Belfast Telegraph

Important for Mary Lou McDonald to see the bigger picture

By Shona Murray

Mary Lou McDonald is taking over as president of Sinn Fein at a time of immense change and uncertainty for Ireland.

What is required from her is big-picture thinking.

She needs to bring unionists along in recognising the fact that staying close to the European Union is not a threat to unionism, but of considerable importance for the future of Northern Ireland.

It's patently clear that Brexit is bad for the United Kingdom as a whole and top of the list of casualties will be Northern Ireland farmers, chief among them those in Arlene Foster's agricultural-centred constituency of Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

Sinn Fein's alignment to official EU policy on Brexit represents a step away from the eurosceptic bent it is on record for having.

It voted against the Nice and Lisbon Treaties, and more recently the Fiscal Compact Treaties.

But in recent months the party has welcomed the language and support of senior EU officials like EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, who have been dedicatedly up to speed on the many ways the UK's withdrawal upsets the dynamic on the island of Ireland.

There is no logical reason for the DUP to have supported Brexit other than an obsession with being seen as unmistakably British as opposed to Irish, regardless of the resulting collateral damage.

The only way to salvage the hard-fought peace and return to the days of difficult but workable power-sharing is for both sides to put things in perspective and realise how destructive the current impasse is.

While the EU and other member states have put considerable time and energy into holding together the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement, sympathy and understanding is not infinite.

The responsibility lies with the parties and players at the coalface to get on with the role bestowed upon them by their constituents and the wider international community that has celebrated the success thus far of the Northern Ireland peace process.

Any further deterioration in the process, even allowing the impasse in the devolved government to continue, will make the Brexit process far more difficult to reconcile as unionists seek to drift further towards Britain.

Another unintended consequence of Brexit is the increased likelihood of a border poll - something that many people alive today could never have countenanced would happen in their lifetime, if ever.

Mary Lou's leadership in bringing sceptics on both sides of the border is crucial.

She is the generational leader replacing a president in place since 1983, whose role in the IRA is well-known.

She has an opportunity to refresh the party and move away from its armed past.

In her acceptance speech as the only nominee for president on Saturday, she said: "I will fill my own shoes and walk in my shoes."

As she said this, she held up her fist in the style of armed revolutionaries.

It was a clear nod to the past, when the exact opposite was in order, particularly after the recent reminder of the IRA's sectarian massacre of Protestant workers at Kingsmill.

Shona Murray is a commentator for the Irish Independent

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