Belfast Telegraph

Alban Maginness: The reasons voters should shun Sinn Fein and the DUP in tomorrow's council poll

Republicans' red lines are no reason to prevent restoration of devolution

The local council elections will be held tomorrow
The local council elections will be held tomorrow
Alban Maginness

By Alban Maginness

The genius of a rhetorical question is that the answer is contained within the question.

So when Fr Martin Magill posed his rhetorical question to the leading politicians at Lyra McKee's funeral service in St Anne's Cathedral, the congregation instantly recognised the genius of his question and rose to applaud without even hearing the end of the question itself. It was without doubt a powerful piece of oratory, which will become legendary and could well be a turning point in our politics.

It was a question so often thought of by the many over the past two-and-a-half wasted years, but n'er so well expressed as by the priest at Lyra's sad, yet strangely joyful funeral.

Fr Magill in his homily spoke not as a community leader, nor politician, but speaking the Gospel truth prophetically as a concerned Catholic priest should, and demanding immediate action from those with the responsibility of serving the common good of the people.

His address was not a political speech, but that of a pastor speaking the truth on behalf of his wounded and vulnerable flock.

The awkward response of the political leaders of Sinn Fein and the DUP in clumsily simulating agreement by participating in the congregation's standing ovation was an exercise in collective political hubris. Bluntly, people feel frustrated and betrayed by the lack of imaginative and generous political leadership by Sinn Fein and the DUP.

Their visible embarrassment at their collective humiliation received little sympathy from the public, fed up with stalemate.

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Within a couple of hours Sinn Fein was on Radio Ulster apparently accepting the challenge from Fr Magill, but at the same time defending its red lines for moving on - the usual mantra of an Irish Language Act and the demand for a "rights-based" return to government. This latter call means rights for all - except the unborn.

Curiously in all of this verbosity no mention of RHI, which actually brought Stormont down.

The fact is that the issues which Sinn Fein is now laying down as red lines have been retro-fitted over the past two-and-a-half years.

Martin McGuinness in resigning did not bring down Stormont over an Irish Language Act, or even Brexit.

It was brought down because Sinn Fein got cold feet over the effectiveness of the combined opposition of SDLP, UUP and Alliance.

It had been continually embarrassed by its own inadequate performance in government and feared the SDLP getting serious political advantage.

Its capitulation to Westminster with regard to welfare reform caused it political grief with the electorate and still continues to cause it grief.

Its own members and supporters told it that they were being outsmarted by the Stormont opposition and were made to look weak and foolish by the DUP.

Even when the issue of RHI arose, Sinn Fein was slow and ponderous in reacting.

When the SDLP demanded an inquiry, it initially rejected that demand.

It wasn't until the issue became a crisis that it reacted by demanding Arlene Foster stand aside to allow for an inquiry.

With regard to RHI, Sinn Fein was also to blame, as well as the DUP, in its failure as partners in government to carefully monitor and supervise its progress in the Sinn Fein-controlled Department of Finance under Mairtin O Muilleoir.

Sinn Fein's current red lines are an amalgam of issues which it has selected to bolster itself politically and bear little relation to the original crisis of Executive confidence involving the RHI scheme. That is why these red lines can be set aside for the purposes of the restoration of the Assembly.

While all the issues that have been endlessly highlighted are worthy issues, they pale into insignificance compared to the enormous issues in the negotiations leading up to the Good Friday Agreement.

If agreement could be reached then, surely agreement can be reached now by all parties during the new set of negotiations proposed by both governments, directly as a result of Lyra's tragic death in Derry.

But even now the chances of agreement between Sinn Fein and the DUP in these new talks are negligible.

That is why the ordinary people that make up the electorate here should take advantage of the local council elections tomorrow and send a timely and powerful message to these parties - by not voting for them.

This is the only way of getting a strong message across to them.

They are confident that they have a captive electorate who will automatically vote for them come what may.

It is up to the ordinary voters to prove them wrong and reflect the inspirational words of Fr Magill at Lyra McKee's funeral.

Unless and until we rediscover the reconciliatory spirit of the Good Friday Agreement, we will not be able to end division and unite our divided community.

Belfast Telegraph


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