NO member of Sinn Fein makes a public statement on anything until the contents of the statement have been approved by the relevant figure in the leadership.
In just the same way that Declan Kearney’s recent articles and interviews about the ‘reconciliation project’ have been rubber-stamped, then so too will Phil Flanagan’s objections to the new ‘Welcome to Northern Ireland’ signs.
Actually, I understand Sinn Fein’s objections to the presence of the signs.
A sign saying ‘Welcome to Northern Ireland’ tells you five very specific things: there is a border dividing Ireland into two parts; one part remains firmly anchored to the United Kingdom; a pro-Union minister will have authorised the erection of the signs; republicans have failed (yet again!) in their latest campaign to unite Ireland; and, there are significant legal, political, constitutional, currency and governance differences between the Republic and Northern Ireland. Let’s face it, it’s no wonder the signs annoy them!
But their objection to the signs also tells you something else. How can they be sincere about reconciliation with unionists in Northern Ireland when they can barely admit to themselves that Northern Ireland still exists? What is so wrong about a sign alerting tourists to the fact that they have just entered Northern Ireland and that there are important differences in currency and measurements? Tourists like to know they are in different countries; it is, after all, part of the fun and purpose of being a tourist!
Sinn Fein’s response strikes me as mean-spirited and petty. Indeed, if they feel so strongly about anything which indicates a difference between the two jurisdictions then why don’t they object to the signs directing drivers to currency exchanges; or the signs indicating that speed is measured in different ways? No, their objections are, as always, based on the self-serving mantra about the ‘negative impact of partition on a daily basis and ... the unnatural division of Ireland’. Their objection boils down to just one thing: they don’t like to see ‘Northern Ireland’ anywhere.
Come the next triggering of d’Hondt maybe Sinn Fein should take the DRD ministry and erect huge signs saying: “Until such times as the glorious revolution succeeds and brings ultimate liberty to Ireland by removing the hated oppressor, then we apologise for the arbitrary and spiteful division of our land by those who still seek to humiliate and harry us. Enjoy your stay in this unnatural enclave. Welcome to the un-free six counties.”
Okay, I’m only half joking: but I am deadly serious when I say that Sinn Fein has no interest whatsoever in reconciliation with unionists and no intention of doing anything that promotes Northern Ireland as Northern Ireland.
Meanwhile, the SDLP’s Alasdair McDonnell has spent the past couple of days proving how utterly, utterly delusional he has become. The News Letter’s political correspondent Sam McBride provided him with the platform of a major interview to set out how he sees the role and relevance of the SDLP. It was a very good opportunity for McDonnell to promote his party to a unionist audience and maybe even suggest ways in which the SDLP and elements of unionism (particularly the UUP) could find common cause.
But no! He chose to lay into Sinn Fein, accusing them of a ‘Soviet-style’ approach to leadership and organisation and further accusing them of moving a ‘lot of their military people into council and MLA positions’. Maybe so, but it was the SDLP who spent years in secret talks with Sinn Fein and who assisted them to set up a pan-nationalist front whose only purpose was to undermine, demoralise and outflank unionism.
It was the SDLP who used to argue that it would be better to have the IRA in government than engaged in terror. And it was the SDLP who refused to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with David Trimble at key periods between 1998 and 2003 when he was trying to put pressure on Sinn Fein/IRA to move on decommissioning.
Dr McDonnell also spent a great deal of time complaining about how the SDLP’s only minister is routinely bullied by the DUP and Sinn Fein: “They put a gun to Alex’s (Attwood) head and said, if you don’t implement this we’ll marginalise you, we’ll strip it off you. We cannot allow the DUP and SF to collude to basically put the public interest down the list.”
That’s all true and the only logical response would have been for Dr McDonnell to indicate a willingness to leave the Executive. Not a bit of it: “We are where we are. I mean I don’t think you can take it in isolation. The SDLP is working.”
What!? Does he really believe that being routinely bullied and ignored while his party spirals downwards in the polls is an indication that the SDLP is working?
Then, for good measure, he also attacks unionists for not really being sincere about power-sharing and only doing it because they have been forced into it.
He seems to have forgotten that the UUP’s governing council supported power-sharing with the SDLP in the autumn of 1972 and did so at a time when the SDLP was regarded as an old-fashioned republican party.
And he seems to have forgotten that the UUP backed Faulkner’s original proposal to create power sharing.
Most important of all, he has clearly forgotten that it was the SDLP’s refusal to compromise on a Council of Ireland which scuppered Faulkner and brought the whole thing crashing down within a matter of months.
When Seamus Mallon described the Good Friday Agreement as ‘Sunningdale for slow learners,’ he was right. But it was the SDLP who were the slow learners, because the GFA turned out to be very much worse for them than for unionism. Had they helped Faulkner in 1973/4 it’s possible that Sinn Fein would not now be the lead party of nationalism.
Anyway, not one word of what Dr McDonnell said in the interview suggested that he has a recovery plan for the SDLP. His position can be summed up thus: Sinn Fein bad. Sinn Fein/DUP carve-up bad. Unionists not sincere about power-sharing (by which he means they are sectarian).
But never mind – ‘the SDLP is working’. I’m surprised he doesn’t want to work with the UUP, because he would be very comfortable with a party that has an almost identical grasp on political/electoral realities!
What all of this suggests is that neither Sinn Fein nor the SDLP has come to terms with the fact that Northern Ireland is here and here to stay.
Begging the question: is ‘slow learning’ one of the fixed points of republicanism/nationalism?
Follow Alex every day on Twitter@AlexKane221b