Belfast Telegraph

Nelson McCausland: Sinn Fein always valued power of armament more than the power of argument

Party pressurises others to bend to their will: give us what we want, or we won’t be back, writes Nelson McCausland

Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill with general election candidates at the launch of the party’s election manifesto in Derry this week
Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill with general election candidates at the launch of the party’s election manifesto in Derry this week
Nelson McCausland

By Nelson McCausland

When Henry Carey wrote his satirical poem Namby Pamby in 1725, he created a term that describes many observers who are reluctant to call out the culpability of one of our political parties.

Yes, every political party has its shortcomings, as does every organisation, but the truth is that the current political impasse, which has been ongoing for almost three years, was engineered by Sinn Fein.

The namby-pamby folk will talk round it and try to spread the blame across other political parties, but it was Sinn Fein that walked out of the Assembly, demolished devolution, forced an unnecessary election and have prevented the restoration of devolution.

They exploited the system to force an election at a time of their choosing and they had prepared their ground well. But their objective was not simply to get a good result.

Their primary objective was to engineer a situation in which they could make a series of political demands as the price for taking up their seats.

After the election, they refused to return to the Assembly and ever since they have held the people of Northern Ireland to ransom, refusing to return to Stormont, denying the people of Northern Ireland a devolved government and demanding concessions as the price for devolution.

There was a time when the bargaining power of Sinn Fein came from the firepower of the IRA. It was a tactic that worked well when they were making their demands to Westminster and it also served them well in the days that led up to the Belfast Agreement.

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We can easily recall the concessions that were made to Sinn Fein by successive Westminster governments in order to draw them into the “peace process”, or to get them over the line on something or other.

Sinn Fein liked that. They didn’t need to argue their case, or convince anyone by the strength of their argument.

As a result, they never developed the normal skills that enable democratic processes to function.

Indeed, every concession by Tony Blair, or whichever Prime Minister it was, simply reinforced the Sinn Fein belief that this was the best way to do business.

Deploying the threat was their modus operandi. That was much easier and compliant Westminster governments succumbed to it. Sinn Fein preferred the power of armament to the power of argument.

These days, they may not be able to rely on the firepower of the Provisional IRA, but the tactic of threatening and bullying survives and we see it now in their callous disregard for wider society and for ordinary people and families. Their interests are ignored by Sinn Fein as Connolly House pursues a narrow party-political agenda.

After almost three years, there are many decisions which should have been taken — and could have been taken — in relation to the health service, social services, education and investment.

But all of these are exploited by Sinn Fein to put pressure on others to concede their demands: give us what we want, or we won’t go back.

Every other political party is willing to return to Stormont and to debate and decide the issues there. But Sinn Fein alone is preventing that and is sticking to its guns.

Of course, devolution can’t solve everything. But the absence of devolved government has exacerbated the problems around those key issues that matter to everyone, whatever their politics.

Surely, after almost three years of stubbornness and stonewalling by Sinn Fein, the people of Northern Ireland have suffered enough?

Sinn Fein are keen to assert the importance of the Belfast Agreement. Indeed, they have almost sacralised the agreement and Mary Lou McDonald is constantly lecturing us about its importance. Yet, they show their utter contempt for it and for the people of Northern Ireland by refusing to operate the Assembly that was part of the Agreement.

The forthcoming General Election is about many things and not — as some people suggest — about nothing but Brexit.

First and foremost, it is about electing MPs who will take their seats at Westminster and Sinn Fein, having absented themselves from Stormont, continue to absent themselves from Westminster.

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