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Sinn Fein victory turns to ashes

22 May 2022

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson with members of his party at Stormont.

In the recent Assembly elections the majority of nationalists were convinced by Sinn Féin claims of epic political advance through winning the position of First Minister in the Stormont executive.  As we have already explained elsewhere, what was happening was unionist decay rather than Sinn Féin advance.  However, that illusion of progress hid a number of other illusions that are even more significant.

Amongst nationalists there was a clear acceptance of partition. The election swung around maximising the vote to obtain a nationalist First Minister rather than organising to assert the need for an Irish democracy. The Sinn Féin leaders played along, banning candidates from mentioning a United Ireland and announcing that their focus was on bread-and-butter issues. In fact, that has been the line of march for some time, with calls for a United Ireland with unionist consent replacing opposition to unionism and constitutional nationalism to build a republic. There is much song and dance about a border poll, which can only be called by the British and which was dismissed by them within moments of the election ending.

Political consciousness does not stop with a quiet acceptance of the current partitionist settlement. Full throated support for Stormont is required to deliver the promised land.

A call for the immediate restoration of the Assembly and Executive Government was issued by the Royal College of Nursing, the British Medical Association Northern Ireland, the Royal College of Surgeons of England, the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, and the Royal College of GPs.

“We are appealing to our newly-elected representatives to put our health service first, form an Executive without delay,” they said.

“The lack of political stability puts basic service delivery at risk and inhibits our ability to make progress on key transformation projects including addressing our waiting lists, tackle the crisis in emergency admissions and improving capacity in general practice".

The call is supported by NGOs, civic bodies, trade union leaders and many leftists, yet for evidence-based medical organisations there is an astounding lack of any evidence for a progressive role for Stormont. The opposite is the case. The administration has failed every test set for it.

Westminster is bringing forward weak reforms on abortion, in part to warn the DUP that if they go too far in their sabotage of the Assembly, they will be opening the door to a liberal hell run by Westminster cosmopolitans. In order to do this the Secretary of State is overruling the power of the Executive and is indicating a willingness to take direct control of the Department of Health to see the law enforced. A strange situation where even minor progress requires the restoration of direct rule!

What is heart-felt in the calls for restoration of the Executive is bemoaning the lack of political stability. The middle class wants peace and quiet inside partition and is happy with the division of political spoils.

A third illusion, so common as to go unremarked, is belief in the progressive nature of Europe. That does have some material support in that membership of both custom areas can boost the economy, but ignores the reactionary role of Europe in freezing the sectarian settlement in place and blocking an Irish democracy.

All the calls for stability are in vain. The pattern so far has been for Sinn Féin to advance loudly from triumph to triumph, only to sit down and capitulate to the DUP and the British. The so-called Acht na Gaeilge, in reality married to provision for an imaginary Ulster-Scots language, is a perfect example of this process.

In this situation the British will be a long time squaring the circle with Europe. The shift of votes to the Traditional Unionist Voice in this election means that the DUP will not sit down with a Sinn Fein First Minister.

And yet there is relative stability. While the Unionists fulminate, stability rests with a middle class in the North content with their lot and an Irish capitalist class, which Sinn Fein is part of, also happy with the status quo.

As in Britain, construction of a workers’ movement is the central component for a new vision of Irish freedom and self-determination.

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