he word in Belfast is that Sinn Féin needs to raise Mary Lou McDonald to do the really hard work of campaigning for the Northern Ireland Assembly. The appearance of the Southern leader in BBC election coverage reflects Gerry Adams’ role in leadership debates in Dublin before he became TD.
The difference is that Mary Lou McDonald actually understands politics on the other side of the border. Sinn Féin rightly says it’s an all-island party, but the talent pendulum in the Republican movement seems to have swung south over the past decade.
Just over two years after the Northern Ireland executive was reassembled – once again – Stormont is poised for another lengthy layoff. Just days before general elections were called south of the border, the latest New Decade, New Approach deal was hailed as a moment of hope. New decade, same old approach.
Aside from a commitment to funding, the deal should address contentious areas such as the Irish language, vetoes and executive whereabouts. So much for that. The sight of Sinn Féin leadership, like Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, marching through the corridors of power with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and then-Taoiseach Leo Varadkar might even have helped the party in the elections south of the border , by representing an ability to make progress.
The then supposed stability was followed by the aftermath of Brexit, which forced the resignation of Arlene Foster as First Minister of Northern Ireland and leader of the DUP. The Northern Ireland protocol resulted in a premature end to the Executive, but Assembly elections were imminent anyway.
Voters in Northern Ireland go to the polls on Thursday, with opinion polls consistently showing Sinn Féin set to become the largest party. The proposed outcome has more to do with the crisis in unionism than any major Sinn Féin outburst, akin to the “Shinner surge” of 2020. Sinn Féin’s support surged in the last general election, but it’s still struggling to to defend part of it seats. The DUP is trying to unite union voters but will need a dramatic shift in the last few days. For Sinn Féin to emerge as the largest party for the first time would not only mark the democratic shift when a nationalist party came to power for the first time. Being the largest party means Sinn Féin has to nominate a First Minister – and that will be a big problem for unions.
DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson is refusing to say whether his party will take on the role of deputy first minister under a Sinn Féin first minister. Also, the broader blocking of the resumption of the executive branch is union demands around the protocol and an end to controls in the Irish Sea.
Faced with choosing between the best of both worlds in Britain and the EU and clinging to the flawed ideals of Brexit, unionists would prefer to take the worst option.
It all adds up to the Northern Ireland Executive not returning any time soon and the very foundations of the Good Friday Agreement’s power-sharing power-sharing arrangements being shaken – potentially irreparably.
Meanwhile, the government is trying to stay out of partisan politics in the north but still maintains its position as guardian of the Good Friday Agreement. For the umpteenth time it is difficult to see a solution to the impasse in Northern Ireland.
The prospect of Sinn Féin becoming the best-supported party north and south of the border is very real, even if an unexpected late turn for the DUP and the vagaries of transfers denied the party the role of First Minister. Technically, the First Minister and Deputy First Minister are both common and equal casualties. But even Sinn Féin election brochures state that a vote for the party would mean “a progressive First Minister”.
Aside from the historical symbolism of Northern Ireland’s first Catholic leader, the DUP says Sinn Féin will use the office to call for a border poll on a united Ireland. Sinn Féin made this choice over the cost of living and healthcare, but the party is unlikely to give up its entire raison d’être.
Power-sharing forced marriage has faltered for the past generation, with parties south of the border citing Northern Ireland’s unique circumstances and the Belfast Agreement, which was forged to end the mixing of violence with politics.
At first it was easy to ward off the idea that Southern establishment parties wanted unionists to do something they would not consider and share power with Sinn Féin.
However, the situation changed with the 2020 general election, in which Sinn Féin received the largest share of the vote and the nomination of a Sinn Féin Taoiseach went from a hypothesis to a reality. Aside from obvious political differences, the ingrained distrust of Sinn Féin and the legacy of the troubles meant that Mary Lou McDonald’s prospects of entering government, let alone becoming the Taoiseach, were dashed within four days of the election, with the party admitting approaches other parties had run aground.
Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael would not attack Sinn Féin with a barge and the Greens, Labor and Social Democrats had no interest in a large left alliance, albeit one that did not produce a mathematical majority. Two years later, Sinn Féin has consolidated its position as the country’s best-supported party. After seizing power after the coup against Alan Kelly, one of Ivana Bacik’s first acts as the new Labor leader was to rule out a change of government with Sinn Féin. Either Bacik does not want Labor back in government, or the only option available is to work with Fianna Fáil and/or Fine Gael again. And we all know how that ended in the past.
The possibility of a first left Taoiseach does not anger the left in the republic, so why expect unionists to accept a nationalist first minister. One rule in the north and another in the south. The parties in the south are unable to lecture their unionist brethren. In the vein of the late Rev. Ian Paisley yelling “Ulster Says No,” Republic parties are also saying no to Sinn Féin.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/micheal-leo-eamon-roisin-and-ivana-cant-hypocritically-scold-unionists-on-sinn-fein-41605969.html Micheál, Leo, Eamon, Róisín and Ivana cannot hypocritically berate unionists on Sinn Féin