Lord Empey: This health crisis has shown that Sinn Fein always needs a grievance to keep its agitation going

It is deeply regrettable that Sinn Fein are trying to turn, what for many is a time of personal loss and tragedy, into an orange versus green body count.

By Reg Empey
Monday, 4th May 2020, 1:31 pm
Updated Monday, 4th May 2020, 1:46 pm
Conor Murphy, Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O'Neill at a Sinn Fein Conference in Newry in February.
 
Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Conor Murphy, Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O'Neill at a Sinn Fein Conference in Newry in February. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

It is deeply regrettable that Sinn Fein are trying to turn, what for many is a time of personal loss and tragedy, into an orange versus green body count.

I am sure such a scenario is not shared by anybody outside the handful of republican zealots who are programmed to view every issue, however distressing, in constitutional terms.

From the very beginning of the crisis, Sinn Fein has not been sure footed at Stormont; from the get go, Michelle O’Neill sewed doubt in people’s minds with her volte-face on advice on the lockdown measures after only a few hours of an executive decision.

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Letter to the editor

She went on to criticise the health minister in public and her party leader’s contribution in a newspaper interview on Sunday last, was for many the last straw.

For Mary Lou McDonald to see Covid-19 as a means of accelerating the creation of a ‘United Ireland’ was not only crass and offensive, it was absolutely bonkers.

She said that there should be a single all island position on regulations and approach to dealing with the virus, and the absence of the same approach would bring forward ‘Irish Unity’ in a way the Brexit couldn’t!

This is long before this crisis is ended and a full analysis conducted on how all jurisdictions reacted.

It also shows that Sinn Fein was crying wolf over the consequences of Brexit, which many of us said all along.

However, Ms McDonald has made two major blunders here;

a) different regions of one country and different countries have to react to the virus to take account of local conditions and local capability; there is no one size fits all way of dealing with this crisis and we have no idea of how long this will last or what the long term fall out will be;

b) the second, and more politically damaging blunder she has made, was that in her call for the island to have one unified response, was to forget about the Common Travel Area that exists between the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic.

This treaty obligation means that citizens of both countries have free and unfettered access to each other’s territory as well as benefits etc.

This means the free movement of people from one jurisdiction to the other is guaranteed.

If we followed Mary Lou’s advice, and say one set of conditions was operating on the island of Ireland and a different one in Great Britain, a situation could arise where people moving from the island of Ireland to Great Britain could face 14 days of quarantine before being admitted!

Equally, depending on the views of authorities in both countries, the reverse could apply and people moving from Holyhead to Dublin could also be refused entry.

The real case that Ms McDonald makes is to have one set of agreed rules and measure throughout these islands and not one confined to the island of Ireland on its own.

Sinn Fein always needs a grievance to keep its agitation going.

That they are scraping the bottom of the barrel with this crazy talk demonstrates how nervous they are about the visible evidence before them of the massive financial support we are receiving from Westminster, up to £1.2 billions so far, and it will be more.

Finance Minister Conor Murphy knows this only too well.

It’s not hard to see why Sinn Fein are so off balance these days, but stooping so low, by using peoples’ misery to make a political point is going one step too far, even for them.

Lord Empey, Ulster Unionist member of the House of Lords