End of Ms O’Neill’s probationary year, whilst SF leadership may be ready to “unbrick” the Stormont car…

It’s nearly a year since Sinn Fein (in the singular knowledge that their then leader in the north was dying) collapsed Stormont into yet another seemingly interminable period of non-government by negotiation.

In what amounts to her New Year message in the Irish News the present appointee to that position Michelle O’Neill slightly extends that hopeful tone in her language in a way some optimists might interpret as a sign of resolution being in sight.

I want to lead Sinn Féin back into a new executive because locally elected ministers are best placed to run local public services and fight back against the threats of Brexit and austerity.

I want to develop the widest possible consensus in political, civic and popular opinion to achieve this.

I believe that can happen early in the new year but only if the institutions represent genuine and equal partnership government for all our people.

The internal analysis goes further than this. With the next southern election now harder to predict than it might have been, Michelle’s southern twin, Mary Lou McDonald needs the northern mess tidied up (for now).

Polls show popular sentiment is running towards the centre. Having Stormont up on bricks [wheels requisitioned and cashed to help fund SF’s southern game? – Ed] is unhelpful for a party needing to look government ready in the south.

Not that Ms O’Neill hasn’t given herself an out, but just like it’s red lines, they are almost completely devoid of any concrete conditions. So any return will…

…require the British government and the DUP accepting the political and democratic reality which has already been made abundantly clear by the electorate.

If they continue to set their face against the people and against progressive politics, then there is an onus on the two governments to spell out how they intend to ensure the implementation of previous agreements and pave a pathway to restore the institutions on the basis of equal partnership and respect in the terms set out almost 20 years ago.

Don’t hold your breath, but it sounds like Ms O’Neill’s probationary year in the job is coming to an end, and the party leadership may be ready for yet another Fresh Start. Let’s just wait and see.

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

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