Sinn Fein struggling to finally accept the ‘Consent Principle’…

Fionnuala O’Connor has a very sharp reading of the situation in and around Sinn Fein as negotiations come to a head. The much talked about (but rarely publicly expressed) pain within Republican communities is real enough (subs needed). It has something of an electoral and demographic edge to it. Yet the real significance of accepting the police, she hints, lies in the trashing of what is arguably Irish Republicanism’s last sacred cow: recognition of the State’s right to exert monopoly of force, short of the political unification of the island.

The SDLP’s most loyal supporters will never forgive the republican movement for so many deaths, for prolonging the violence, alienating the South and embittering so many unionists. Among republicans, there is fear and resentment about the process that has neutered the IRA, destroyed the arms and set a course towards final recognition of the state by accepting the police. The still-uncertain prospect of sharing power with Dr Paisley has obvious limitations as a pay-off.

Traditionalists hate the Adams-McGuinness team with a vengeance, but even among the faithful they have lost a little lustre. The journey from war to peace has taken too long, and familiarity breeds irreverence. There are people old enough to have set up homes, had children and lost marriages, who don’t remember the war because they were young teenagers in 1994 when the IRA called that first cessation of hostilities.

The slow speed of this public psychodrama, is not likely to amplify those limited payoffs. Certainly today’s poll would suggest that ‘Big Mo’ (scroll down) may have left Sinn Fein’s camp for the foreseeable future, deal or no deal.

O’Connor has a sharp eye for personal detail: none better than her observation of the discomfort in and around the DUP:

Last Friday saw Dr Paisley take up three, perhaps four positions inside 24 hours, none of them gracefully. As he read his speech, crunching the paper hard as though warding off the temptation to improvise, it became clear that the text hammered out with Tony Blair’s minions had been amended. Some of his MLAs grew fidgety.

Near the end, concentration took its toll. Despite loud prompts from his son and Peter Robinson, the new-fangled, insulting replacement for the RUC eventually came out “ESPI” instead of PSNI. Invoking Martin Luther’s “Here I stand” may have been his own idea but dwindled without “I can do no other,” which in the circumstances might have brought disbelieving giggles.

As one commentator Slugger talked to this morning argued, perhaps the best these two once proud, fundamentalist, and unbending parties can give us is a stable deal. After that, the gates may just open wide enough to allow the ‘moderates’ to come back in and fill the space in which ordinary policy-driven politics actually gets done.

Its a hypothesis that would be severely tested in any March election. But our ‘war time’ politicians seem to be struggling at the prospect of transforming long time enemies (perhaps cherished for their value in garnering both fear and support) into partners in government.


  • Why this false equivalence between SF/IRA & the DUP? Name me one person Paisley has murdered.

  • Mick Fealty

    You are reading very deeply between the lines there Karl. I have suggested they were/are both ‘proud, fundamentalist and unbending’. They are also the only parties with any power to strike a deal.

    The only other contentious wording might be in the reference to ‘war time’. That’s simply an allusion to a shared attitude to the ‘Troubles’ – that it was a fight to the death.

    But even then, I’m not sure how you are teasing ‘equivalence’ out of that?

  • smcgiff

    ‘Why this false equivalence between SF/IRA & the DUP? Name me one person Paisley has murdered.’

    Name me one person Gerry Adams has murdered, or even given a bloody nose?

  • Mick Fealty

    Can we not play that game Seamus. And not simply because it’s a side track, but more because it’s an open invitation to beat up the man rather than examine, clearly, the politics of the situation.

  • Billy Pilgrim


    I hate to criticise but I think your refereeing of Karl’s and Seamus’s comments was far from impartial.

  • smcgiff

    But he’s probably right, Billy. Mine was a knee jerk response, and strays away from the original thread. Point stands though! 🙂

  • bobby Jihad

    Slightly tengential but the above is the contact address for HM’s Embassy in Tehran. Don’t the Shinners always tell us it is on Bobby Sands Street? Indeed here is a petition organised by your own Mick Hall saying the name should remain after the late MP.

    Why don’t Sinn Fein take up this cause. Catholic, Protestant and jihadists unite. We’re on the one road……..

  • Mick Fealty

    Sorry Billy. I thought it best to intervene early.

  • Billy Pilgrim


    “But he’s probably right, Billy. Mine was a knee jerk response, and strays away from the original thread. Point stands though! :)”

    Fair enough, but the reply you got should have been the reply Karl got. However Karl didn’t – the guy who ignored the ball and sledged Sinn Fein was engaged with and claification was somewhat cravenly supplied. When the knee-jerk reaction came, the moderator was noticeably more censorious.

    As I say, I hate to criticise, but I have noticed a note of disingenuity and partisanship in moderating that has crept in on Slugger in recent months. I just wanted to register my concern.

    (Though I still think Mick should be nominated for Seanad Eireann and put on the shortlist for next year’s Nobel Peace Prize immediately, notwithstanding our occasional spats.)

  • Billy Pilgrim

    “Sorry Billy. I thought it best to intervene early.”

    Ah Mick, it’s your world. We’re all only grateful that we live in it…..

  • Pete

    What is actually happening is the realisation of the full implementation of the GFA.

    Many stated that, in the long run, the GFA was good for unionism; but, with so much redress going to nationalists at great haste, it was a matter of opinion that republicans were making big gains and change, for example policing, was done not out to enhance nor reform but to appease.

    But, in fact, power sharing is not a sacrifice nor is devolved policing and justice nor reform, if you can control it. Integral sovereignty has not been affected and it looks like republican aspirations now rest alone with political persuasion by which to bring about a change in nation statehood.

    The dust is beginning to settle and long trumpeted unionist angst is easing and republicans are now having to deal with the salty realities of the GFA, namely, as O’Connor says the ‘State’s right to exert monopoly of force’.

    However, the people will be the institutions and the state. Isn’t that democracy – the views and wishes of the people of *today* asserted through a political accommodation.

    It really is cross-road time for the political extremes.

  • aquifer

    Politically DUP & Sinn Fein have financed their rise to prominence writing dud cheques.

    With fascism the equation is simpler. Inflated aspirations then invasion and subjugation of some unfortunate others. The secular god of socialism also fell to ground as cronyism and graft.

    In europe in 2006 nobody is interested in runaway political inflation any more after we saw its outworking in Belsen and the Balkans.

    Without efficient governance and law and order the capitalist machine will pulverise us.

    So politically at least, its cash only now lads.

  • Mick Fealty


    I think Ireland is tad over exposed on the Nobel front, but if the taoiseach is not feeling under too much pressure to pack the second chamber with party men after June, perhaps he’ll find space for another independent or two on his list of nominees. 😉

  • parcifal

    agree with your analysis, and even though SF appear to be in difficulties,
    I think they are the more optimistic of the two camps.

    pessemists see a difficulty in every opportunity
    (see recent comments by Ian Paisly jnr, Dodds)
    optimists see an opportunity in every difficulty
    (see recent comments by McGuiness/Adams)

  • smcgiff

    ‘the reply you got should have been the reply Karl got.’

    By Gum, you’re right, Billy… smcgiff, Most Oppressed Poster Ever!


  • Tomás

    “Slightly tengential but the above is the contact address for HM’s Embassy in Tehran. Don’t the Shinners always tell us it is on Bobby Sands Street? Indeed here is a petition organised by your own Mick Hall saying the name should remain after the late MP.

    Sorry to further this odd aside but I thought I’d just add that the embassy has, and always did have, its post addressed to a side entrance to avoid having Bobby Sands on the address.

  • Hugo Rooney

    But the British Embassy does not show Bobby Sands Stret on its map referenced above. And one can hardly change one’s address so simply. I suppose it must be giving the Court of St James some headaches.

  • Rubicon

    The SF insistence on the devolution of Policing & Justice (with an agreed timetable) is curious. It rests on the acceptance that the DUP are fit to hold the policing ministerial portfolio and that they can be trusted to control operational policing matters. Yet, the loss of devolved policing powers occurred because nationalists and then the British Government came to the conclusion that unionists were not fit to have control of policing.

    Just when did this rebuilding of nationalist trust in unionist control of policing occur? Did I miss something?

    While unionist demand SF support for policing as a pre-condition to returning devolved government – their own support for policing has been more of a-la-carte than principled one; October 2002 UUP threaten to withdraw from Policing Board, September 2005 unionists threaten to withdraw support for policing over Whiterock and February 2006 DUP threaten to withdraw from Policing Board. Whether it be; policing reform, operational policing matters or SF membership of the Policing Board unionism is far from taking a non-partisan, non-conditional line on support for policing.

    So – why are SF demanding the devolution of P&J to the DUP? SF taking their seats on the Policing Board puts accountability in a cross-party context. Yes – there may be weaknesses in operational accountability but these are within the remit of the Office of the Police Ombudsman where a recent survey shows very high levels of confidence across both communities. I can’t see as high confidence among nationalists in a DUP P&J minister – or among unionists in a SF P&J committee chairman.

    Is devolution of P&J the only acceptable way forward? Given the unionist record on support for policing – is a similar level of ‘support’ for policing from SF really asking a lot?

  • parcifal

    you’ve picked up something that no-one else has; perhaps deserving of a thread of its own.

  • Rubicon

    Parcifal – it seems so very strange to me that this hasn’t been flagged. Have we such short memories? Are we so distracted with returning devolution to the point that we’ve forgotten the lessons of the past? Is the supposed impasse between SF and the DUP the convenient excuse for delivering one step short of the mark – for both of them?

    Few nationalists would have complained when unionist control of policing was halted. When unionists threaten to withdraw their support for policing (as recently as last year) over an operational matter (the policing of a parade of all things!) what on earth makes them better able now than then?

    If SF do no more than play the same a-la-carte support for policing as unionists have in recent years then – are they really being asked to ditch a shibboleth of faith? SF has already demonstrated that they can do this in the Republic of Ireland.

    Separate the problems; policing, intelligence gathering and justice. Seek agreement that keeps all-party involvement – preferably not tied to devolved government in the next mandate (NI simply isn’t ready for it). Is that a timetable?

    I suspect many will believe it is – not many of the politicians seem that anxious for devolution of justice powers. No surprise there – the ministerial portfolio would be little more than having charge of court buildings – unless restorative justice is thought a runner. Obviously not by the DUP (who’d have the portfolio) and I believe the vast majority of NI would be VERY anxious of any moves in that direction.

    The courts are the 3rd estate in democracy. They should operate independently of the legislature and the executive – whether it be a devolved or direct rule executive. The judiciary appear to be doing a good job in holding direct rule to account.

    If the Policing Board is not thought powerful enough on operational matters – well perhaps that’s where negotiation should focus. If the Policing Ombudsman has disappointed some – can we make it more accountable?

    In bringing attention to this paradox I’m trying to be realistic. There is no way a DUP minister will handle the parades problems of next summer as well as the direct rule approach has – not in nationalists minds anyway. So – why are SF so keen for Ian Jnr (or whoever in the DUP – Willie?) manage what we all know is a certain problem?

    If I was cynical I’d think SF were deliberately trying to destabilise. I’m not that cynical though – I believe SF are pushing at a brick wall for reasons of mantra. It’s unlike them and there are other approaches.

    The DUP too have genuine concerns. Sure – there’s a component of their party that simply will never accept SF in government. The realists predominate.

    There is a discussion to be had here – we are allowing the SF and DUP define the terms of that discussion. We could do better ….

  • Pete Baker


    The confusion hasn’t been helped by the repeated references to control of policing – by some parties.

    The reality is that no devolved ministry would have such control over operational matters.

    That control will remain, rightly, in the hands of the Chief Constable – that’s the job.

    The Policing Board holds the Chief Constable to account for the decisions made on those operational matters.

    As they will continue to do under a devolved ministry.

  • Rubicon

    Thanks for that clarification Pete – it was pretty much my own understanding. The devolution of P&J is a devil’s cup for NI and while SF seem keen to put control in DUP hands – I have some very serious problems with that. ALL the parties have a lot of work to do in selling their approaches. So far all we have is a so called principled divide. It just doesn’t wash – either side.

    The political parties need to sell their control of policing and justice. They are well short of having done that – and SF’s current strategy of getting the unionists back in control of policing may well bite them in the arse!

    SF has some genuine concerns on operational accountability of policing. Many more have concerns with policing being impartial and local political control has not yet won over the masses.

    There is surely room for movement here – just not on the agenda our political parties point to.

  • Pete Baker


    “Thanks for that clarification Pete – it was pretty much my own understanding. The devolution of P&J is a devil’s cup for NI and while SF seem keen to put control in DUP hands.”

    Errmmm… Actually, No. My point was that control of policing operational matters will remain with the Chief Constable not with any of the political parties.

    Ultimately, and even with the accountability mechanisms, the Chief Constable will decide on operational matters unless it gets to the point whereby they are sacked.

    The next Chief Constable would then have control of operational matters… and rightly so.

  • Rubicon

    I’m not going to split hairs here – you are correct Pete – and – I’ll go further – operational control of policing must rest with the Chief Constable. It is the accountability of the Chief Constable that could change if P&J was to be devolved. SF want that control (agreed – near none) to rest in DUP hands while retaining the near certainty of being able to play politics – the Assembly scrutiny committee will most certainly be held by SF.

    I’m not disagreeing with you Pete – I’m just trying to highlight some 180 degree U-turns that are now being used as an excuse to halt progress. There remain areas for negotiation – assuming the DUP position is not “No Taig in Government” and the SF’s is what they say it is – accountability – not control.

    Nobody is requiring control of the Chief Constable over his operational decisions. If a political party out there wants that – they’re being more than a little shy. SF wanting the locus of operational control being with the DUP (or any unionist) raises questions. The multi-party involvement seems better for now. But, that is just my opinion.

    I started with raising an issue not addressed by either the political parties or the media. Having lived through “the troubles” I just wondered had we lost our sense of where things went wrong and replaced them with potential power blocs.

  • Ian


    Where did you get the impression that SF are content to give the DUP sole control of the policing and justice ministry?

    The structure of any future P&J ministry is one of the issues yet to be agreed, alongside timing of devolution.

    Whilst the parties in the PFG Committee agreed on a single MINISTRY for policing and justice, they did not agree it should fall to a single MINISTER to take up the responsibility.

    The legislation allows for a number of other options – two ministers acting jointly (a la FM/DFM); two minister splitting the portfolio (e.g. unionist justice minister and nationalist policing minister); or a minster and a junior minister.