Thursday, August 28, 2008

The mouse that roared

The Sinn Fein rebellion that wasn't.

Rush into a meeting. Shout loudly "long live the Workers Republic"! Rush into another meeting and explain calmly that you can provide stability in a colonial administration. Now increase the frequency of the meetings. At some point speaking out of both sides of your mouth at once will prove too great a strain and a stammer will develop.

Sinn Fein have been speaking out of both sides of their mouth for over a decade. It is hardly surprising if TD Caoimhghin O'Caolin stumbled and a message for his terminally confused and demoralised members declaring Sinn Fein's willingness to collapse the Stormont assembly leaked into the outside world.

A stunned silence was followed by bursts of hilarity from the SDLP and then contempt, followed by increased pressure to come to heel from the DUP.

In fact what O'Caolin was demanding was far from clear. It was far short of any immediate demand, more a plea for the DUP to give them something and a pathetic threat to go to the British and complain.

The last time that the Shinners pulled this trick was when they threatened not to nominate a deputy first minister and prevent Robinson taking office. They ended up giving way on the issue of a Sinn Fein justice minister.

The mechanism is simple enough. Having signed up to a colonial and sectarian deal, tied by a thousand bribes and implied threats to London and Dublin, Sinn Fein have no choice but to make the deal look good no matter what it throws up. The task of the DUP is to prove to their supporters that they hold the whip hand and have conceded nothing to the Fenians. They can play hard ball in the knowledge that, in a decade of negotiation, the British have never wavered in seeing the unionist base as the guarantee of their presence in Ireland and have never felt it necessary to withdraw support no matter how extreme their demands. We have to remember that the present problem is about concessions to Sinn Fein in the St. Andrews agreement that they are trying desperately to have implemented – some of the sweeteners are on the table for the third time, constantly appearing and disappearing like carrots before a dazed donkey.

Today we have Mary Lou McDonald repudiating the O'Caolin comments and Alex Maskey pleading for "engagement" while Robinson lays down the law, demanding a massive climbdown at the upcoming executive meeting.

The only fatality in the whole process is Sinn Fein's credibility. The sooner that goes and a genuine political opposition forms, the better.

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