“Sinn Féin’s purported defence of social welfare recipients will play well to their galleries”

Noel Whelan in his Irish Times column notes a cooling in Washington towards the leader of the Sinn Fein this week:

…there was a sense that Gerry Adams was feted and focused on less during this year’s St Patrick’s festivities and exchanges than in previous years. The situation with his on/off/on again meeting with the US state department reflects not so much a wariness about engaging with him in light of recent events but rather a weariness with Northern Ireland politics in the current US administration, and indeed in much of Irish America.

There was a sense of going through the motions in public utterances about Northern Ireland in both New York and Washington. Many pleasantries were uttered about being supportive of ongoing efforts to “bed down the agreements” and being anxious and available to help.

The reaction of most American politicos and Irish-American voices privately when they heard about another round of crisis talks in Stormont this week was along the lines “is that not done?” and “we thought that was all sorted”. They just hoped Northern Ireland politicians would get over themselves and get on with it.

This post-peace-process fatigue is not confined to that side of the Atlantic. In Northern Ireland itself, voters are bemused by the Stormont antics. In the Republic, people are just bored by it.

That indifference is reflected both in the research, and in falling turnout (which, coincidentally or not, is falling disproportionately faster on the nationalist side).

Perhaps it is that – to quote Ian Paisley Junior (as was) – people (bar the odd bought and paid for hack) are not that impressed with “clever tricks and cunning plans”.  Certainly, as Whelan notes, last week’s reverse ferret had Washington flummoxed:

Sinn Féin claims not to have appreciated that payments to existing recipients of some welfare payments to offset the impact of welfare cuts would not also be made available to new claimants.

It doesn’t say much for their famed negotiation skills, let alone their capacity to work powersharing or agree coalition government, that they left that unclear. It is not exactly a detail of fine print.

Yes, and well, there was the little Dublin South West problem to keep in order [Ah, so that’s why Paul Murphy was up in Belfast supporting the Unions last Friday? – Ed]. And a little bait and switch always helps keep things simple.

Whelan concludes that the switch will play well to the party’s base, north and south. For populists the world over, what you say going into an election may be absolutely no reflection of what you mean to do afterwards..

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