Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein failing utterly to convince critics party can ever change its spots

By Suzanne Breen

We're only five weeks into 2018, but so far it's been an annus horribilis for Sinn Fein in terms of social media.

In just three days' time Gerry Adams will step down as party president and hand over the reins of power to Mary Lou McDonald, whose leadership some predict will mark a break with the past.

The last thing either wanted was one of their representatives caught in yet another social media storm.

The tweet at the centre of the latest controversy came from West Belfast MLA Alex Maskey in response to an unrelated tweet from SDLP leader Colum Eastwood.

Commenting on the 100th anniversary of women's suffrage, Mr Eastwood noted: "We can't forget that it took the Civil Rights Association here to ensure that all people got full access to voting rights."

Mr Maskey retorted: "Unfortunately it took more than the CRA to secure rights in the putrid little statelet NI."

The IRA campaign was waged for a united Ireland, not civil rights. History is being rewritten in that regard, but that's an argument for another day. Unionists have called for Ms McDonald to take action against the MLA.

Last month saw Barry McElduff resign as West Tyrone MP after widespread anger at a video he posted of himself with a Kingsmill loaf on his head on the anniversary of the massacre.

There were also calls for Sinn Fein's high-profile South Belfast MLA Mairtin O Muilleoir to follow suit and step down for retweeting the video.

Unionist politicians see Mr Maskey's tweet as the latest instalment in a series of incidents which undermine Sinn Fein's 'respect' agenda.

Gerry Kelly being captured on camera last week removing a clamp from his car with bolt cutters illustrates Sinn Fein's attitude that it alone can break the rules, unionists say. UUP MLA Doug Beattie claimed that the republican party's "respect, rights and equality campaign" was "in shreds and their credibility as a partner in government is in tatters".

TUV leader Jim Allister said Mr Maskey's tweet proved that Sinn Fein was unfit to hold ministerial office at Stormont and called on the DUP to take note.

"There can be no more concessions to republicans who openly glory in their campaign of terror," he said.

The reality is that despite the noise following Mr Maskey's tweet, it will have no impact whatsoever on the current talks or the DUP's willingness to form a coalition government with Sinn Fein.

The West Belfast MLA's description of Northern Ireland as "a putrid little statelet" initially seems a far cry from Martin McGuinness's reconciliatory gestures over the years, especially in meeting - and so warmly greeting - the Queen.

Yet while Mr McGuinness's language was not so careless or crude as Mr Maskey's, it should be remembered that he certainly didn't disown the IRA campaign, and indeed spoke of it with pride.

Sinn Fein adopted an apologetic stance over Mr McElduff's tweet but the party's tone on Mr Maskey's appeared defiant. And while there was cross-community outrage at the Kingsmill video, there seems to be a markedly different response from nationalists on social media this time, with some arguing that the MLA was "telling the truth" about how life had been here.

Today, with Sinn Fein signed up to the Good Friday Agreement and policing, it's only dissident republicans who persist in seeing Northern Ireland as "a putrid little statelet".

But it's clear that unionists and nationalists continue to view the origins of the conflict very differently. The question is whether disagreement over the past ultimately prevents building a different future.

Belfast Telegraph

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