Republican thinking in Derry/Londonderry swiftly retreats from its local power sharing arrangements

By 2013, when Derry/Londonderry hosted the UK City of Culture, the 2002 warning of Church of Ireland cleric Kenneth Good, Bishop of Derry and Raphoe that Unionists in the city felt ‘frozen out, alienated and insecure’ carried less resonance.

Taking the view that ‘it is their city too’, civic unionism in the shape of cultural and community organisations displayed a willingness to participate inclusively in the various events, not least ‘fleadh cheoil’; something that organisers were keen to achieve.

With a significant reduction in contentious parades, a Maiden City Accord agreed by the Londonderry Bands Forum and the Loyal Orders and growing inter- and intra-community cultural engagement, the city and community appeared to be moving into a better place in terms of reconciliation.

Somewhat over-heated perhaps, various community leaders, predominantly within the republican community, not slow to exploit an opportunity for funding, began to speak of ‘the Derry Model’ as a paradigm worthy of adoption by other areas.

By 2023, there has been significant slippage in the relevance and integrity of the ’Derry Model’.

The latest decision by Sinn Féin, which is now the largest party on Derry City and Strabane District Council, to end the long-established convention of power-sharing in regard to the mayoralty, may serve to consign it to cold storage in terms of Good Relations and Community Cohesion.

A decision that acts to marginalise will serve only to transform existing good practice into an oppressive and narrow socio-political everyday entitlement process with minorities excluded from any meaningful discourse or civic role.

Good Relations Policy, which Sinn Féin have in conversations hinted at as a constraint on their ambitions, alongside EQUIAs and Section 75, will become areas for challenge and contention rather than guiding principles.

Why abandon a de-centred approach to shared decision-making and civic leadership to opt for the likelihood of negative stereotyping likely to limit input from a wider range of views representing diverse political and cultural backgrounds?

It is a poor fit for a Guildhall where the various peace awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize presented to the late John Hume MP and MEP, have been gifted by his family for display; to inspire further efforts at embedding conciliation and peace-making.

No longer with us, his legacy speaks with greater weight in encouraging collaboration, co-operation and a sense of belonging than this latest divisive decision-making by Sinn Féin.

The party does not do policy ‘on the hoof’ so is it then safe to assume that Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald TD, having drained the party swamp in Derry, has issued a strategic directive from the centre to ‘not have a ‘Brit’ about the place’?

It is in contrast to previous actions and positions adopted by Sinn Féin in the city.

The only variable is that it is now the biggest party and best placed to benefit from resurrecting d’Hondt when allocating civic roles.

Or is it that a once influential local Sinn Féin, now cowered in the post Martin McGuinness era, is inextricably wedded to the republican mantra that any dissent is viewed as disloyalty with pluralism merely an electoral charade?

The unfolding situation is already seen from outside the Sinn Féin cadre as indicative of what the Ireland’s Future, central to its messaging, will look like. A window to look through, it stands in contrast to the many posters which, not so long ago, championed Michelle O’Neill MLA as ‘working for all’

Putting a lie to the narrative, this is not the reality for the new normality in Derry/Londonderry and certainly not for anyone unaligned to an Irish republicanism, determined to make others appear weak so that it can grow its power.

That there is no sincerity like a political half-truth is exposed by actions providing greater access to the thinking and the purpose than the rhetoric.

Following on from earlier insensitive decisions taken within Council in regard to the NI Centenary and the Coronation of King Charles III, making the city a shared place for those who do not designate as republican or nationalist, in terms of respect and esteem, is slipping away as the heavily publicised attendance of the Sinn Féin Vice-president at Westminster Abbey is hollowed out.

There is a distinct lack of generosity within republican thinking Derry/Londonderry

When dominant, as it now is within Derry City and Strabane District Council, it appears willing to abandon reconciliation in pursuit of other preferred possibilities; burning what has worked to the ground so that it can rule over the ashes.


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