Anthony McIntyre thinks Sinn Fein performed well in the North's election but feels it might have missed the chance to do even better.
Sinn Fein had a good election in the North. It not only called time on previous slippage that had seeped into electoral forays but also hit the DUP the type of body blow from which recovery tends to be a slow, unsteady and painful process. The Reverend Arleen Foster’s earlier pronouncements that Sinn Fein was a party in turmoil might have caused her to be complacent, seeing an implosion of morale rather than an explosion of energy.
Reading too much into what she faced from Team Sinn Fein in the Assembly, which had “become so comfortable within the system”, she took to behaving like Ivan Foster, even managing to acquire “man flu” along the way. Like most others familiar with Sinn Fein ignoring the opinions of its grassroots, she assumed nothing would come out of left field and topple the gravy train.
While it was a good outing for Sinn Fein, the observer is given to pondering had the party’s president not imposed himself on its electoral campaign, the DUP vote might not have come out as it did. Because Adams tends to infuriate unionism in a way that is far beyond the capability of any other nationalist politician, his involvement might have helped curb the extent of Sinn Fein’s success by firming up the DUP vote while Foster was galvanising his own party’s: a sort of mirror image of each other.
He of course shall dispute any such thing and will whisper from both sides of his mouth at the same time: praising Michelle O’Neill in the North for her leadership acumen (the degree to which she takes his lead) while promoting the message to the party in the South that his presence made it all possible: that it was he rather than Foster, or O’Neill for that matter, who caused the Sinn Fein vote to swell. The last thing he will want to gather pace is the idea that the introduction of a woman as leader in the South who is not perceived as a martial politician, might produce a similar outcome to that in the North. That would enhance his redundancy prospects.
If Sinn Fein history is kind to him it might not be as straightforward for Martin McGuinness. In a strange twist of fate Sinn Fein's electoral success might come to serve as a damning indictment of his role, casting him as the deferential deputy who seemingly put up with no small amount of crap.
Unlike Gerry Adams, Mr McGuinness displayed little ego in office and appeared willing to serve in Stormont regardless of what the DUP threw at him. "I watched in the Assembly as former IRA men and women sat as quiet as mice as the DUP humiliated them," says an SDLP MLA.
What Northern nationalism should learn from the Sinn Fein experience in the Stormont Executive is that the same careerist cartel who put up with “deliberate provocation, arrogance and disrespect” from the DUP, has been retuned largely unchanged. Without scrutiny there will only be sorrow.