Sinn Fein stands at the opposite end of the political spectrum to Donald Trump, but it could give him a run for his money in brazenly denying reality.
You can see from photos and footage of Bobby Storey’s funeral that coronavirus regulations and guidelines were broken. You can read the text outlining the rules on the Executive’s own website to be doubly certain.
But the party says you’re wrong. Sinn Fein upheld all official advice and rules. It stuck to the letter and the spirit of the law. Those are the ‘alternative facts’ it persists in pushing despite the fact that your own eyes tell you they’re a sham.
In 2017, President Trump (right) claimed that the crowd at his inauguration was much larger than that at Barack Obama’s in 2009. He didn’t let the photos and footage proving otherwise stand in the way of his claim.
Sinn Fein deserves credit for its stance at Stormont on the virus from the get-go when others appeared slow to act. Michelle O’Neill spoke out about closing schools immediately. Some saw that as trouble-making by breaching collective Executive responsibility. I thought she showed guts on a life-and-death issue.
On safety in factories, the party has put workers’ welfare above owners’ profits. O’Neill demanded universal testing in care homes when others were less vocal. Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA Colm Gildernew has been impressively on top of his brief as Health Committee chair holding officials to account.
But Sinn Fein has now undermined all its own efforts on Covid-19. Look around the Executive table and you’ll find ministers of varying degrees of capability.
But I can’t think of one from any other party who would take part in a funeral attended by thousands as Michelle O’Neill and Conor Murphy did.
Whatever we think of the DUP, whatever mistakes — and there have been many — the party has to its name, it has practised what it preached on Covid-19.
When Edwin Poots’ father Charlie died, he went to great lengths to ensure that the funeral was kept private. Neither Arlene Foster nor Diane Dodds attended even though Poots snr was a DUP founder.
Executive advice last week said wakes were not to be held. There was a three-day wake for Bobby Storey, and Sinn Fein figures attended it.
Contrary to what the party claims, the official guidelines at the time of the funeral limited mourners at the mass to 10, not 120. Hundreds of men and women did not just spontaneously appear in black trousers and ties and white shirts on the Andersonstown Road. Somebody organised it.
You do not arrange an oration by Gerry Adams in a cemetery — where the deceased isn’t even being buried — if you don’t want a big event.
Around 1,000 stood in Milltown when the official limit for a public gathering is 30. Defending O’Neill’s participation, Mary Lou McDonald said nobody should be punished for attending the funeral of a friend.
Fair enough, but Sinn Fein wrote the very rules that have prevented thousands of people attending their friends’ funerals during this pandemic.
O’Neill is in the line of fire because she is deputy First Minister, but she certainly was not the architect of Tuesday’s event. Those in Belfast who did organise it, drove a coach-and-horses though the guidelines because, ultimately, Bobby Storey was regarded as more special than ordinary folk who have died.
The same rules that applied to others did not apply to him. No wonder that so many bereaved families — Catholic as well as Protestant — watched that funeral and thought it effectively turned them and their loved ones into second-class citizens. A hierarchy in death established by a party that once demanded parity of esteem.
Did nobody in Sinn Fein believe a funeral more in keeping with the spirit of the times was appropriate, or did they all see Storey as republican royalty to whom ordinary rules need not apply?
Mary Lou McDonald is a sharp and savvy operator. Did she not anticipate a big funeral’s potential for public controversy in the middle of a pandemic, or did she think it a price worth paying to keep other in the movement happy?
Sinn Fein won’t lose support among its traditional base on this one, but many new and floating voters are less than impressed.
In recent years, the Shinners have successfully made common cause with Alliance, the Greens and SDLP on Brexit and an Irish Language Act.
Those parties have joined the DUP and Ulster Unionists in calling on O’Neill to step aside.
Of course, she’ll survive but it still leaves her exposed. And I suspect that unsplendid isolation is much more uncomfortable territory for Sinn Fein than it is for Donald Trump.