The Sinn Fein Agenda
When Gerry Adams suggested recently that Sinn Fein would be happy to see the Assembly collapse and new elections called he clarified the Republican agenda and the shift in strategy which has occurred in the past few years. The outworking of the St Andrews agreement was in reality a political version of the cold war strategy of mutually assured destruction; both the DUP and Sinn Fein had it in their gift to undermine the structures of government but only to the detriment of both. With Paisley and McGuinness at the helm both sides gave the impression of wanting to make the structures work to the benefit of Northern Ireland, they did so well at creating this impression they became known as the “Chuckle Brothers”. The well-known consequences of this tag were the tremors created within the DUP which led eventually to the demise of Paisley as First Minister and leader of the party. Less well recognised or commented upon were the tremors within the Republican movement. A movement driven by the belief that Northern Ireland was a “failed state” was being seen as actively contributing to Northern Ireland’s success and stability. Feted around the world Martin McGuinness was the archetypal terrorist turned politician whose job was to make Northern Ireland work. Just as the DUP had announced a battle a day to mollify the foot soldiers, so too did grass roots republicans believe in something more than the mutual respect that developed between Ian and Martin. Yet the more Martin settled into the role the further away the United Ireland agenda became. With the removal of Paisley republicans had an opportunity to revert to attempting to make Northern Ireland look like a “failed state”. Across a wide range of social, economic, political and cultural issues the republican movement has reverted to type and commenced a process of prevarication and obstruction. The St Andrews Agreement, in which the DUP put so much faith, has shown that where the destruction of Northern Ireland is the key objective of one party, having a policy of mutually assured destruction was a strategic mistake by Peter Robinson and his party. So with Gerry’s comments on bringing down the Assembly and new talks about to start where does this leave Unionism now? First it leaves the clear impression that Republicanism has no vested interest in making Northern Ireland work in the medium to long term. Second we know that if the Assembly were to collapse, a future election, without major changes to the Assembly’s governance, would be of no benefit to the wider community in Northern Ireland. Simply returning to replay the failed politics of the current term will add to Sinn Fein’s contention that Northern Ireland is a failed state. Instead Unionism must be on the front foot, presenting new ideas to wider society and challenging republicanism myths and narratives . Unionism has the enthusiasm and the drive for creating a better society. . Sinn Fein are increasingly stuck in the past, trotting out lines from 1916 instead of working the institutions of 2014. There are opportunities which Unionism should seize and exploit. Whilst the DUP has put party first, the Ulster Unionist Party will put country first. That makes a difference.