SF’s desertion of Stormont downgrades nationalism’s voice to weak commentary

On the Slugger TV on NVTV, Allison Morris pointed out that whilst SF’s position on RHI was a last minute switch from backing the DUP to the hilt (perhaps having mutually agreed a fall guy), the reasons later substituted don’t scan against their decade in government.

Newton Emerson joins a growing number of commentators clearly running out of patience with the patronising nonsense now flowing out of Sinn Fein’s energetic PR operation:

What began in January with understandable grievances has become transparently cynical opportunism. It is no exaggeration to say lives have been put at risk – a UK-wide bowel cancer screening programme cannot be extended to Northern Ireland because there is no minister for health to sign it off.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin has held an event in Derry to discuss “the disastrous impact Brexit will have on the health service”. The party’s northern leader Michelle O’Neill – who was minister for health before January’s Stormont walk-out – indulged in more posturing on Monday by calling for all-party talks to begin a week early, on August 28th.

DUP former minister Simon Hamilton denounced this as “a stunt”. Such a response to an apparent republican olive branch would have sounded arrogant several months ago. Now it chimes with the wider mood – the political editor of the Irish News concurred with Hamilton’s assessment.

Emerson notes that the hysteria on mainland Britain over the DUP has subsided. In addition to that, an early election seems unlikely because:

  •  the direct price imposed by the DUP on the Tories is both bearable and light;
  • the outcome would likely make life unbearable for the Conservatives (and the Brexit process would become tricky and possibly unmanageable).

Even in early summer contacts with DUPers and ex DUPers, the consensus is that the June outcome took huge pressure off the DUP. For now, even as they forcefully advocate for a return to Stormont, they don’t actually need it to be able to exert power and influence.

Newton again:

Hamilton made a particularly revealing remark in July, when discussing the prospects for talks. “Sinn Féin can’t demand a 10-nil win,” he said. Republicans make that demand by claiming they only want previous, unmet agreements to be honoured.

In fact, Sinn Féin was technically outmanoeuvred on everything it says it was promised – “outsmarted agreements” would be a better term.

It is entirely legitimate for Sinn Féin to have lost patience with this and deployed its nuclear option of bringing down the executive. Now the DUP can withstand the fallout, however, the conventional rules of deal-making apply and a five-all draw would be the truly equal outcome.

Because everyone knows the DUP would concede this in a heartbeat, Sinn Féin’s continued absolutism looks increasingly self-indulgent. [Emphasis added]

Here’s the real coup de grace:

Northern Ireland is without a regional government but of course it is not ungoverned. The civil service ticks along on autopilot, helped by budget interventions from the Northern Ireland Office.

These have strayed beyond the Belfast Agreement, yet Sinn Féin has been unable to criticise them, as it offers no alternative but chaos. Precedents are slowly being set for de-facto direct rule.

This can only go on for so long before republicans are visibly marginalising themselves. [Emphasis added]

Far from enhancing SF’s power, that retreat from Stormont last January was (yet another) withdrawal under pressure from its own base (not unionists or anyone else) at the lack of any tangible product from ten years in near absolute power.

It diminishes nationalism’s public voice in NI to little more than weakened commentary. Like this seemingly inadvertent admission by the new MP for Foyle that Stormont is unnecessary to help save Derry homes from the terrible flooding of the last few days:

And elections in the south? The growth of the party’s machine means it should continue to gain seats, though perhaps not at last year’s record rate. Even Fine Gael is talking up its nationalist credentials, so we can expect a far more competitive fight from rival parties this time.

In Northern Ireland, however, Sinn Fein has long underestimated the DUP in the way many of its own opponents previously underestimated it. It’s a very long time since it came back from any of the several Stormont collapses it has induced with any tangible concession.

In initiating this collapse (rather than forcing Unionism to make it happen), Martin McGuinness had the power of first mover. But then in June, the DUP was rewarded with a long shot win in Westminster which it had worked hard for ten years to make possible.

Rising chatter about a united Ireland seems consonant with SF’s collapse of Stormont. But many miss that sage advice from Daniel Taylor, that “the power of an imagined end, and it literally can only be imagined, lies in its ability to influence present choices.”

Disengagement from the institutions of the Belfast Agreement, means that most of this talk comes with little promise of influence. There is no Seventh Cavalry, and no place to go other than a return to influencing through action from nationalism’s northern home. Eventually.

As I noted in an op ed in early January for the Irish Independent

At a time when the UK is preoccupied with Brexit, the US is bracing itself for Trump and the new politics of the Republic is struggling to get anything agreed never mind done, mollycoddling the pampered politicians of Northern Ireland is an indulgence none of them can afford. The Blairs and Aherns, with their long-term peace objectives and abundance of resources, are long gone.

  • epg_ie

    Slugger thinks Sinn Féin is rubbish, humiliated and outplayed by the DUP. Fine (I mean, it’s objectively correct).

    But if that’s true, why does it make sense that they should just go back tail between their legs again, rather than try something else? As for their voters – poor people all over the West are running out of patience with being told to tolerate and wait for gradual improvement, right?

    Like it or not, the Slugger hypothesis (that Stormont is a game in which the DUP structurally / genetically outplays SF, always) is inconsistent with the idea that they ever had absolute power, or that nationalism ever had more than a commentator’s say on the often tense relations between the political, bourgeois and street wings of the quasi-majority who run the place.

  • ted hagan

    Let’s face it, Sinn Fein’s bluff has been called. It’s now up to the DUP to be conciliatory and hand them some sort of fig leaf. I still say it was a serious strategic error to insist on Foster standing down during the RHI inquiry.

  • Granni Trixie

    But at tHe very least this post and beyond calls out the myth articulated by Sf that they want to go back to Stormont to make NI work. So at the next election there is clarity that a vote for SF is more of the same – paying politicians not to govern.,
    This also distinguishes SF from all other parties. The people’s choice.

  • Korhomme

    Meanwhile, as our ‘politicians’ fiddle, NI is burning. The Health Services bit, certainly, with cuts of £70 million being proposed:


    “Asking the public to decide where the axe should fall in Health and Social care is as bizarre as it is cruel.

    It is also unprecedented.

    The local service has been struggling, but this latest measure is further indication of the somewhat precarious position that the system is currently in.

    And the plans unveiled by the Belfast Health Trust represent a dire catalogue of proposals.”

    This is open for public consultation. Isn’t this what politicians are supposed to do? (And where is the £1 billion in all this?)

  • Jeff

    Sinn Fein are in reality an out dated party sadly capable of only looking at the past and the politics of greavance both real in some cases admittitedky and increasingly manufactured in attempting to mask their inept performance in government. Their culture of blaming someone else is catching up with them. In future elections what have they to offer other than vote for me not to represent you! That might work for Westminster elections but is Hardly a compelling argument in the longer term success in local elections.

  • murdockp

    Well I for one would like free prescriptions taken away from me.

    A cull of DLA is also long overdue.

  • Dan2

    Time for Brokenshire to get on with the job of running Northern Ireland.
    Decisions need to be made.
    Stormont isn’t needed.

  • mickfealty

    That may be someone’s view, but there’s nothing genetic or structural, it’s good old fashioned political failure. A more conventional party would try changing the leader rather than the whole system. But that seems to be something they are unwilling or unable to countenance.

    It’s quite breathtaking the sort of liberties they seem willing to take with the wider public will. But for the life of me I cannot see the strategy in any of it. How’s any of this going to get the A5/6 built any quicker, fir the sake of an Irish language act (which btw, doesn’t get any more likely for vilifying unionists).

    That’s a deliberate feature of the GFA, and more especially that DUP/SF iteration, The St Andrews Agreement. Failure to agree on anything means it cannot be done. That’s not something that should surprise anyone.

    Remember Unionism was dragged kicking and screaming into this arrangement. Now we’re at the embarrassing pass when it is northern nationalism that cannot stand it when it’s the one thwarted. And yet, them’s the rules?

  • Ruairi Murphy

    “Far from enhancing SF’s power, that retreat from Stormont last January was (yet another) withdrawal under pressure from its own base (not unionists or anyone else) at the lack of any tangible product from ten years in near absolute power.”

    In what conceivable way can SF’s role in Stormont in the last ten years be described as “near absolute power”?

  • Aurozeno

    Sinn Fein and the DUP are now are irrelevant , bigger powers are now at play , Northern Ireland’s future will be settled over lunch in Belgium , ….. The UK economy WILL fail if it continues to pursue this brexit madness ( if in doubt see any Forex forecast for the pound which reflects the worlds confidence in the ” who is going to win scenario” )….. there will be no winners, the UK is going to lose , the EU are going to lose , but the biggest losers will be the Northern Irish people along with the RoI…. closely followed by the UK as its service based economy bathtub empties down the plughole … people say that the pounds glitch is temporary , thousands of billion dollar computer programmes around the world disagree, what will eventually end this madness is the pound and its indebtedness to the US dollar and the non financial corporate debt that the UK owes ( £ 3 trillion apart from the 1.8 trillion public debt ) . It takes a long time to kill an economy especially one as large as the UK ( for the last few years I have closely followed the Russian economy and how sanctions have affected it )…… but the UK economy is very vulnerable and can not survive alone and may implode very quickly once it leaves the EU .

  • mickfealty

    Fair comment. Unassailable is a better word for it.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    And DVLA, 5 weeks for a replacement licence compared to 1 week for Britain?! A joke.

  • Surveyor

    If you’re going to go on a discriminatory rant then at least get the terminology right. It’s PIP, not DLA.

  • Surveyor

    Oohhh, Newton Emerson! I’m sure SF are quaking in their boots.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Messenger over message then?

  • james

    Too right.

    After all, traditionally SF’s hardcore base have been entirely unconcerned by the truth – so they may well trundle on regardless, for now…

  • Ciarán

    “Remember Unionism was dragged kicking and screaming into this arrangement”
    Indeed. Hence their reluctance to work the institutions and frustrate progress. Victory for the DUP has meant nixing SF progress. You prescription for Nationalism seems to be that we’d get a lot more stuff done if only we’d stop pushing for nationalist things. I would love to see a Mick Fealty designed nationalist manifesto, I’d say it would make Alliance look like a break away from the 32 County Sovereignty Committee.

  • mickfealty

    LOL!! ?

  • Sub

    The North is a basket case and will never work. Quit bemoaning the fact that everything is going to hell in a hand cart, it is what the people voted for.

  • mickfealty

    Seriously though, SF could hardly have made it any easier for them to do the nixing, could they? The list of objections were never anything SF pushed at the time.

  • Nevin

    Ruairi, IMO there’s been a double veto as well as a carve-up by the big two beasts.

  • Nevin

    “In initiating this collapse .. Martin McGuinness had the power of first mover.”

    I lean towards Gerry Adams occasional reference to collegiate decision making viz. the PRM Army Council. In such a context Martin would have been the messenger as well, possibly, as a member of the decision making team.

  • Surveyor

    Want to talk about truth? Let’s start with the RHI and the extra £350 million quid a week which was promised if the Brexit vote was successful.

  • james

    As far as RHI goes, you should really address those questions to the DUP and Sinn Fein whom jointly let iy happen and whom share responsibility for it.

    The 350 million? Ask a Brexiteer. I voted remain.

  • aquifer

    Patronising nonsense flowing out of a PR operation sound just like political business as usual for most parties.

    I am not seeing why SF would go back to Stormont in a hurry. The border will be moved to the Irish sea ports and the DUP are to blame. The GB economy will probably tank as the ROI one takes off. The SDLP are correct in that a UI is not going to happen anytime soon, but the delectable part of this for SF is that a couple of clicks have been applied to the case for Irish administrative unity, and it was the DUP pulling the lever.

    Why should SF suffer from their lack of political talent in office when they can sit back and watch the Tories and the DUP flounder? This is payback for all that sectarian strutting the DUP did in office. The calorie count in that humble pie will be massive.

  • The scheme had been introduced by the First Minister, Arlene Foster, in a previous role; around it there were (still unproven) rumours of

    Source: Alan Whysall, former British senior civil servant http://www.democraticaudit.com/2017/08/24/audit-2017-how-democratic-are-the-institutions-of-devolved-government-in-northern-ireland/

    Over here (mainland), the “serious and costly failings” alone would probably have been enough for a minister to resign.

  • As a possible solution to the border matter, has the German precedent[1] had any coverage in Ireland?

    “the EU could work with London to create a specific regime for Irish and Northern Irish goods and services (including and beyond agri-food), essentially exempting them from tariffs and most customs checks if they remain on the island of Ireland […] There is a precedent for such an arrangement – prior to reunification in 1989, West Germany previously negotiated an ‘inner German trade’ agreement, which enabled tariff-free trade between West and East Germany even though only the former was a member of the European Economic Community (EEC).”[2]

    [1] Protocol on German internal trade and connected problems (Rome, 25 March 1957)
    [2] Burke, E. Ulster’s fight, Ulster’s rights? Brexit, Northern Ireland and the threat to British-Irish relations, July 2017, 10-11

  • Under the GFA, if direct rule is restored the Irish government has a right to get involved. Would DUP supporters be happy with that?

  • Georgie Best

    The Irish language aspect of things was agreed at St Andrews. Changes to trade across the border were not agreed, but the British and DUP have no problem with this, they are trying to undermine the entire settlement. SF only ask that previous deals, including the entire peace settlement be honoured and the majority of people in NI support this.

  • Granni Trixie

    Danny Morrisons piece in the Irish news today tells me I am on the button – showing up MoN calls for talks for what they are – a joke.

  • Dan2

    Time that failed Agreement was dumped too.

  • Sub

    Is this another conspiracy theory

  • mickfealty

    The Shinners were promised one by the PM of the time, no obligation was laid on the DUP. This is outmanoeuvring.

    And this was the same PM who was a key source of SF’s only clear negotiation successes. Successes that are now most notable by their absence, since he left office.

    There’s no Jonathan Powell to write their pressers either.

  • mickfealty

    No it’s not. Truth is northern Nationalist politics is slowly consuming itself. No one I know of voted for that, and I’m pretty sure it is not what people actually want. But it’s what they are being given.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Cynical way that doesn’t win anyone over to Irish unity though.

  • mickfealty

    That’s to be determined by the Public Inquiry, as will the final figures. (It should have been left in the hands of Stormont committees, and the senior civil service to account for the screw ups (if that’s what they end up amounting to). I suspect there are going to be a lot of red faces around the non existent table when that report comes out.

  • mickfealty

    Yep. Every action (and inaction) comes with a cost. And the truth is north south is worth very little to either the UK or the Republic. Holyhead and Fishguard will be the border pinch points, not Stranraer. And that’s not going to be to Ireland’s advantage as things stand. Republicans of all stripes need to make some big asks of the EU for patrolling its front line with the UK, just to keep up with we’re it is, and withstand the UK’s Free Trade it will need to make in order to make Brexit a success.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Well I’m sorry but I fear you’ve been trapped inside a British media bubble and not the right one. The insistence in the UK simply defying EU customs rules with their exports will undermine any good faith to get free trade.

    GB does not have the technology to “free” itself from the EU customs union never mind itself and Northern Ireland, queue reactionary policy making ad hoc enforcement and a Murphy’s Law approach to the Irish border before UK enforced customs controls come in.


    For leavers to claim customs controls are a fait accompli is the UK setting itself up for a nightmare of hubris. The Repubic of Ireland and Irish nationalism have seen it for the obvious handwave and practicality detached bravado it is. In the long run Economic survival is a greater priority than nice words about wanting life to be easier.

  • PeterBrown

    The same PM made (in)famous pledges primarily to unionists during the Referendum campaign and since but unionists weren’t naive enough to believe anything he said and aren’t expecting others to make good on his worthless promises. Why are the DUP liable to implement HMG obligations?

    And that is the only SF red line issue (though I’m still not entirely clear what the other red line issues are it seems to change from day to day if not hour to hour) which was previously agreed. They are making it up as they go along and went all in based on their assumptions about the DUP not being able to catch up theirs Assembly election gains with their river card only for them to turn over the ace of a hung parliament. Now they have to wait for the paint to dry before they can walk themselves out of the corner they have painted themselves into….

  • The worm!

    But surely the quote above (and similar from other posters) just proves that many of Sinn Fein’s voters actually take delight from seeing them do harm to everything about Northern Ireland.

    The present impasse and resultant damage to the country is assumed to be a vote loser for the shinners, it might just be the opposite!

  • mickfealty

    Yes. Clearly they do. But, in my book, that’s a false comfort derived from the inevitability myth, and poor accountability mechanisms both inside and outside of government.

    In many ways, kicking the prods is a good franchise, but it’s not bringing a UI any closer, because that involves actual work.

    Meantime, NI coheres after it’s own fashion, kids get educated and the growing middle class enjoy their golf, foreign holidays and outside Belfast, near empty roads.

    There’s many worse places to be.

    “Politics often stinks in these parts. Food always smells good.” – Jay Rayner, https://goo.gl/bwKL3S

  • Nevin

    Don’t you believe Gerry and Mitchel McLaughlin or the leaders of constitutional Irish nationalist parties?

  • mickfealty

    This might help: https://goo.gl/oe3KGp

  • The worm!

    “There’s many worse places to be.”

    True, up to a point, but were are not in a sustainable position.

    24yr old son is heading off to Australia in 3 wks time on a six month
    contract (on a golf course strangely enough!) and I desperately hope
    that he wants to come back here at the end of it. He loves this place,
    he’s worked in quite a few different parts of the world already and
    takes great pride in telling people that he’s from Northern Ireland.

    But it’s not the situation at the minute that’s the issue “per se”, it’s the fact that by voting for a dysfunctional system of governance as part of the GFA, we seem to have handed Republicanism a much more potentially damaging weapon than the Armalite or Semtex ever was.

    Increasingly I think that they know exactly what they are doing, and also realise that there’s very little that anyone can do about it.

    Analysis is easy, and plentiful.

    Solutions by contrast, are very thin on the ground!

  • Nevin

    Thanks, Mick. You refer to the SF Ard Comhairle, a lower level of collegiality than the PRM Army Council acknowledged by Mitchel McLaughlin.

  • mickfealty

    Potentially. Republicanism is not Northern Ireland’s problem (it has a noble record of nation building in the south). But Provisionalism is. And I don’t mean that in a strictly pejorative paramilitary sense, but in the sense that everything said in public is subject to mental reservation.

    Unionism (and non provisional Republicanism/Nationalism) has yet to find the means of dealing with a project that views every deal it strikes as being provisional until the next one. That’s the key challenge. Until then, we’re all sunk in the dark fatalism that takes its reward from just “putting it up” to the other side.

    It’s clearly Defenderism, not Republicanism that SF is juiced by, and it’s an easy sell, whilst Unionism keeps dancing to the old tunes.

  • mickfealty

    They both have the same initials. Beyond that, I won’t comment. 😉

  • mickfealty

    What? And you’re not in favour of a UI? That’s not supposed to happen? 🙂

  • The worm!

    But is anyone, on either side, actually trying (like properly!) to move the thing along.

    I know it’s a seriously over-used concept, but that shouldn’t be a reason to discard it as not having merit. So if there actually was a date set for all salaries and expenses to be suspended (assuming it can be done) pending an agreement, would it not concentrate minds? If mindsets are the problem as you suggest, well therein must also be the solution.

    There’d be no issues with public acceptance of it, and it couldn’t be construed by anyone as being discriminatory.

    You just wonder how long this can go on, something surely has to be done?

  • mickfealty

    Not sure that would work. There’s a serious block here. And I think people will need time to develop a new and sustainable political approach both to the constitutional issues thrown up by the GFA.

    And I don’t mean changing the GFA, but how you match nationalist ambitions with functional public representation which is not provisional on getting everything little thing that you want.

  • Stifler’s Mom

    I’m not following NI news much, but why isn’t there a mechanism to replace any ministers that quit? Why is it that every time there is a disagreement on something, the entire local government stops? If a person or party withdraws, the positions should be just reassigned. If this government system was a system implemented in a business, the responsible project manager would never work again. It’s a complete shambles. It took several hundred people years to come up with this system. Ridiculous.

  • The worm!

    If that’s what needs to happen, and I’m not doubting your contention, then we are in a pickle indeed!

    Neither the shinners nor the DUP are being punished at the polls for their intransigence, if anything the opposite.

    How can they possibly then be coerced forwards, when their electoral mandate is entrenchment?

    And that is not going to change so there’s no point saying that it’s up to the voters!

  • mickfealty

    Don’t know. Honestly.

  • james

    Indeed. A unionist voting remain….

    Makes me a unicorn, in some people’s minds. Well, in that case there are vast herds of unicorns roaming from the Fermanagh Savannah to the inhospitable barren steppes of Larne 😉

    Nothing strange about it, really. The vote was split across all regions of the UK, just like here.

  • The worm!

    Any good news?

  • The worm!

    James, James, James!

    Are you and me going to have to fall out over the relative merits, or otherwise, of the EU?

    I suppose against that, some people who view us both as the enemy may take some comfort from it!

  • james

    Oh not at all 🙂

    There’s a gentleman’s argument for and against the EU we could have – but I feel it’s for another time and place

    Wouldn’t want to be scolded for going off topic 😉

  • Reader

    Sentinel: Under the GFA, if direct rule is restored the Irish government has a right to get involved. Would DUP supporters be happy with that?
    Just like last time, then. And, just like last time, the DUP don’t seem to mind.
    Remind us though, what did the Irish Government do last time we had direct rule?

  • Reader

    Ciaran: You prescription for Nationalism seems to be that we’d get a lot more stuff done if only we’d stop pushing for nationalist things.
    Well, isn’t that true? We have mandatory power sharing and the Petition of Concern. Nobody is going to get ‘nationalist stuff done’, or ‘unionist stuff done’. We might at least all hope to get ‘more stuff done’.

  • Georgie Best

    Trickery and out manoeuvering don’t really cut it in NI. The unionists and British would not accept it from SF, and SF should not accept it from them.

  • mickfealty

    It’s not trickery. It’sincompetence, the trickery comes almost entirely from SF’s misselling of a deal that was functionally screwed more than ten years ago.

  • Georgie Best

    Recognition of the Irish language is an inevitable and proper part of any shared NI. SF placed a marker on this a decade and now there must be action. If the DUP are allowed get away their current carryon then NI really is failed entity.

  • Zig70

    SF taking its lead from grassroots core support and not liberal or anti SF media is it’s strength. Not a weakness or failing, though they know that and no repetition here will change that. Pity some other parties wouldn’t learn the same lesson.

  • Abucs

    “This can only go on for so long before republicans are visibly marginalising themselves. ”

    I always thought this was likely to be the case.

  • Aurozeno

    There are only 2 choices here , Northern Ireland stays in the EU and separate’s itself from the UK , or there is a hard border , The Republic has nothing to gain from the so called frictionless border and neither does the EU , a porous border with the UK will compromise Irish exports to the rest of the EU and the Republic will protect that trade above all else. That is the EU stance and it will stick with it until the present UK government fails and a new more amenable government is in place .

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Republicans have made a calculation that marginalising themselves will serve them well politically with their own base – that they need a period of shouting from the sidelines to re-establish their credibility as a radical party of protest with these people.

    The future over this lies in the hands of that nationalist constituency. If they are happy for SF to play that game, SF will be able to continue doing so, and the rest of the NI people will be denied a working local democracy. Is the kind of nationalist who is prepared to vote for SF willing to turn on them for not being part of Stormont? I remain unconvinced.