Belfast Telegraph

Suzanne Breen: Supposed show of solidarity that exposed gulf between DUP and Sinn Fein

DUP leader Arlene Foster and Sinn Fein MP Michelle Gildernew react during a tense interview on Monday
DUP leader Arlene Foster and Sinn Fein MP Michelle Gildernew react during a tense interview on Monday
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

They were meant to be there in a joint show of solidarity against the dissident republican Wattle Bridge bombers.

But the war is clearly not over between the DUP and Sinn Fein as Arlene Foster and Michelle Gildernew clashed spectacularly in a BBC exchange.

If senior politicians from the two parties can't get along together for a few minutes during a live broadcast in the wake of an attack which could have claimed lives, how on Earth are they going to govern Northern Ireland?

There seems little chance of the DUP and Sinn Fein reaching a deal to restore power-sharing at Stormont. But after watching the Foster-Gildernew exchange, the real question is would we want them to?

Are they capable of working together on basic issues, let alone the crucial controversial ones facing society here? In the BBC Newsline interview on Monday night, talk turned to Brexit and Michelle Gildernew said there was "potential for a hard border" and it was "very real and very concerning".

The Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP recalled growing up "beside one of the hardest borders" near the military installation at Aughnacloy. The DUP leader cut across her, insisting that the installation was there to "stop terrorists". Michelle was not in the mood for being interrupted.

"Well, it didn't stop the terrorists who shot dead Aidan McAnespie," she replied.

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Arlene sighed, rolled her eyes, and shook her head. Clearly, these two women don't share the same definition of a terrorist.

Aidan McAnespie, a 23-year-old Sinn Fein election worker, had just walked past the Aughnacloy checkpoint to a GAA match in February 1988 when he was hit in the back by one of three shots from a machine-gun.

The Army claimed the soldier had fired accidentally as his hands were wet and his finger slipped on the trigger.

The exchange between the DUP and Sinn Fein women showed the huge gulf between their parties on legacy issues.

The DUP does not see soldiers and police officers who killed while on duty in the same light as paramilitaries.

The party's supporters will be angry and offended by Ms Gildernew's assertion. They resile from being lectured on terrorism by republicans.

Sinn Fein voters will view Mrs Foster's eye rolling as an insult to a nationalist victim and his family. They will say that two-and-a-half years on from the cash-for-ash scandal, she has learnt neither humility nor diplomacy.

The politicians' disagreement on Brexit continued.

"The fact is that a hard border did exist for most of my life and I am deeply concerned that border will be reinstated within not months, but weeks of October 31 and the Brexit disaster that is looming," said Ms Gildernew, who was by now heavy on hand gestures.

"Why would we have military installations on the border?" asked a clearly irritated Mrs Foster, who said such measures weren't needed "as the IRA are no longer in operation going backwards and forwards across the border".

This brief exchange taught us more than endless statements from the parties or commentators' musings ever could. There is no tolerance, trust, respect or understanding between the DUP and Sinn Fein. If they go back to government again, it will likely be just more of the same.

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