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]

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  • Glenn

    Mr McGuinness said;
    “We now wait to see if SDLP will stand by the principles of the Good Friday Agreement or follow the UUP into opposition”.

    That’s interesting from McGuinness, I thought the first principle of the GFA was not to have their armed wing their so called army council at the heart of the party. But like Adams both he and the shinners/provos have never been good at irony.

  • Thomas Barber

    Who even cares anymore apart from those who have their snouts in the money trough and now we have an opposition its only a matter of time before we have unionist demands for a return of majority rule.

  • Declan Doyle

    From MMG’s perspective, the SDLP opting out after Catholics and Nationalists spending so long under a crushing and vicious Unionist regime, and winning power sharing after so much sacrifice; might sting a bit.

  • Gopher

    Please its Marty and SF’s fear of being establishment without another nationalist party to act as a crutch. Is there a medical name for the condition?

  • Declan Doyle

    hypernationalisttension syndrome?

  • notimetoshine

    Ah but that history is beginning to fade.

    “…spending so long under a crushing and vicious Unionist regime, and winning power sharing after so much sacrifice; might sting a bit.”

    How long can this continue to be used as an excuse to continue in a dysfunctional, inefficient and poorly managed government? Maybe it’s time to leave behind the tropes of our history and realise that good hospitals, education and decent jobs trump moral victories anyday.

  • Declan Doyle

    Totally agree with you

  • mickfealty

    That’s the broad fear, but that’s not actually going to happen. 18 years after the GFA not even Jim Allister argues against power sharing. Anyone who does cannot even get elected.

  • chrisjones2

    Why is SF so afrraid of even the neutered opposition of the McAllister Act?

    Could it be that with so many members on Committees a combined UUP and SDLP Opposition block might be a powerful force to question and demand answers. A centrist block with quite close to the same number of seats as the Shinners (especially if Alliance worked with them too)

    So be brave little Hobbit and jump – the Shire needs you

  • chrisjones2

    From MMGs perspective the SDLP dissociating itself from his partys murderous past might leave them a bit exposed

    From the perspective of the rest of the Community the SDLP opting out into opposition alongside the UUP might inspire us that a shared future is possible as opposed to Marty’s tired old offer of Division

  • chrisjones2



  • chrisjones2

    Agree completely. Noone I speak to wants it or would even see it as fair.

  • NotNowJohnny

    I’d be interested to know how you came to this conclusion. What have you heard or read that leads you to believe that the UUP or DUP are going to demand this? Is there a wind of change blowing that the rest of us have missed? Or did you make this up?

  • chrisjones2

    …then there’s all those guns and Semtex that were not decommissioned when we were told they were, then the guns that were imported from Amerikay after decommissioning, the Northern Bank Robbery, the smuggling, …………

  • Gopher

    If the SDLP and Alliance man up whilst they cannot vote down SF and the DUP collectively they can act as a wedge exploiting any fissure between them. SF will continually have to vote with the DUP and the DUP will have to use their votes to bail out SF and their POC to bail out themselves when SF don’t back them.

    If Alliance pull out and SDLP stay in the prospect of Foster leading a majority nationalist government will be quite amusing .

  • Brendan Heading

    (some) unionist politicians have been demanding a return to majority rule since 1972. The answer was, and remains, “no” and to be fair I think the election result shows that most unionists understand this.

    On the other hand, talking up the dire consequences of a party implementing the new opposition structures that SF themselves agreed to under Fresh Start makes no sense at all. Martin McGuinness and the rest of them must have anticipated that the UUP, probably SDLP and possibly Alliance would do this – and maybe he did.

  • hugh mccloy

    The only thing McGuinness is worried about is the reversal of the 2003 / 2007 elections, he used the SDLP as scapegoats to psuh SF ahead of the SDLP, if SDLP and UUP form an opposition then SF and DUP will have no one to blame for the failures of departments. So he is going back to the tried and tested call them anti peace, threaten the public with the past. What the UUP and maybe SDLP should do is say to DUP and SF put your money where your mouth is.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Pretty much a charade by McGuinness, Sinn Féin representatives have in the very recent past said that any party choosing to go into opposition was something they had no qualms about. These include Martin McGuinness himself.

  • Skibo

    How very condensing. Sf have to vote with DUP while DUP have to bail out SF! If they do end up in government together I assume it will have to be as equals or it will never work. Could SF use this as leverage to get the last of the agreement promises over the line.
    ie Irish language act, equality bill and Maze project (could be a step too far)
    It will be interesting to see if the opposition can come up with an alternative programme for government.

  • Alan N/Ards

    He’s in government with a party that was/is totally opposed to The GFA. Who can remember the hypocrites of the DUP taking charge of two ministries and then refusing to attend executive meeting?

  • Thomas Barber

    “not even Jim Allister argues against power sharing”

    Yes Mick we’ve seen the TUV, DUP, UUP idea of power sharing when they have control –

  • Thomas Barber

    The UUP has been working for 5 years to come up with the right words to say the same thing.

  • Sprite

    Sinn Fein’s response to UUP in opposition seems odd but they’ve reasons to be uncertain about the next 5 years.

    It looks as though SF are afraid of the SDLP following suit and leaving them as the sole nationalist party in government. There’s nowhere to hide then. Of the 5 Assembly parties SF appear to have the least talent in their ranks.

    A couple of things must be taxing them, a) the petition of concern – if the party you need to get you the 30 votes is an opposition party where do you go?

    How do you use the petition of concern against your only partner in government without creating a situation where that partnership isn’t tenable?

    SF alone with DUP at the Executive table makes very obvious the unionist majority in the Executive – how comfortable is that?

    Interesting times indeed…

  • Glenn

    Who remembers a Sinn Fein/IRA minister reading out a prepared rant to the committee that is to oversee her department and then storming out refusing to answer any of their questions on when she knew about the compulsory purchase and demolishing of houses for the new gaa ground Casement park. And who can forget the Sinn Fein/IRA spy rings up on the hill. Democracy aye, and the so called peace process you can’t beat it.

  • tmitch57

    The Shinner input into the GFA during the negotiations was largely limited to their contribution on the security issues: prisoner release and decommissioning. When the Strand I and Strand II arrangements were discussed the party was basically ignored because its positions were out of touch with political reality. So now we have the party that walked out of the GFA negotiations as soon as they got serious and the party that spent weeks spouting demands for “Brits out” and a united Ireland running the Assembly and the Executive together.

  • Skibo

    What spy rings? Was there any prosecutions? The only spy I remember in Stormont was Donaldson!

  • Robert ian Wiliams

    Surely SF are in reality the de facto opposition and they are trumped by the 30 seat petition of concern majority Democratic Unionist party…who also have first choice of all the key ministries.

  • Robert ian Wiliams

    How to lose a future Referendum.. antagonising the Unionists with an Irish language Bill. The analogy with Wales is false as there are large areas with Welsh majorities and one in five speak the language fluently.

  • Skibo

    Here we see what GA was talking about with his comment on Trojan horse. How can parity of esteem for the Irish language be seen as antagonising Unionists?
    Go on, fall into the trap!