Michelle O’Neill has finally wrested the microphone away from the boss. Privately she’s well considered by folks in Northern Irish civil society, but to be honest, if she doesn’t start inhabiting a leadership space soon, it will be hard for anyone outside the party to take SF’s NI participation seriously.
Apparently, the party’s think in at the City North Hotel will “focus on the current talks aimed at restoring power-sharing in Northern Ireland”. Good. But then, how? A new election they know their rivals in the SDLP can ill afford might help reframe the debate.
Or the threat of one might force them to behave and come back into the
fold Executive? Let’s not forget the most proximate reason Sinn Fein buckled in the heat of the RHI affair after just seven months in office was the unprecedented level of scrutiny that NI’s first opposition in nearly fifty years.
Adams is scheduled to make a ‘significant address’ this morning. Will he go back in, force an election or put it on the long finger? Your guess is as good as mine. But a collapsed NI democracy is more of a rotting albatross than a vote winner in the south than many in NI tend to assume.
Whether they like it or not, the scope for future action in the Republic cannot be dictated by the party alone. As Fiach Kelly notes in the Irish Times:
Even though many of his TDs are open to it, [Micheal] Martin said at the weekend that “Fianna Fáil’s established policy on Sinn Féin is that it is unfit for government in Dublin and we will oppose any and all efforts by them to get into government.”
Some in Sinn Féin believe that will change if the post-election numbers allow for a coalition but Martin must be judged on his record of not bowing to pressure to enter government with Fine Gael.
Even those in Fianna Fáil who would do a deal with Sinn Féin say two things must happen before talks can even be countenanced: Adams has to stand aside and the Northern Ireland Executive must be functioning.
Eyes down, look in…
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty