Editorial: Mary Lou McDonald, a member of the Dail, tells a UK government what it must do about pay in Northern Ireland

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News Letter editorial on Thursday December 14 2023:

Early this year there was a predictable kerfuffle when Chris Heaton-Harris tried to exclude Mary Lou McDonald from Stormont talks.

The secretary of state said it would have been inappropriate to invite the Sinn Fein president to a political meeting about the Northern Ireland Protocol because she is a "representative of a parliament in an EU member state".

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His logic was impeccable, but the decision caused a row to flare up, with accusations that Mr Heaton-Harris was “excluding” Ms McDonald, and the SDLP refusing to meet the visiting Foreign Secretary James Cleverly.

Needless to say this highly unusual attempt to stand up to the special treatment that Sinn Fein gets came to nothing. The party marches on towards a place in government in the Republic, given how far ahead it is in the polls south of the border. And if that happens, it will extend its attempt to play by different rules and will up its push for a border poll and for Irish interference in internal Northern Ireland affairs.

Yesterday Ms McDonald was back in Belfast, saying that there was “uniformity” across all the parties in the financial request from the government. Any unionist politician and Conservative and Unionist minister should shudder to hear her say: “We have set out the case very, very clearly to the British government, very clearly to the Treasury of what is required financially to meet the needs of the North for public services, for fair pay for public sector workers, and we need a positive response to that.”

It should be of no consequence what a member of the Dail thinks about public sector pay in a different jurisdiction. But in 2020, the then NI Secretary Julian Smith – to near unionist silence – was allowed to tear up the three strands and let the deeply partisan, nationalist Irish minister Simon Coveney delve deep into strand one and dictate an agreement which covered matters such as NI nurses’ pay.