We are accustomed to thinking of Sinn Fein as master strategists at best or cunning so and sos at worst. But current activity blurs the old image. It’s only to be expected that playing a half- effective role in government is inconsistent with the stance of a revolutionary movement or even as the default mouthpieces of the nationalist interest. Most of the time they straddle the two, but the strain is beginning to show.
Why have Sinn Fein chosen this moment to launch yet another reconciliation document along the old familiar lines? What am I missing? Is it part of a deeper political strategy? That’s always the question with Sinn Fein. It keeps most of us guessing, although some of us of course think we know the answer for certain before the question is even put.
When the document draws a straight line between reconciliation and Irish unity, Sinn Fein will anticipate the unionist response. So are we in another round of Sinn Fein making the unionists look bad and themselves the good guys to sympathetic outsiders? What’s the point apart from giving unionists another chance to display their familiar insecurity and lack of civility? We’ve been here before so many times.
A pained Martin McGuinness says “it important for unionists, in turn, to reach out to republicans, noting the need for respect for the Irish language and culture..He was not criticising his partners in government, the DUP, but said he wanted to have a “gentle” conversation on how political unionism could do more.”
Good luck with that.
Next, take Mairtin O Muilleoir’s long overdue, very modest initiative to raise local revenue and help local small business. He deserves credit for it. But why did he precede it with an argument for the affordability of a united Ireland? Sheer exuberance? Newton Emerson’s comments below plus his demolition of O Muilleoir’s case in the Irish Times today are answers of a kind.
Now consider Fionnuala O Connor’s attack on the Foster- McGuinness duopoly and her irritation with Sinn Fein’s supposed passivity over the DUP’s alleged dominance of the Executive. Who would have imagined that happening in the old days? What does he get in return?
Are Sinn Fein rehearsing a long game to take advantage of confusion over Brexit?
Is their unity and reconciliation rhetoric designed to deflect attention away from a hopefully final IRA decommissioning round and Sinn Fein support for a harder law and order line in Belfast and the border?
Or perhaps there’s no cunning plan at all? Chris Donnelly calls for new leadership:
For quite some time now, the failure of Sinn Fein to expedite the process of transitioning to a new political leadership in the north, fit for purpose in an age of governance, has contributed towards the sense that the party plays second fiddle to the DUP at Stormont. Part of that problem relates to a seeming inability or reluctance to move past a modus operandi that has seen republicanism through its most challenging periods of ceasefires, peace process, political compromise and bedding in the northern institutions.
An open discussion about future Sinn Fein leadership would set a intriguing precedent. Will they dare hold it?
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