Editorial: It is a Sinn Fein first minister that unionists find objectionable, not a nationalist one

Morning ViewMorning View
Morning View
News Letter editorial on Saturday February 3 2024:

​Today Northern Ireland will have a non unionist prime minister for the first time in its 103-year existence.​

This is a moment that many nationalists will cherish, if they feel (not all do) that such a post has been out of reach for them to date.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Technically there will be two first ministers, because the titles of what were first and deputy first minister have been made the same (legally they were always equal).

Unionists would always have been concerned to see a nationalist get the top spot, but not for the sectarian reasons that critics of unionism imply. Rather, it is because nationalist electoral victory might put the very existence of Northern Ireland at risk.

It has been alleged that Stormont has been suspended because unionists did not want a nationalist first minister. This perception was fuelled by the refusal of both the DUP and Ulster Unionist Party in the 2022 Stormont election to confirm that they would serve under a Sinn Fein first minister.

It is a slur on unionists because it confuses a political preference for unionist leadership with antagonism towards Catholic leaders. In fact there is dismay about Northern Ireland being led by an SF politician, dismay that would be absent if it was an SDLP one. The former party was inextricably linked to the IRA during the Troubles and has not merely justified its terror thereafter but gloried in it. Michelle O’Neill reflects a post Troubles generation that, while non violent, is if anything more shrill in its nationalism than past ones.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Ms O’Neill praises herself as a first minister for all but her hectoring tone is anything but. She does not even have the grace that Mary Lou McDonald can display. And unlike Martin McGuinness, a former IRA leader, she does not know intuitively when to absent herself or fall silent about an IRA that so wounded this society. Ms O’Neill should not play the victim and blame others for reacting badly to her own rhetoric.