Despite McGuinness’ charisma SF ministers and MLAs have made a poor fist of government

Whilst the institutions are down (and they may be down for some time) rather than just assume we’re all getting back into the same car only for it to crash again another 12 months down the road it’s worth using for some honest assessments of what keeps going wrong.

Fionnuala O’Connor nails one assumption that’s gone hugely under reported, ie that good as they are at winning elections, Sinn Fein’s actual record in government has been pretty abysmal.

McGuinness made charisma and his personal transition go a long way, but close recorders of Stormont thought from the start, some unwillingly, that his ministers and MLAs for the most part made a poor fist of it. The DUP would still have stymied them even if republican ministers had been any good, some say bleakly, but good, almost without exception, they weren’t.

Someone, patience exhausted, agrees DUP blocking was routine. ‘But the Shinners wasted their chances through lack of imagination, ignorance and plain incompetence. They never put the DUP to the test.’

Their handling of Casement through ministerial office and departmental committee alike alienated many, some of them formerly devoted. Sports grounds from earlier eras in built-up areas are a problem everywhere but this was the heartland, west Belfast, and a basic issue of safety was swamped by political game-playing.

Sinn Féin sloppiness in Stormont and inattention to detail damaged the GAA; far from blameless themselves, but who seemingly had been told to leave it to the party.

Then the party’s reaction to criticism was the usual conflict-era truculence, knee jerk ‘if you’re not with us you’re against us’, although the dominant west Belfast reflex has always been to soften criticism of Sinn Féin out of wishful-thinking loyalty.

And for good measure:

The tragic speed of the McGuinness decline and death lent cover, the crashed executive extended it, the assembly election result disguised the flaws in organisation and personnel, the shallowness of the talent pool.

But the weakness is multi-layered. Which is another reason, on top of dour acceptance that the show lacks merit, for Sinn Féin’s lukewarmness about re-establishing a production in Stormont.

That Northern Ireland’s democracy can be used as a party political chattel to cover for such weaknesses in government, compounds the issue. Yesterday Fionnuala’s stablemate, Brian Feeney speculated that a SF/FF coalition would be good for northern nationalists.

Yet it’s hard to see how a political party – which collapsed under the heat of a highly limited Opposition after just seven months in Northern Ireland – is in any way shape or form ready for such senior hurling.

Indeed, in the Republic, we can expect what is in effect a prolonged boycott of power sharing in Northern Ireland to feature in the run in to the next general election as a reason they’re both unready and unfit to play the game of government.


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