As yet another round of preliminary discussions flounders, the stark reality is that we could have an Assembly and an Executive up, running and functioning tomorrow: but that is not going to happen.
The main and seemingly only obstacle to the return of devolution is now Sinn Fein.
When Sinn Fein collapsed the Executive in January 2017 it claimed the DUP’s handling of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) meant that it could no longer work with them. Subsequently, they raised Arlene Foster’s position as First Minister, the Irish language, same sex marriage and legacy issues as pre-conditions for a return to government.
The RHI inquiry led by the Right Honourable Patrick Coughlan was, in the words of Sinn Fein at the time to be “…an independent , no-hiding-place public inquiry into the RHI…”. That is what Sinn Fein demanded, and rightly so, and that, again quite rightly, it is what they got. That inquiry has investigated and will present its findings in due course: probably in a few months’ time.
Fair weather friends
The objection to Arlene Foster as First Minister was quietly dropped and quickly forgotten. It was replaced with demands for an Irish Language Act, although they have yet to spell out exactly what that would entail, but again a legitimate piece of legislation by any standards.
To that demand they later added a call for the legal right to same sex marriage, bringing Northern Ireland into line with the rest of these islands. Again, a very legitimate piece of social legislation. However, as parties inched towards an agreement last year that too was dropped from Sinn Fein’s red line list. Clearly, they support you for as long as they need you.
Border poll – a sectarian device
Although not directly linked to the restoration of devolution, they have now added the unnecessary, divisive and deliberately sectarian demand for a border poll to their shopping list – their rationale being that as the majority of voters in Northern Ireland, a state they have difficulty recognising let alone saying, voted to leave the European Union that a border poll is the next logical step.
It is nothing more than a device to heighten sectarian tensions: and they know it. Why an organisation that claims to have dedicated its life’s work to extracting the people of Ireland from one empire should want to be part of an even bigger one defies logic.
Sinn Fein has no intention of returning to the Executive, initially until after a general election in the Republic of Ireland and latterly until after the final withdrawal of the UK from the EU. Both are tactical decisions based on preserving and enhancing Sinn Fein’s electoral support.
While every other party is prepared to re-establish the Executive and the Assembly Sinn Fein refuses to do so on tactical grounds.
Yesterday, Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald described the latest attempt to restart talks about a re-formed Executive as ‘a sham’.
It is hard to understate the appalling arrogance of that position.
Perhaps Mary Lou thinks it’s ‘a sham’ that people are waiting on hospital trollies, that cancer patients have no access to modern treatments and that victims of domestic abuse have less protection and rights than elsewhere. Strangely, Sinn Fein did not present those issues as red lines in negotiations.
Maybe it’s ‘a sham’ that public housing projects are put on hold while waiting lists grow. Could it also be ‘a sham’ that public services are grinding to a halt and that an entire generation of young people are at risk of unemployment, no apprenticeships and low paid insecure jobs for those lucky enough to get them? No sign of a red line on these issues either
Divisive and destructive agenda
It is Sinn Fein and its fellow travellers who are the shams, the fraudsters and the fakes. Their arrogance and their conceit take precedence over people’s jobs, housing, education, health, opportunities and prospects. Political, social and economic progress means nothing to Sinn Fein next to their divisive and destructive agenda.
It is time they were called out. We have often said that voting for parties like Sinn Fein, and the DUP, has consequences. For thousands of people in Northern Ireland today waiting on an operation, a home, a place in a nursery school, a job, or even a chance – those consequences are very real indeed and they are not going to go away.
It is time, not just for the electorate as voters, but for people of all ages as citizens to face up to the ransom demands – and those who make them – which are robbing us all a present as well as a future.
Reflect on support
Campaigning groups, cultural bodies, lobbying organisations and rights-based associations need to reflect on any support they have given wittingly or not to this continued denial of the right to an Assembly and a functioning Executive.
All the issues that are being presented as bogus road blocks can and should be discussed and voted on in a reformed Assembly, with an amended Petition of Concern.
We need to take politics and political discussions in from the margins, away from vanity projects and place them centre stage in people’s lives for the benefit of people’s lives.
Until more people realise that this is never going to happen while people vote in their thousands for Sinn Fein and the DUP, in particular, then we are facing a very bleak future indeed.