important proviso to any party actually being in government:

No political party in Ireland would join in government with Sinn Féin if they did not support the Garda. Equally, no political party in the north should join in government with any party which does not support the PSNI.

He could, however, also have taken issue with the British government – Peter Hain, speaking in the Commons on 28th June:

5. Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): If he will make it a requirement of holding ministerial office in the Northern Ireland Executive that a person must take an oath to uphold the rule of law. [79739]

7. Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): What his policy is on the appointment to Ministerial office of people who do not support the police. [79741]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Hain): All the parties should support the rule of law and policing arrangements in Northern Ireland, especially those holding ministerial office in a restored Northern Ireland Executive, who should also abide by the terms of the pledge of office, which commits them to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means.

Mr. Bone: Many people believe that former terrorists should not be Ministers. However, if they are to serve in the Northern Ireland Executive, the very least they could do is to take an oath to uphold the rule of law so that their despicable pasts can be just that—their past. Would the Secretary of State agree?

Mr. Hain: I agree absolutely, but the hon. Gentleman will be aware that the pledge of office, which commits all serving members to commit themselves to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means, is effectively a commitment to the rule of law. It was agreed by all the parties and is in the Northern Ireland Act 1998 as a result of the Good Friday agreement. I am at one with him in insisting that all elected politicians, especially Ministers, comply with the rule of law and support the police.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: Could we have an unequivocal answer from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland? Does he not believe that all people who hold public appointments in Northern Ireland not only should support the policing arrangements but must support them, because the police uphold the rule of law? Will he say that they must support policing arrangements, and go rather further than he has to date?

Mr. Hain: Of course I think that the police must be, and should be, supported by all holding ministerial office. I want to be clear, however, that there has been a sea change on the part of republicans, Sinn Fein and the IRA in the past year or so, as a result of all the painstaking work done by our Governments and our predecessor Governments, and we should welcome that. I do not want to see another obstacle erected late in the day to stop the restoration of devolved government. If we disagree about that, that will have to be that.

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  • Turbo Paul

    As soon as Sinn Fein accept Policing and the rule of law they are fit for govt, to allow any party into govt without accepting the rule of law is folly.

    Hain is cutting Sinn Fein some slack so they can appear to look sincere when the issue of policing is resolved.

    Before Sinn Fein can agree to policing there will be a meeting of the rank and file, Sinn Fein leadership need to be able to sell this in a way that looks appealing to the rank and file members, rather than try and sell it as a pre-condition.

    The bargining chip of policing is going to be the first put upon the table when talks start in Sept, the US Envoy, Reiss, claims this policing chip is in his back pocket ready to be offered.

    If nothing else the leadership of Sinn Fein are pragmatic enough to know that if we reach November and Policing is the last issue, there is no way the Sinn Fein leadership will allow themselves to use policing as a deal-breaker, the untold damage to the RM would prevent any progress electorally in the North and especially in the South at next years general election.

  • Pete Baker


    a couple of things about your theory:

    Hain is claiming that SF signed up to the rule of law in 1998 through the existing ministerial pledge of office.

    SF’s stated position on when they’ll take that decision to their rank and file – see here for that stated position – doesn’t tally with the forthcoming legislation which requires an Executive in place, and both the First and Deputy First Ministers to put forward a joint motion to the Assembly before any other steps are taken on devolving policing powers – otherwise known as the quadruple lock

  • Turbo Paul

    The timing of when Sinn Fein’s endorsment of policing is implemented is something that can be worked out.

    If Sinn Fein are signed up and ready to go, but the actual deal needs to wait until the asembley is in place I am sure this will be agreed.

    Otherwise, with all the goodwill in the world from Sinn Fein, the policing issue cannot be resolved, through no fault of Sinn Fein.

    Am I to believe that if all the parties are signed up and ready to go, then because of the Quad lock, the assembly does not resume?

    Are we to believe that the DUP would refuse to share power because Sinn Fein cannot implement their agreed endorsment of policing before the Assembly resumes sitting, even though there is a clear agreement by Sinn Fein to do so?????

    I would love to think this would be the only issue to resolve before the assembly could resume and power is devolved.

  • Pete Baker


    There are a lot of ‘ifs’ in that comment, and very little reference to what has actually been said by the various parties involved.

    The most significant point is that you begin with an acknowledgement that SF will have to change their current stated position.

    But we can all create a narrative that might occur.. better by far to focus on what is being said and by whom.

  • Ciaran Irvine

    Not that I hold any brief for the Shinners, but it amuses me greatly (in a darkly cynical way), all this guff from Unionism over whether the Provos are “fit” to be in Government…….with the DUP!!!! “Rule of law” me arse.

    Norn Irn has gone beyond being a parody of itself and has now officially crashed into a bizarre parallel dimension.

  • Pete Baker


    I’m sure Denis Bradley is equally amused at your description of him as a Unionist.

  • Ciaran Irvine

    Pete – It was a general point. Usually the only people gurning on endlessly about SF being “fit” and “housetrained” are Unionists and McDowell.

    Given Unionisms historical record in Government in Old Stormont, enthusiastic endorsement of highly dubious State Terror tactics during the Troubles, and current present-day record on little matters like power-sharing in every local council they control, they don’t really have a leg to stand on.

    Given the appalling record of mismanagement, corruption, waste, dithering and insane decisions of the Government of which McDowell has been a senior member for 9 years, he doesn’t have much cause to lecture other people on “fitness for Government” either.

    Sure SF are mad cultists with a “flexible” attitude to the law and a tendancy to thuggery. So what? So are the DUP. The PDs are a mad cult determined to save us all from ourselves. And FF are utterly corrupt and thrive on brown envelopes.

    They are all parties of the gutter, of the appeal to the baser instincts. They deserve one another.

  • Pete Baker


    It was a lazy ad hominem point.. and you were complaining about the “whataboutery roundabout” on another thread?

    Have a read of Denis Bradley’s article, he has a suggestion for breaking that circle:

    As soon as [Sinn Féin] has had its ard fheis and persuaded its delegates that it is impossible to be in government while remaining apart from the institutions that form the criminal justice system then, of course, it should be in government.

  • Rubicon

    An interesting idea being put by Bradley – is it an informed one? Will a statement from SF that they’ll not tease the Garda for being “blueshirts” any more and then saying sorry for McCabe (which they initially denied) be enough for the southern parties?

    Does Bradley know this – or is he just trying to set the standards?

    In the same weekend that the IRA attempt to sully the name of a widowed mother of 10 children whose body laid hidden (in the south) for many years – I think “broader” questions regarding suitability for government may arise – both sides of the border.

  • Pete Baker


    Given that he has also castigated the Irish government for not setting standards:

    The Irish government in particular should have insisted on this support not just because it is the most pragmatic and the most moral position in the current political context. It would also have been some recognition that it was the Irish people who led the IRA from the path of violence to the path of politics. It would have countered the vacuous claim that the DUP are the moral guardians of law and order.

    I’d suggest that setting standards is exactly what he’s now attempting to do.

  • Rubicon

    What makes SF “fit for government” is their mandate. If people vote for them – they can have them. In the north SF have the mandate – whether I like it or not. The south can make up their own minds next May.

    Bradley’s north/south comparison is unfair and irrelevant – unfair to the south – by setting an arbitrary standard not endorsed by the electorate there and irrelevant to the north where criminal justice is not (yet) a matter within the competence of the Assembly.

    Denying SF entry to the executive allows them to play the victim card. If they’re still up to no good – let the criminal justice system deal with it.

  • Reader

    Rubicon: What makes SF “fit for government” is their mandate.
    Not unless they get an absolute majority. Until then, they have to put up with trying to make themselves acceptable to a few other people. In very different ways, the GFA and other, more ‘traditional’, systems enforce that perfectly reasonable limitation.

  • Sue

    Yes, if DUP, UUP are acceptable then so is Sinn Fein.

  • seanniee

    Is Labour fit for Government?.
    Iraq,Rendition(Kidnapping),Lord Levy,Cash for Honours,Sleaze.

  • lib2016


    A referendum trumps an election. We won and if unionism doesn’t want to play anymore they can opt out of the Assembly. No more Stormont really worries republicans.