In today’s Irish News, Newton Emerson asks the impertinent question…
Remarks by Mike Nesbitt about cross-community voting distracted from what should have been the major story of the week. Northern Sinn Féin leader Michelle O’Neill has said her party will not return to the executive with Arlene Foster as first or deputy first minister until the DUP leader has been cleared by the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) inquiry. O’Neill added this was a red line issue – something Sinn Féin will not say about anything else. Naturally, Foster will not stand aside and the DUP cannot now ditch her, for fear of seeming to act at Sinn Féin’s behest. So at least six months of limbo beckons, making some form of direct rule inevitable. The NIO is still denying this but I understand draft bills have been prepared for a speedy intervention. The DUP will be enraged but almost half of its voters would prefer direct rule to continuing devolution, according to a poll three weeks ago. In fact, threatening unionists with direct rule is like threatening children with ice cream. While Sinn Féin is obviously playing a bigger game, is Gerry the Genius sure he has thought all this through?
[Another question to which the answer is ‘No’? – Ed] Because it’s all tactics, not strategy. And it’s aided and abetted by the prevailing attitude among the media [including bloggers? – Ed] that today’s news is tomorrow’s chip paper – rather than part of a Baconian history.
For example, here’s what Michelle O’Neill said at the launch of Sinn Féin’s Northern Ireland Assembly election manifesto – as reported in the Irish News on 16th February.
“You’d be very aware that I won’t be drawing any red line issues…”
And, specifically, as noted by BBC NI’s Mark Devenport in an interview on 3rd February
Mrs O’Neill was pressed on whether her position meant Sinn Fein would refuse to share power with the DUP if it puts Arlene Foster forward for the First Minister’s job while Judge Coghlin’s inquiry is still in progress.
Sinn Fein’s northern leader said this would have to be discussed in any negotiations after the election. [added emphasis]