Arlene and Mary Lou are at least explaining themselves. But how much does Stormont matter now?

“tiocfaidh ár lá 

 Pat Leahy in the Irish Times

The extent to which coaxing the DUP back into powersharing is secondary for Sinn Féin was captured perfectly by McDonald’s speech at her ardfheis coronation at the RDS last weekend. If Sinn Féin was primarily concerned with helping Arlene Foster to bring her party back into Stormont then McDonald wouldn’t have rounded off her peroration with that rousing “Tiocfaidh ár lá!”Never mind that it was unscripted; it wasn’t accidental.

 

 Arlene Foster writing in the Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein’s position has been that devolution can only be restored on their terms. It is one which demands respect but is unwilling to offer it. It is a party president who talks of her “unionist brothers and sisters” but shouts “up the rebels” and “Tiocfaidh ar la” at those same brothers and sisters…. Perhaps it is purely coincidence that the Sinn Fein online bookshop is currently sold out of the ‘Tiochfaidh Ar La’ badges it stocks… There is no coincidence however in the choice to shape those words on the badge in the image of an Armalite rifle.

Mary Lou McDonald on the Late, Late Show    

Sinn Féin leader Mary-Lou McDonald has defended saying, “tiocfaidh ár lá” during her first speech as president at the party’s ardfheis last week.

“I am notoriously difficult to keep to a script and it’s not unusual for me to depart from it. At the ardfheis, I was setting out things that I believe passionately in – social progress, social justice, shared prosperity and a new Ireland. For me; to utter the words,tiocfaidh ár lá, refers absolutely to that version of a new Ireland. .. I know to some people that sounds like a harkening back to the past. For me it is not. I am a new leader of Sinn Féin. Tiocfaidh ár lá is about the future. It’s about building a new Ireland and that is what my speech was about and the final line, If language carries a negative connotation, you reclaim it. The last place I want any of us to go to, is the past.”

 

On the Language issue in the talks

Arlene

Our concerns relating to an Irish Language Act were not first articulated last year, but have been consistent for over a decade. The Irish language is part of the cultural fabric of Northern Ireland and those who speak it deserve respect. Respect however must be a two-way street and those who do not share the vision outlined by Irish language campaign groups must also be respected.

A portrayal of the DUP as intransigent does not withstand basic scrutiny. Last summer I outlined my party’s willingness to reach an accommodation on language and cultural issues. That offer was rejected within a few hours by both Sinn Fein and the SDLP.

Mary Lou

 

.“We became very alarmed that false information was going into the public domain. We became alarmed particularly on matters around Acht na Gaeilge and what it was and what it wasn’t. Some of the commentary on the airwaves was very irresponsible from people who ought to have known better and caused alarm and irritation at the very least in sections of the unionist population.  That’s completely unwarranted and completely unnecessary. There was never any question of making Irish compulsory or of offending anybody else’s sense of identity, or place or belonging.

I think in the draft agreement we found a way of delivering Acht na Gaeilge in a way that was coherent and in a way that dealt with the language…in a context that gave some comfort to others who might just be concerned.”

Ms McDonald also appealed to the DUP to reconsider its position on the draft agreement.

 

 Deal or No Deal?

Arlene

There was no agreement nor draft agreement. I never brought any recommendation to my party officers other than to end the current round of negotiations.

Mary Lou

We had a draft agreement. We have a draft agreement. I would appeal to the DUP at this juncture to reconsider their position. Come back and talk to us and get that over the line.

But I would also say to the DUP if that’s not a runner, and I suspect at this moment it is not, we are not standing still.

The show must go on and we have to move forward… remaining discussions were focused on “presentational issues” rather than substantive road blocks.

Direct Rule or keep talking?

Mary Lou

Direct rule would be entirely unacceptable to us, unacceptable to nationalist opinion across the country, particularly in the north and if anybody thinks or thought that by crashing this process they would return to the bosom of direct rule. They got it wrong.

Ms McDonald, speaking to reporters ahead of a meeting of Sinn Féin’s ard chomhairle in Dublin on Saturday, said her party would meet Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney on Monday before travelling to Downing St for talks with British prime minister Theresa May on Wednesday.

“We will be telling all of them that there is no question of a return to direct rule, and that the two governments as a matter of urgency should convene the inter-governmental conference at a minimum because we now need to chart and plot our next steps….

“Direct rule is not on the table. The Government in Dublin has been crystal clear on that. They have reiterated that position. Direct rule would be entirely unacceptable to us and nationalist opinion

Vexatious issues such Irish language rights, marriage equality and how to deal with the legacy of Northern Ireland’s troubled must now be tackled by both British and Irish governments.”

Arlene

The way to have avoided direct rule would have been to seek accommodation rather than demand a one-sided deal.

Despite the setbacks I remain committed to securing the restoration of devolution. I will work with anyone prepared to go forward in a spirit of true respect and accommodation. Should Sinn Fein remain committed to their ‘ourselves alone’ attitude, however, then it is for the Secretary of State to ensure that Northern Ireland is no longer held to ransom, with public services suffering as a result.

Pat Leahy in the Irish Times

Stormont is no longer the principal focus for the DUP, either. Westminster arithmetic has propelled the DUP MPs – always an alternative power in the party – centre stage. With the sort of limited foresight that has often characterised the party’s approach to politics, its leadership – in the broadest sense – finds it difficult to see past its current position of power and influence in Westminster. This is inevitably short-sighted. Charming and all as Nigel Dodds and the lads may be as dinner-party guests, I fear the invites might dry up once the Commons numbers change. But then lots of politics is short-sighted.

On the impact of the North in Dublin and London   

The collapse of the consensus on Northern Ireland between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil is significant in itself, but it is only part of a wider deterioration of relations. It has only one possible end point: a general election.

Nobody knows their rivalry better than they do themselves.

Sinn Féin understands it more and more, though, and the party is learning how to push the buttons of both of its rivals.

So Pearse Doherty, in the Dáil on Thursday, did not, as Micheál Martin had done, criticise the Government for its lack of engagement and understanding on the North. Rather he praised Simon Coveney, and lashed Fianna Fáil for its criticisms. Coveney was sharp and cutting in response, saying Martin didn’t understand what was going on in Northern Ireland. For a Fine Gael Tánaiste to say this about a Fianna Fáil leader is like one Mafioso insulting another’s mother.

The opening of the North as a point of political contention between the two big parties in the Dáil is something we have not seen for many years: it shatters a convention that has been largely observed since the 1990s. ..

Martin believes, frankly, that Leo Varadkar’s Government has made a mess of the North. He also believed that Enda Kenny’s government began that process. Martin is certainly right that the Fine Gael-led Governments have been less engaged in Northern affairs than their Fianna Fáil predecessors. The step back was a deliberate decision, made with David Cameron’s Conservative governments, for which the North not so much fell down the agenda as fell off it altogether.

Cameron cared about Anglo-Irish relations, certainly, instituting an annual summit and intensive Civil Service co-operation. But the North was a diminishing part of that. The view was: time to let them stand on their own two feet. Let them get on with it. That outlook was largely shared politically in Dublin, too.

But if Stormont is no longer a priority for the two Governments, I think it is also less of a priority for the two parties central to its operations.

 

 

 

 

Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald at the Special Ard Fheis” by “Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald at the Special Ard Fheis” is licensed under “Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald at the Special Ard Fheis

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London