The politics of it are all too familiar. Peter Robinson raises the bogey of Sinn Fein to get the vote out and try to prevent SF becoming the largest party in the Assembly.
“Sinn Féin will be in government, I’ve no doubt about that whatsoever. But there’s no point to be in government just to be the mudguard of some conservative party, we want to be the vanguard… We’re in government in the north and let me be quite assertive about this, we will be in government in this jurisdiction also”.
South of the border, the new poll topper for Louth and friends can afford to sit on their hands and wait on events.
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has said that the likely Fine Gael/Labour coalition ‘will not deliver change’
There must be at least an evens chance that the Republic’s voters will quickly become disenchanted with the new government, whatever they do. If that were to lead to its collapse before the term ends, there’d be plenty of jackals waiting to bounce on the corpse. No doubt this is what Robinson has in mind, the worst case scenario for the government about to be formed in Dublin. Yet again, a unionist electoral pitch is based on fear. SF too have a vested interest in fear south of the border.
But these can only be tactical positions. Surely the right strategic approach is not to exaggerate SF’s importance. In a few year’s time, would any left- populist successor led perhaps by a Labour party that walked out of government fare any better? Or a revived Fianna Fail / Sinn Fein “ republican” coalition plus odds and sods?
Less speculatively, a basic question is: while it will always attract historic revulsion from many of its opponents at least until the old warriors depart, does Sinn Fein deserve its bogey reputation any more? Responsibility in government is a temporising force, as they’d doubtless discover in the Republic too. Both the DUP and SF are now political schizophrenics. They must make radical populist noises to bolster their communal identities but to get anywhere in government they have to compromise. . SF in coalitions on both sides of the border would not change that reality. And anyway, there’s probably a better than evens chance that they’ll fail.
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