Sinn Fein must learn to lower expectations

Liam Clarke, never a republican apologist, takes the alarmist line on Sinn Fein’s future if it sticks with Gerry Adams. No surprise that he describes a party moving away from the old stalinism. A new southern strategy he reports, is not only needed on its merits but to counteract fears of instability in the north.

The DUP political leadership appears less committed to equality and partnership in government; unionism overall is fractured and directionless; and the political institutions are becoming increasingly unstable.” Paring down the rhetoric, it is clear that Sinn Fein finds the DUP hard to deal with and can’t count on being in government in the north indefinitely

Pessimism like this is bound to follow the shattering of illusions after its electoral debacle in the Republic .

Any other party could spin this as a case of swings and roundabouts, but Sinn Fein has sold itself as a national movement, not just another political party. In an image used by commentator Ed Moloney, Sinn Fein appears like a shark which will die if it cannot keep moving, eating and growing.

If Sinn Fein remains dazzled by a self-image like this, then indeed it could hasten its own downfall. It must lower expectations and learn to accept that it has become just another nationalist party, currently the leading one in the north. That’s the logic of the political settlment.SF can derive encouragement from the fact outside the cellular world so beloved of zealots and journalists alike, its voters can digest the dream like a religion they no longer take too literally. More important than the old battles is the fact that unionism needs a stable opposite number to make it respectable and keep the powersharing show in the road. The SDLP would at this stage be uncertain beneficiaries of a SF “collapse.” SF must buck up. Revisionism is advancing in the direction of democratic politics. The one argument that will never play again is that more concessions are needed to help the SF cause. No more crying wolf, just in case you’re tempted, guys. Welcome to the level playing field.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London