Belfast Telegraph

How family affairs are a real test for DUP and Sinn Fein

By Lindy McDowell

As break-ups go we’re hardly Brad and Angelina.

But while the report of a split between Hollywood’s golden couple was greeted this week by the paparazzi flying in, we at least, attracted the real big-hitters in relationship counselling.

Gordon Brown and Brian Cowen.

Step aside Dear Deirdre...

Can they fix it? Yes (yawn) they probably can. Whatever the ultimate outcome of this week’s (yawn) brinkmanship, too many within the DUP and Sinn Fein have too much invested in Project Stormont to just walk away from it entirely.

Would it be too cynical to suggest that this week’s latest (yawn) impasse has come at a convenient time for both parties?

With some of the headlines that have been knocking around of late, the idea of dusting off the old ‘Back to the Brink’ standard will surely have lifted some DUP and Sinn Fein hearts.

Another Stormont crisis...

That’s one way of taking (some) attention off all those other disturbing stories bubbling around out there.

A fallout over the devolution (yawn) of policing and justice (yawn) is always so much easier to explain to the electorate than allegations about shocking family matters.

But we’ve been there too many times before with drama and crisis in the House on the Hill to get too worked up about this latest political tiff.

Set against the revelations already this year of drama and crisis in the House of Robinson and Adams, it’s been relatively predictable stuff.

We could always see it coming.

Right from the start, as with your average Tinseltown partnership, we were thinking to ourselves — “DUP and Sinn Fein? That’ll never last.”

All those rumours of bickering, frostiness, not speaking ... who would have believed it would be otherwise?

It was always set to be a fractious relationship with competing egos and contrasting ambitions.

Both sides, to use a gossip mag cliché, wanted very different things ...

Downing Street might not have been able to spot this week’s turbulence on the horizon.

But the relationship experts in Closer and Heat magazine would surely have put money on it.

Oddly though, despite this week’s spat, both parties now need each other as never before. Come any election they will be open to the kind of scrutiny from their respective voters that previously they were spared almost entirely.

On top of the MPs’ expenses shocker, the Robinson Affair has shaken the DUP grassroots to the core.

Meanwhile even within Sinn Fein itself, Gerry Adams’ leadership is now being questioned — something that would in the past have seemed unthinkable where the Dear Leader was concerned.

That can of worms, so courageously prized open by Sunday Tribune journalist Suzanne Breen, about his handling of child-rape allegations against his brother Liam has stunned — and revolted — many within the republican movement.

The UUP and the SDLP are unlikely to seize the political momentum because the UUP and the SDLP are, well, the UUP and the SDLP.

But, that said, you do get a sense that a new wind — a gentle breeze at least — is beginning to blow through the political process here.

Their respective electorates are no longer quite so starry eyed about the DUP and Sinn Fein.

Which is why both parties may find in the weeks ahead, that it’s not behind the closed doors of Stormont but out among their own supporters that their real relationship problems lie.

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