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Eilis O'Hanlon

Pigeons are coming home to roost for Republic of Ireland's blinkered politicians

Eilis O'Hanlon


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Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald (Niall Carson/PA)

Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald (Niall Carson/PA)

Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald (Niall Carson/PA)

There are many compelling reasons why Sinn Fein is unfit to be in government in Dublin, and they have been put forward with increasing eloquence and force since the party started to make huge strides in the polls ahead of Saturday's election.

It still hasn't answered the deeper question of why the same politicians now barring the doors of Dail Eireann against the rising Shinner tide also spent years insisting that unionists must share power with the IRA's political wing at Stormont and denouncing those who objected to doing so as Orange bigots.

If Mary Lou McDonald is not a suitable person to be in office because a senior member of her party in another jurisdiction made certain repulsive allegations against Paul Quinn after his 2007 murder, why was that same senior member's installation as Finance Minister alongside the rest of the Executive a few weeks ago met with official celebrations for the return of common sense rather than with angry protests?

"Forget the language of win and lose," was how Tanaiste Simon Coveney urged parties in January to view the deal which gave Conor Murphy control of Northern Ireland's purse-strings. This week, by contrast, he has thrown the kitchen sink at Sinn Fein, calling them "wreckers" and their manifesto a "con job".

How quickly things change when it's his own people, rather than just voters north of the border, who might have to put up with being ruled by a party with its own military wing.

Did patronising know-it-alls in Dublin really think they could repeatedly fall in behind and encourage Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland whilst simultaneously putting up a protective political and moral cordon around their own country?

The argument from those opposed to Sinn Fein entering government in Dublin is that Northern Ireland suffered decades of bloody conflict and therefore has to make uncomfortable choices in order to leave the past behind and achieve some kind of normality, whilst the Republic has always been a stable, law-abiding state and that this will be put at risk by allowing in those who are iffy about democracy.

It is a fine argument in principle, but it's also gratuitously insulting to people here who bore the brunt of violence and for whom it is therefore harder on every level to be required to make those sacrifices. Stormont absolutely must not be destabilised again by the latest row, but this condescending attitude coming out of politicians in Dublin does look to many in Northern Ireland like bare faced double-standards, especially when the same people were quick to back Sinn Fein when it collapsed the Executive over some wood pellets.

Did patronising know-it-alls in Dublin really think they could repeatedly fall in behind and encourage Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland whilst simultaneously putting up a protective political and moral cordon around their own country?

Far too little attention was paid to the obvious danger of contamination. Indeed, those who dared warn about the possible risks were castigated for years in the highest political and media circles in Dublin for not getting fully behind the peace process, as if it was they, rather than the bombers, who were the real problem. Now those pigeons are coming home to roost.

The late Seamus Mallon always knew Sinn Fein's aim was to supplant the SDLP as the main party of nationalism in Northern Ireland, so why wouldn't that be the aim in Dublin too? It is possible to fervently wish they don't succeed in that plan whilst still deploring the double standards that allowed reality to sneak up and bite Fine Gael and Fianna Fail on the backside.

Gleefully Brit-bashing and sneering at Brexit, the Irish Government thought itself immune from the populist, anti-Establishment backlash happening everywhere else in the world, and pooh-poohed any suggestion that, when it did break out, it would take on the ancient, familiar shape of toxic nationalism.

That complacency was rooted in a smug belief that the people of the Republic were more morally robust than those in the north and would not succumb to Provo blandishments. In the end, that makes what is happening now all the more troubling.

Republicans had to bomb their way to power in Northern Ireland.

In the Republic, they just had to throw on some new clothes and a smile and the voters appear ready to invite them in to sit by the fire.

If Paul Quinn had been from their side of the border, would they be so blase about it?

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