Belfast Telegraph

Don’t tell Mary Lou, but McElduff’s stupidity has handed DUP moral high ground on a plate

By John Downing

Here's a newsflash just in: Barry McElduff will not be able to vote for Mary Lou McDonald as new Sinn Fein leader because he has been suspended from all party activities for three months.

Still, that doesn't matter.

It appears nobody else will be able to vote for Ms McDonald at their Ard Fheis in February to pick a replacement for their leader of 34 years, Gerry Adams.

That party, we are often told is bursting with up-and-coming talent.

But it just does not have anybody else who comes anywhere near Mary Lou McDonald.

She is most unlikely to be opposed - by anyone.

But don't anyone ask too many more questions here.

It's tricky stuff.

Let's just do a quick recap.

On the 42nd anniversary of the blatantly sectarian IRA murder of 10 Protestant men returning from work at a place called Kingsmill, brave Barry McElduff, Sinn Fein MP for West Tyrone, posted a video of himself on social media.

Brave Barry was wearing a pan of Kingsmill bread upon his head.

The video was re-tweeted by the party's West Belfast MLA and former Stormont Finance Minister, Mairtin O Muilleoir, who saw it as "wholly apolitical and retweeted it on that basis".

But he took down the tweet and apologised - so that's alright then.

We now know that Barry McElduff has apologised and said he meant utterly no offence.

Just clowning around.

Now he sees the connection he is profoundly sorry for any inadvertent offence.

And the Sinn Fein sanctions?

Well, a three-month suspension with pay from party activities.

Apart from being unable to vote in the leadership non-contest or attend that Ard Fheis, it's hard to see what else is involved.

He could miss the odd cumann meeting.

But it should be lifted by Easter so he can wear the lily alright.

It has offended the bereaved families and shown up the depth of sectarian divisions which still afflict the North.

It has made it again all the more difficult for any efforts to get the Belfast power-sharing government back after a year of stalemate in this the 20th anniversary year of the Good Friday Agreement.

But you cannot say things like that while Sinn Fein's soon-to-be leader, Mary Lou McDonald, is around.

On RTE radio yesterday she took exception to such a line of questioning from presenter Justin McCarthy.

When Mr McCarthy asked about implications for power-sharing restoration, he got this from Ms McDonald: "I think it is a very strange agenda, if this is what is being pursued by RTE, to say that now we cannot deal with the issues at hand because of a very stupid, very obnoxious, and very hurtful tweet, from a person who has been disciplined.

"I frankly don't buy that."

But Ms McDonald had little hope to offer that any kind of meaningful engagement will happen with Arlene Foster's DUP in efforts to re-establish power-sharing.

Yes, here it takes two to tango, and the DUP is, when it comes to it, equally culpable over the failure to sit down and hammer out hard compromises.

In this silly game of "pass the blame parcel," however, Sinn Fein's Barry McElduff has gifted the advantage to the DUP.

Mary Lou McDonald can fulminate her agendas all she likes, it does make it harder for the unionist side to sell compromises to its support base.

In other words, 20 years after the Good Friday Agreement, we are still waiting for real leadership to do grown-up politics.

John Downing is a columnist with the Irish Independent

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