Where Gerry Adams leads, Michelle O’Neill will follow, and what Gerry Adams says, she is sure to say it, too. Gerry Adams appointed her and she knows that only too well.
So, when Gerry talked about Brexit and the European Union, it was not going to be long until Michelle followed suit. Both Gerry Adams and Michelle O’Neill are making Brexit one of their big issues in the forthcoming election, along with an Irish Language Act, rewriting the past, a united Ireland and Gerry’s notorious “Trojan horse” of equality.
The Sinn Fein president spoke about Brexit at a party conference in Mansion House in Dublin on January 21. The title of the event was ‘Towards a United Ireland Conference’, and he told the audience: “Taking the north out of the EU will destroy the Good Friday Agreement.”
Michelle O’Neill was sitting beside Adams at the conference, and this week she turned her attention to the same issue, Brexit. Indeed, Sinn Fein held a special event in the Waterfront Hall to highlight the issue.
All this, of course, was happening against a background of the second reading at Westminster of a Bill to trigger Article 50 and move Brexit forward.
Now, why do Sinn Fein see Brexit as a problem? Forty years ago, they campaigned against Britain joining the Common Market. That was back on June 5, 1975, and they argued that it would be an infringement of Irish national sovereignty.
But 40 years later, they did a volte-face and took the opposite view. They campaigned to remain — and it is easy to see why.
In spite of the bombs, the bullets and the bloodshed, the republican movement failed to break the Union, and in spite of Gerry Adams’s prediction of a united Ireland by 2016, Northern Ireland is still part of the United Kingdom.
Indeed, we have a prime minister who believes in “the Union, the precious, precious bond between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland”.
Last year, Sinn Fein put on a series of second-rate commemorations of 1916, but it did little to hide their embarrassment that they had failed to achieve their goal.
However, the European Union helped to take some of the edge off that embarrassment.
Sinn Fein gradually forgot about their 1975 concern for Irish national sovereignty and instead tried to convince their supporters that EU harmonisation would make the border irrelevant and, ultimately, dissolve it.
They fear now that Brexit will demolish that analysis and further expose their failure.
With the United Kingdom free from the shackles of Brussels and with the Irish Republic still in the EU, what are they going to say?
They also know that most Irish nationalists and republicans voted Remain and so they are arguing for a rather vague “special status” for Northern Ireland within the EU.
They also hope that some sort of “special status” for Northern Ireland within the EU would dissolve the border and help to advance their aspiration of differentiating and detaching Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom.
Sinn Fein even tried to argue that the Northern Ireland Assembly and the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales should have some sort of veto. Across the North Channel, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon was at the same thing.
But they were grasping at straws and, on January 24, the Supreme Court in London totally rejected their argument.
This was a United Kingdom referendum, for the whole of the United Kingdom, and it was a matter for the people and the parliament of the United Kingdom.
Sinn Fein didn’t like the result of the 2016 Assembly election and they want to re-run it all over again. That is the core reason why they forced an election.
In the same way, they didn’t like the result of the EU referendum.
That’s why they are trying to undo the result and why they are making Brexit one of their main election issues.