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Crisis. What Crisis? 

Sinn Fein faced down by British, unionists

The month of October has seen a high-speed chess match between Sinn Fein and the British and unionists, ending with Sinn Fein in checkmate. 

The match was sparked by the arrival of US envoy Richard Haass to deal with a unionist revolt against the terms of the peace settlement. Sinn Fein, following a series of complaints to the British, had expected that the Haass review would put the unionists in their place and demand enforcement of the existing settlement. It quickly became evident that Haass would limit the terms of his study and that the British were placing a number of constraints on the review that would lead to conciliation of Unionism and yet another revision of the Good Friday Agreement. 


Sinn Fein issued a series of statements - part threat, part warning, but mostly a plea to the British to think again. 

Martin McGuinness, after a period of silence, struck a defiant note by indicating that, if the DUP persisted in their veto of a peace centre at the site of the H block struggle, then Sinn Fein would block any further development. Gerry Kelly joined in, claiming an overall crisis is the peace process. Carál Ní Chuilín protested the partiality of the British secretary of state, but ascribed it to personal bias rather than a British state policy that Sinn Fein is no longer in a position to resist. Former leading Sinn Fein activist Danny Morrison warned of the assembly’s collapse. 

Crisis? What crisis? 

They were quickly rebuffed. Peter Robinson set the tone: “crisis? What crisis?” He accepted that there were a few difficulties but simply dismissed the Sinn Fein claims. Robinson’s remarks were immediately endorsed by Secretary of state Theresa Villiers, who was followed with an even more brusque rebuttal by British prime minister David Cameron. 

In the background £18 million pounds in European grants for a peace centre were lost following the DUP withdrawing support. Sinn Fein retaliated by blocking grants for unionist projects. The DUP has hit back by blocking funding for a "Free Derry" museum. So at the most basic level - the division of sectarian spoils - the Stormont administration has ground to a halt. 

Nationalist family 

In an earlier era of the peace process the ‘Nationalist family’ of the Catholic church, the SDLP and the Dublin government would have offered words of sympathy to Sinn Fein. Now Tánaiste Eamonn Gilmore offers to investigate insane claims that the Irish government supported the IRA while the SDLP apologized to unionism for having supported the naming of a Newry Park after a dead hunger striker. The unionist denial of the legitimacy of the republican struggle, the constant sectarian provocation aimed at Nationalist working class areas, mean little to bourgeois nationalism. 

No sooner was the Sinn assault launched than it was over. Martin McGuinness signalled the retreat by announcing that, although there were problems with relationships, there were no problems with the institutions, which were "rock solid." He then spent many days at an International Investment Conference stressing over and over again the success of the Peace process and the stability of the local political institutions. 

Sinn Fein are utterly dependent on portraying the Irish settlement as a success. On that rests the approval of their Investment Conference financiers and the US government, their place in the local administration, the enormous support they have from the Catholic church and middle class, funds that allow a vast web of patronage and the holy grail of junior partner in the next capitalist government in the 26 county state. 

The Shinners tried to rock the boat, but they didn't rock it very far before fears of an upset overcame them. Richard Haass can now concentrate on placating loyalism with yet another reboot moving the peace process further right. As an afterthought he will search for a fig leaf to cover Sinn Fein's capitulation.


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