Belfast Telegraph

Nelson McCausland: Why it's easier for Sinn Fein to act the political poser than deal with real issues affecting voters

Graffiti in Belfast calling for an Irish Language Act
Graffiti in Belfast calling for an Irish Language Act
Nelson McCausland

By Nelson McCausland

As so often, it’s not what republicans say that is important, rather what they don’t say, writes Nelson McCausland.

Today and tomorrow the political focus is on the local government elections and, after that, the focus will eventually move on to another election, but the broader political stalemate in Ulster remains with us.

We have been without an Assembly since Sinn Fein collapsed devolution in January 2017 and previous attempts to restore it have run aground on the rocks of Sinn Fein arrogance and intransigence.

Last week the Secretary of State announced that there will be another round of inter-party talks and she spoke about it in the House of Commons on Monday.

The new process will start on May 7, but already Mary Lou McDonald, the Sinn Fein president, has put down her marker.

“We now have a big opportunity to finally resolve the outstanding equality issues... to see full power-sharing, with equality at its heart, hard-wired in for that to become a reality. Time is running out on equality,” she said.

Now, we know that Sinn Fein do not really believe in equality; they really want preferential treatment for their Irish language project “hard-wired in”, hence the demand for an Irish Language Act. That is where they were in January 2017 and that is where they still are today.

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Demanding an Irish Language Act has long been at the heart of their politico-cultural strategy for “decolonising” Northern Ireland.

However, they present that in the context of “equality, rights and Irish unity” — a phrase which seems to be the Irish republican version of “motherhood and apple pie”.

What is striking, then, is not what they have as their core message on their election posters and election literature; what is striking is what is missing and what is left unsaid.

The grey-haired men and women are gradually being pushed into the background and replaced by the younger faces, the smart suits and the make-up of a new generation.

It’s not that the older generation has gone away, it’s just that Sinn Fein are undergoing a makeover.

It’s easier to pose as a progressive party that campaigns for “equality, rights and Irish unity” and just hope that people are so impressed by this that they do not look around them at the broken communities, broken homes, broken hearts, broken minds and broken lives that are the legacy of Sinn Fein and the IRA.

It’s easier to stand aside from devolved politics, pose in front of a camera and “blame the Brits” for everything.

That way you can evade your responsibilities and don’t have to provide practical solutions to the real problems that bedevil so many families and communities across Northern Ireland.

The same problems also bedevil many families and communities in the Irish Republic.

However, there are differences.

One is that, on this side of the border, the problems have been exacerbated by decades of terrorism.

The other is that south of the border, Sinn Fein don’t have to stand aside.

They are not in government and have little prospect of being so.

Those problems are particularly obvious in the nationalist and republican communities from which Sinn Fein draw much of their support and that set me thinking about the Creggan area in Londonderry, where Lyra McKee was murdered a fortnight ago.

Almost 50 years ago, on June 26, 1970, three republican men were preparing explosives in the kitchen of one of their homes in the Creggan. Two young girls, the daughters of one of the IRA men, were in the house too and all five were killed in a premature explosion and fire. Now, 50 years later, we see a new generation of republicans intent on murder.

We also see a community beset with high levels of crime, suicide, anti-social behaviour, drugs, vandalism, car-theft and “joyriding”. That is the legacy of 50 years of republicanism in what is undoubtedly a broken community.

That’s why Sinn Fein prefer to be political posers, standing in front of a camera with their neat soundbites.

It’s easier than having to face up to the legacy they imposed on their communities.

And it’s easier than being real politicians, who deal with the real issues of educational attainment, health, social care, employment and housing.

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