I was impressed yesterday that whatever the huge misgivings that individuals might habour about Boris Johnson’s strategy for handling the Corvid-19 emergency, there was at least some unanimity amongst the parties at Stormont.
In particular, I thought Michelle O’Neill played a blinder in recognising the issue of confusing messages and trying to make it clear that Northern Ireland had to follow a single strategy even if it was at odds with the one in the south.
This morning, her party sent her out on her own to do a volte-face:
After yesterday's all-executive press conference, Michelle O'Neill delivers her contradictory statement today without even the usual party phalanx behind her – just one watching SF press officer. Coronavirus cakism. I am genuinely disappointed – yesterday was real leadership. pic.twitter.com/8QB7qXkeWy
— Newton Emerson (@NewtonEmerson) March 13, 2020
Let me first state that an awful lot of us share the very same misgivings Mrs O’Neill gave voice to this morning of the British approach. But it seems to me, the pressure to unilaterally withdraw from the local consensus was worth resisting for a while at least.
As we see with regard to the inadequacies of Westminster’s plans regarding sick pay, for the duration government has to focus on what it can do and so it effectively, which under powersharing means doing it together. Scotland shows there’s room for derogation.
But it must be done together and with a view to saving as many lives as is humanly possible. Unilaterally pulling out of the collective harness cannot help with that (whatever the experts on Twitter say. No party can wash its hands like Pilate of its solemn duties.
Stephen Farry puts it better than I can…
In a day of a bombshell RHI report into ministerial & other failings and in the wake of NDNA commitments on good governance, it is shocking to see a solo run on this. Surely this should be a matter for Education Minister? Is this consistent with Ministerial Code? https://t.co/Z7Gq7oN4YO
— Stephen Farry MP (@StephenFarryMP) March 13, 2020
Perhaps it was Twitter talking. As Ian notes of the Alliance party, Sinn Fein has done very well in its utilisation of the microblogging site. But governing in a crisis requires a steel never asked of our parties before, and which Twitter rarely fails to pour vituperative scorn upon.
This is no time for politicking or cheap digs. We need every party back in the fold and doing everything they can to get Northern Ireland to where it needs to be, especially Sinn Fein. Whatever time any of us believe we have left to sort this out, you can at least half it.
The clock is ticking.
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