Here, go out and get the popcorn in. We’ve another two weeks of this free entertainment since Mairtin O Muilleoir confirmed to UTV’s Vicki Hawthorn tonight that he doesn’t like the cut of Simon Hamilton’s jib (even though he’s not even seen it yet):
— Vicki Hawthorne (@Vicki_Hawthorne) January 5, 2017
The most charitable conclusion about what’s going on at the moment is that the two parties in Stormont Castle are busy hammering out a deal over this. But the terms of the public rhetoric surrounding those discussions have hardly ever been more reckless.
One will make the other harder to achieve.
It’s a far cry from the 14th December when no only had Martin and Arlene agreed she should explain her ministerial actions (from a previous, not her current job) to Assembly, the whole Executive had approved it:
“This will facilitate a full statement to be made by the First Minister to Members on the matters of public concern relating to RHI.
“RHI was discussed by the Executive today and Ministers around the table underlined the seriousness of the issues involved and the importance of restoring public confidence.
“It was also emphasised that detailed plans are being finalised to significantly reduce the projected losses in the years ahead.”
This was their safe place. We can speculate about what happened in between, but it’s clear from the Finance Minister’s remarks that he personally has moved a very long way since then. Indeed, SF’s position has changed substantially three times over the last three days.
In pushing it all into an election, or a collapse, Sinn Fein is in danger of pushing the whole thing off a cliff just because they are fed up their coalition partners are treating them like ‘House Taigs’. [Welcome to the harsh reality of coalition government lads!! – Ed]
The call from the opposition for Arlene to resign appears to have frightened the SF horses into abandoning their original line. That safe place is a long way behind them. Whatever opprobrium Foster garners, recent trends have been less than kind to nationalism.
For Sinn Fein, the price of political office is that at some level, the blame rubs off on you. Moreover, political radicalism is traditionally a means of accruing status in poorer communities. Being an “IRA man” was a badge of honour during the Troubles.
The rhetoric of Saoradh and People Before Profit emulates the kind of Marxist, anti-imperialism sloganising that Sinn Fein abandoned a generation ago. As we are seeing across Europe, though, it is coming back into vogue.
Metaphorically – and literally – Sinn Fein’s opponents want to land blows. Two weeks ago, Gerry Kelly, a prominent Sinn Fein figure, was attacked on the street in Belfast.
The circumstances are not clear yet and a 21-year-old man was arrested. But Kelly, architect of the Maze prison escape in 1983 – the biggest since Colditz – was once regarded as untouchable.
Although the failure of one is not the failure of all. It’s worth reading and watching this UTV report: from the interview with the Minster, to the interviews with Mike and Colum, and Ken Reid’s honest conclusion this is the worst crisis he’s seen in ten years.
The uncontrolled rhetoric emerging from the government parties is certainly novel. And the lack of political grown-ups in government doesn’t help either. It’s also, as Brian has argued, an abuse of 0ur democratic system.
The best thing we can say for now is that they haven’t yet gone off the cliff. But something also tells me we’re all going to be heart-sick of the ould popcorn before this one gets topped out.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty