What’s behind Sinn Fein’s sudden volte-face?

How quickly can a blog go out of date? Answer: within a few hours. I filed this piece for Comment is Free at about 5.30pm this evening, but by the time it went out three hours later the sub ed’s reasonable summation of the piece that there is “little prospect of outright rebellion” within Sinn Fein was severely tested by a very negative statement from the party itself and issued to press agencies this evening.

Update: More detail here. That statement accuses the DUP of a negative response to Sinn Fein’s leadership’s promise to hold an Ard Fheis to ratify the leadership’s recommended support of policing. However as Miss Fitz pointed out yesterday, the DUP leader’s Spring statement can hardly be interpreted as yet another of his often grandiloquent and, by now, world-famous “Noes”.

The general assumption in the media and elsewhere is that the Ard Fheis will be held before the end of the month, but only because the Secretary of State has said it must be if the next stage of the process is to be unlocked. There is no evidence they have either set a date, or issued invitations with the required two weeks notice before the event.

Which leads one to ask, what is really behind this apparently reluctance to make the jump? Well, it would seem there are several rather large needles in a rapidly diminishing haystack.

Francie Brolly’s confession of electoral anxieties within the party about its vulnerability if it were to ratify policing before an election to a Swiss paper on the 24th November takes on a rather different look in the light of what has happened since. Le Temps noted at the time that:

Francie Brolly Sinn Féin assembly member revealed to The Times that it is possible that the meeting of his party would not take place until after the elections, “It will take place quickly if we obtain a good result in the elections but perhaps only during the marching season.”

This makes it look like a botched attempt to revert to an otherwise unspoken Plan A, with an uncharacteristically hasty attempt to slap the blame on the DUP.

The second needle is the Secretary of State’s hardening of the deadline for Sinn Fein’s ratified position. Ken Reid’s laconic description of Gerry Adams’ demeanour on the day as ‘not happy’ belies what Slugger understands to have been unprecedented levels of flustered panic at Sinn Fein headquarters.

The one thing that does stand from my original Guardian piece (given we could be looking at a cancellation/postponement of the elections, the question of Sinn Fein’s electoral vulnerability may be neither here nor there) is the growing turbulence within the party itself. Internal pressure would appear to be the more plausible explanation for Sinn Fein’s apparently sudden reversal from Adams’ own warm noises on Monday.

All of which then brings us back to Frank Millar’s observation on the integrity of this whole process, back on 15th November:

Before travelling to Scotland, some senior British sources suggested that demanding it “upfront” was the problem, because “this would mean they are accepting the legitimacy of the state”. But if that is the case, the problem with the peace process may be much greater than has yet been realised. [my italics]

If this is still the case (and it is far from clear that it is), then this deal was never a realistic prospect in the first place. If, as I have been assured by several party members, the party was not going to endure all this pain and not do a deal, then Gerry Adams may be in serious trouble with his party.

Either way, the party appears to be stuck on the horns of a very nasty dilemma. And one, some would say, that is entirely of their own making.