The empty rhetoric of the Sinn Féin president, Gerry Adams, in Downing Street last week…
Speaking at Downing Street, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said that the party told Mrs May “very directly that she was in breach of the Good Friday Agreement” over the Conservative negotiations with the DUP.
…is neatly summed up in Ed Moloney’s blog post title, “Sinn Fein Meet May, Complain And Then Go Away……Move On, No Story Here“.
The party’s impotence, in relation to any arrangement between the Conservatives and the DUP, was further underlined when their planned publicity stunt the next day was upstaged by the DUP leader Arlene Foster meeting with new Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Dublin.
That meeting in Dublin could be seen as part of the process of “building a better relationship with the nationalist community” that Newton Emerson mentioned in yesterday’s Irish News.
Any doubts that devolution is returning have been dispelled by Gerry Adams. In a press conference before Stormont talks resumed, the Sinn Féin president offered to meet the DUP “halfway” on “outstanding issues” – a major shift in position, having previously defined those issues as outstanding agreements to be delivered in full. On the first day of talks, Adams added that Stormont is the route to a united Ireland, which can only have been about preparing supporters for the inevitable. Given current Westminster arithmetic, double-abstentionism is unsustainable for a party of Sinn Féin’s size. It has to show up for work somewhere and Stormont is the obvious choice. However, Stormont will be unsustainable if Sinn Féin has to slink back in with its tail between its legs. The DUP needs to invest some of its new political capital in a better relationship with the nationalist community, otherwise the executive will just collapse again.
In any event, as Patrick Murphy argued in the same paper, the “DUP’s deal with the Conservative government puts a new light on the election result, increases the chances of Stormont’s resurrection and presents a fresh challenge for Sinn Féin’s political strategy.”
So while Stormont was “bad” during the long war, “good” for the past ten years and then “bad” again since Christmas, it might be “good” again soon. (You may remember that the EU used to be “bad”, but the same EU is now “good”.)
SF’s fascinating and flexible use of language allows it to heavily influence the thought process of constitutional nationalists, as evidenced by the recent election results. It is tempting to examine it alongside George Orwell’s fictional Newspeak, an altered form of regular English designed to determine public opinion by restricting independent thought.
The party’s return to Stormont will be easy. It will just claim victory in overcoming its hitherto ill-defined concepts of corruption and inequality. The nationalist electorate will cheer. The party’s MLAs will return to eating assembly food, which is subsidised by the taxpayer, while 23 per cent of children here remain in poverty. Another victory for old Ireland.
But although SF now has absolute power over northern nationalism, it is no nearer a united Ireland. To win votes, both it and the DUP have had to heighten sectarian hopes and fears to the highest political level since the foundation of the state.
In opting to represent only Catholics in the Good Friday Agreement, Sinn Féin remarkably passed up the opportunity to build the wider, non-sectarian base essential for Irish unity. The party’s Midas touch in turning everything into electoral gold also turns everything it touches into a sectarian issue. So the more votes it wins, the more divided is our society and the more remote is the possibility of a united Ireland.
Ah but, say SF supporters, look at the green half of the north’s new electoral map. Sadly, it is similar to the type of map which former IRA chief of staff, Sean Cronin, used to produce during the 1950s campaign. A gentleman, a top class military strategist and later a wonderful Washington correspondent for the Irish Times, he subsequently realised that struggles are not won by capturing territory. They can only be won by capturing the hearts and minds of those who live there.
There are a million reasons why the latest electoral map will not produce a united Ireland. They are all called unionists.
Meanwhile our ultra-sectarian society remains engrossed in watching a bizarre political pantomime, which is largely divorced from the real world, on both sides of the Irish Sea. As Marx might say, constitutional politics has replaced religion as the opium of the people.
Right on cue, Sinn Féin said this week that Stormont is a stepping-stone to a united Ireland. Of course, it is. Anyone for more opium?