Martin McGuinness has said that it is an “honour” to be likened to Greek politicians and attempted to firmly associate Sinn Fein with Syriza.
In comments which firmly tie Sinn Fein to Syriza at a time when the Greek economic situation is precarious, the deputy First Minister gave no indication that his party is preparing to compromise on its blanket veto of any welfare reform.
But in an interview with the Morning Star, Mr McGuinness also played down suggestions that he could quit as deputy first minister, triggering the collapse of Stormont, if London was to remove Stormont’s control over welfare and Westminster directly legislated to cut benefits in the Province.
Mr McGuinness made the comments in the Communist newspaper — which has a pro-Irish nationalist editorial line — this week as part of a visit to London in which he also addressed a gathering at Westminster.
During the interview, it was put to Mr McGuinness that he had been branded “irresponsible” for refusing to support a Stormont budget that includes cuts.
The deputy First Minister responded: “There’s a headline in today’s Belfast Telegraph accusing politicians in the north of being as bad as the Greeks. I think in saying that the paper bestows a great honour on us.”
Mr McGuinness was then asked: “So you’re happy to be branded the Syriza of Ireland?”
He replied: “We’re happy to be fighting austerity alongside all those in different parts of Europe who are very concerned about how austerity is affecting society. Absolutely.”
But although those comments suggest that Sinn Fein might be building for an all-out confrontation with David Cameron similar to that which between Alexis Tsipras and the EU, in another part of the interview Mr McGuinness played down suggestions that he could put his job on the line over budget cuts.
He said: “I believe the peace process is very strong. I’m a passionate believer in the peace process. I’m not saying all this will bring the peace process down. Some people misinterpret what I say sometimes.
“What I’m saying is that the greatest threat to the institutions come not from dissident republicans or extreme loyalists who want to plunge us back into the past. The greatest threat to these institutions now, after 20 years, comes from the economic strategies being pursued by this British government...”