Belfast Telegraph

Death has robbed Sinn Fein of huge personality of Martin McGuinness but it doesn't even need one

By Suzanne Breen

An event at Stormont tomorrow will capture the political journey Martin McGuinness undertook far more succinctly than any writer ever could.

A portrait of the former IRA commander will be unveiled in Parliament Buildings amidst considerable official ado. The house on the hill is not a place where republican revolutionaries have traditionally been acknowledged, let alone honoured.

But it is precisely because McGuinness abandoned the carved in stone republican commandment of smashing Stormont that he now enters its annals as one of its good guys.

Yes, he did bring the institutions down 14 months ago but it wasn't part of any strategy to destroy Northern Ireland like some unionist conspiracy theorists claim.

He had hung in as long as he could but the restlessness of republican grassroots made it impossible to continue doing so.

Let's remember that the RHI scandal and the decision to cut Liofa's funding occurred just months after Sinn Fein had lost significant support to People Before Profit in its urban heartlands. Martin McGuinness is lionised by his party. Yet the fact remains that the strategy he followed at Stormont was hardly successful for Sinn Fein on several fronts. It was one which eventually led to the disenchantment and disillusionment among the republican base that cost the party votes it had taken for granted.

In McGuinness's time at the helm in Stormont, the DUP won every battle. The crucial mistake Arlene Foster's party made was in presuming once too often that the Shinners would roll over.

The DUP's cockiness proved to be its undoing. In allowing the DUP so many victories, McGuinness's reputation as a political operator on the big stage and his tactical nous have to be questioned. His death has certainly robbed the party of a huge personality on this side of the border. In terms of gravitas Michelle O'Neill will never live up to him.

Yet Sinn Fein doesn't need her to.

Current political circumstances mean the party is enjoying unprecedented popularity across the nationalist community. Loathing of the DUP, particularly as a result of Brexit, has never been stronger among the Catholic middle-class.

With the exception of a handful of areas with particularly capable SDLP representatives that party just isn't competitive anymore. In McGuinness's home constituency of Foyle, it is impossible to see Mark Durkan winning back the seat his party held for 34 years. The SDLP will surely taken a further hit in next year's council elections.

Like the DUP before it, the greatest danger to Sinn Fein is itself. The idea took hold last year that post-McGuinness the party was no longer committed to power-sharing at Stormont.

The details of the draft agreement Sinn Fein reached with the DUP last month prove that to be a nonsense.

Indeed, in order to return to the corridors of power the Shinners were up for major compromise.

They were prepared to abandon their previous redline issues of equal marriage and Mrs Foster not being First Minister until the RHI inquiry concluded. Despite the DUP's eleventh hour nerves, all roads still lead back to Stormont for Sinn Fein. If he's looking down tomorrow, Martin McGuinness would undoubtedly approve.

Belfast Telegraph

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