Martin McGuinness: “We now wait to see if SDLP will stand by the principles of the Good Friday Agreement or follow the UUP into opposition…”

The response of Sinn Féin’s new MLA for Foyle, Martin McGuinness, to being upstaged – at the moment of his re-appointment as Northern Ireland deputy First Minister – by the UUP leader Mike Nesbitt’s announcement that his party had unanimously agreed to go into official opposition in the NI Assembly, betrayed a confused, or forgetful, party lashing out at sceptics, and potential sceptics, alike.  [Nobody puts Baby in the corner… – Ed]

From the Sinn Féin press release [added emphasis throughout]

Speaking after being re-appointed as deputy First Minister, Mr McGuinness said;

All of us now have a huge responsibility to take the Fresh Start Agreement forward; we have made a good start but there is more to be done.

“We are in a process of trying to put together a Programme for Government to continue to build on the progress we have already made.

The leader of the UUP has shown a lack of leadership and disregard to the views of the electorate who have endorsed power sharing government.

“I have made it clear that Sinn Féin is going into government.

We now wait to see if SDLP will stand by the principles of the Good Friday Agreement or follow the UUP into opposition.

What Martin McGuinness conveniently forgets is the Fresh Start Agreement that he endorses contained the NI “Executive’s detailed proposals for specific aspects of implementation for which it is responsible”, including an official opposition that the UUP, and potentially others, are now availing of – see “Appendix F4: Statement of Proposed Entitlements for an Official Opposition”, [pdf file, page 55].

Did his agreement to those proposals “disregard [] the views of the electorate who have endorsed power sharing government”?  The Fresh Start Progress report on 14 January 2016 noted [pdf file, page 14]

Following consultation with the Speaker, the First Minister and deputy First Minister agreed to table a motion in the Assembly to remit the Speaker to implement the provisions of the Statement of Proposed Entitlements.

In the event, it was John McCallister’s Assembly and Executive Reform (Assembly Opposition) Bill [Royal Assent 23 March 2016] that has provided for the formation of an Assembly Opposition.   And whilst Sinn Féin opposed that Bill in the Assembly, it’s worth noting Sinn Féin’s Raymond McCartney’s opening remarks during the Bill’s final stage.

I think that Mr Lunn described Sinn Féin opposing all the clauses at Second Stage as a spectacle. That is one description of it, but our position was clear from the outset, and we told the Bill’s sponsor about it at the first opportunity. The Fresh Start Agreement created the basis for an opposition without having to legislate; it could be done administratively and by convention. [added emphasis]

And Raymond McCartney’s final remarks at that time

In conclusion, I thank John McCallister for the way that he conducted this at all stages. In fairness, when we said that we would not support this, there was no political point-scoring. I think that he took it in the spirit in which we engaged and the spirit in which we said that. Similarly, the Committee staff took us through the Committee Stage and provided us with excellent research. I think that we are all in a better place to examine how, based on A Fresh Start, the Procedures Committee should progress the issue around the need or an aspiration for opposition. Once the opportunity is presented, we will see how many people take it up. [added emphasis]

Well, the opportunity is now presented.

As for “[waiting] to see if SDLP will stand by the principles of the Good Friday Agreement”?

That’s more than a bit rich coming from a party that has committed to campaign to overturn the founding principle of the 1998 Agreement – that it is for the people of Northern Ireland to exercise their right of self-determination [a united Ireland is “subject to the agreement and consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland”]  – repeatedly calling for “an island-wide referendum on Irish unity” to replace the currently legislated-for, including in the Irish Constitution, joint referendums north and south.

And never mind that “an island-wide referendum on Irish unity” would require prior joint referendums, north and south, to avoid legal challenges.

Apparently this is an example of Martin McGuinness “[continuing] to provide positive, responsible constructive leadership, taking society forward”.

[Psst… wanna buy a bridge? – Ed]