Mike Nesbitt: Mixed messages from Sinn Fein undermine their credibility

In yesterday’s paper, Mary Lou McDonald makes a stab at justifying her support for the now infamous ‘England get Out of Ireland’ banner on parade in New York for St Patrick’s Day (‘SF leader: As a new Ireland emerges we need to work together and be truthful,’ March 26).

Wednesday, 27th March 2019, 8:34 am
Mike Nesbitt, then UUP leader, and Michelle O'Neill of Sinn Fein in a 2017 debate: Mr Nesbitt now says: "The IRA, and more recently Sinn Féin, have appropriated the notion of a united Ireland in a manner that makes it toxic to many more than the unionist community"

The Sinn Féin president may wish to consider the old maxim of “when you are in a hole, stop digging”.

To say the words on that banner are clear, is blinkered, at best.

To explain them as a call for the end to partition and the influence of Westminster in the affairs of this island is a clear breach of the 1998 Belfast / Good Friday Agreement.

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Letter to the editor

Westminster cannot move to end partition without the consent of the peoples of Northern Ireland and the Republic, voting freely and without the attempted coercion of the Provisional IRA in so-called border polls.

That is what the agreement says.

It is what Sinn Féin say they support, and therefore provides no basis for Ms McDonald to pose so unwisely behind the banner.

Brexit may have put the constitutional question back on the political agenda for the first time in 21 years, but that does not mean constitutional change is inevitable.

Geography is not destiny.

I was in Dublin recently for the centenary celebrations of Dáil Éireann and none of the TDs or senators I spoke to disagreed with my opinion that the people of the Republic would not vote for unity in the event of a border poll in the foreseeable future.

The IRA, and more recently Sinn Féin, have appropriated the notion of a united Ireland in a manner that makes it toxic to many more than the unionist community.

This has nothing to do with England, who do not even have their own parliament of executive government. All the English do is provide the great majority of the taxes that fund Northern Ireland’s block grant, and indeed to multi-billion pound loan to Dublin in 2010 when the Celtic Tiger collapsed.

I am on record as being quite critical of unionism’s failure to properly outreach to those who do not share our views, values and aspirations.

Unionism has, on occasion, boycotted people and events, not least in the aftermath of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985.

I think that was a mistake. You cannot expect anyone to put our case for us — that is our work. But Sinn Féin’s outreach lacks credibility.

Mary Lou’s predecessor as Sinn Féin president was all about ‘Brits Out’.

In her letter printed yesterday, she writes of an apparent ambition to promote ‘Brits In’, given people like me consider ourselves ‘Brits’.

Mix in Gerry Adams’s famous reference to equality as a Trojan horse, the myriad of human rights abuses by republicans over the decades and Mary Lou posing with that banner is just another mixed message undermining Sinn Féin credibility.

I for one am going nowhere.

Go away and come back in five, fifteen or fifty years and there will still be unionists, loyalists, republicans, nationalists and others on this postage stamp on the world map.

We need to reconcile, but the effort must be more consistent, genuine and self-critical.

Mike Nesbitt, Ulster Unionist Party MLA