Launching the Sinn Féin manifesto for the Northern Ireland Assembly election a couple of weeks ago, the party’s appointed ‘leader in the North’, Michelle O’Neill, declared that
“You’d be very aware that I won’t be drawing any red line issues…”
Since then she has allowed the impression to be created that the one ‘red line’ the party does have is the nomination of the DUP leader, Arlene Foster, as First, or deputy First, Minister before Judge Coughlin’s inquiry into the RHI scheme has been completed. That’s despite initially telling the BBC’s Mark Devenport on 3rd February that it, too, “would have to be discussed in any negotiations after the election”.
At the end of last week the former Culture Minister, Sinn Féin’s Carál Ní Chuilín, was blaming the British and Irish Governments for the lack of an Irish Language Act, rather than the DUP, which is progress of a sort. [But which Act? – Ed] Indeed.
And she reiterated the party line,
When asked if Sinn Féin would be prepared to go back into government with the DUP even if they do not commit to the act, Ms Nί Chuilίn said “issues need to be resolved in negotiations”.
But around the same time, another Sinn Féin candidate in Belfast, Pat Sheehan, was setting out three ‘red lines’ for the party.
The outgoing West Belfast MLA Pat Sheehan was speaking at an event for young people in the area on Thursday night.
He told the BBC’s Stephen Nolan: “We are not going back into the Executive until all…… There were three issues that have been agreed previously.
“So you had the Irish language act, there was a thing called the bill of rights and there was another issues. An agreement with regard to dealing with people killed during the conflict.
“We need to see those agreements implemented.
Asked if it was a promise that they would not go into government, he replied “yes”.
“Unless the outstanding agreements are implemented.” [added emphasis]
Mr Nolan said the ultimatum was given at least three times by Mr Sheehan at the event to those in attendance and the politician was there on behalf of Sinn Fein. The broadcaster said he spelt out the position “emphatically” while delivering a speech.
As the News Letter’s Election Diary points out, those quotes were given by Pat Sheehan in an interview with Stephen Nolan after the speech.
Which rather begs the question of who is the actual leader of Sinn Féin “in the North”? [No-one? – Ed] And what is their strategy tactic for today?
Because if you think that getting agreement on an Irish Language Act is going to be difficult, you can double that for any Northern Ireland specific ‘Bill of Rights’.
The initial attempt ran into the sand when it became a wish-list for virtually every lobby group in existence, to the extent that, back in 2009, even the erstwhile “father of an all singing, all dancing Northern Ireland Human Rights Bill”, Professor Brice Dickson, was calling for a radical rethink.
Five years ago, in March 2012, when the former International Representative for West Belfast, then temporary Crown Steward, now Louth TD, and Sinn Féin president, Gerry Adams, was blaming the then NI Secretary of State, Owen Paterson, for, among other things, being “less than helpful on  the Irish language” and “blocking a Bill of Rights”, I pointed out that,
The blockage to a Bill of Rights in Northern Ireland [and an Irish Language Act – Ed] is the lack of consensus within the NI Assembly. More specifically, the lack of consensus within the Office of the First and deputy First Ministers.
The logic, such as it is, behind Adams’ latest finger-pointing is that he wants those things imposed upon the NI Assembly [Direct Rule Now! – Ed] Indeed.
[It’s your fault! – Ed] Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa…
But if there was a lack of consensus within the NI Assembly then, there’s arguably even less consensus now.
On the other hand, a “British Bill of Rights” might yet come to pass as a result… and include Northern Ireland in its remit.