Opinion

Everyone but the UUP is downplaying Sinn Féin's problems

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams has said the IRA was not involved in the murder of Kevin McGuigan and the organisation "does not exist"

As Mike Nesbitt takes the UUP out of the executive - the very thing he was elected party leader not to do - Gerry Adams has responded by claiming the whole world is against Sinn Féin. Yet the most striking thing about the aftermath of Kevin McGuigan’s murder is how everyone has tried to downplay it. The equivocations of the PSNI and the NIO have only differed from Sinn Féin’s line to the extent that, unlike Sinn Féin, they have to maintain a shred of credibility. The SDLP and Alliance have said no more than necessary, while statements have had to be dragged out of the Irish government and the Garda Siochana. Even former Irish justice minister Michael McDowell has been on message, while the DUP has clearly been most desperate of all to keep Stormont afloat, in part because of the Nama story that Adams cited so rudely against it. Perhaps one reason a mere UUP walkout seems capable of bringing the whole house down is that all this appeasement has made it look so rotten.

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There is a clear parallel between the current Stormont crisis and last year’s crisis over IRA on-the-runs (OTRs). The defence of the OTR scheme was that its existence was obvious to anyone who examined official reports, specifically the 2009 Eames-Bradley report on dealing with the past. Likewise, the continuing existence of the IRA is obvious from any detailed examination of official reports, specifically the 2008 Independent Monitoring Commission report on the Provisional IRA leadership. The main difference between these two concealments in plain sight is that Sinn Féin was happy to discuss OTRs but the police and the NIO were plainly embarrassed, while those positions are now reversed. Only Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kerry seems beyond embarrassment, citing the IMC report despite his party’s never-decommissioned opposition to that body’s existence.

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Austin Stack, son of the only prison officer murdered in the Republic during the Troubles, has asked how Sinn Féin can claim the IRA no longer exists when Gerry Adams arranged a well-publicised meeting between Stack, his brother and the IRA in 2013. At that meeting, the IRA admitted Stack’s father’s killers had been acting "under orders" but still insisted the murder had not been "authorised by the IRA leadership" - implying that no IRA activity will ever meet this official threshold, short of a publicly signed confession from the non-existent army council.

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Politicians have to appear distressed when jobs are lost but the tears of the DUP over 89 redundancies at the Belfast Telegraph would make a crocodile blush. North Belfast MLA Nelson McCausland expressed sympathy with "any family affected," the party issued a statement of its "disappointment" and a DUP delegation has met the newspaper’s owners. The job losses are due to declining sales of UK-wide titles, which the Belfast Telegraph prints - so nothing at all to do then with the DUP’s blocking of libel reform, identified by academics, industry sources and parliamentarians as a direct threat to the printing of UK newspapers in Northern Ireland.

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The 1970s revival begun by Jeremy Corbyn has reached Northern Ireland public sector union Nipsa, which is holding a leadership election due to the retirement of its general secretary. The two contenders represent the union’s two political factions, known as Nipsa Unity (far left) and Nipsa Broad Left (even farther left). Nipsa Unity is appealing to members not to vote for Nipsa Broad Left because it is controlled by the Socialist Party of Northern Ireland, local heir to Labour’s Militant Tendency, which says it will give Nipsa "uncompromising leadership." This, as Nipsa Unity notes, is a Trotskyite phrase advocating union infiltration. A link to Trotsky’s 1938 Transitional Program is helpfully included in election communications, although really a packet of Spangles would be more appropriate.

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Figures obtained by the Belfast Telegraph show 22,100 households in Northern Ireland receive £20,000 a year or more in benefits, which should put them over the new benefit cap planned by chancellor George Osborne. However, only 3,200 of those households would actually lose any money, which is a great illustration of how welfare reform has been misrepresented by Stormont. Like most of the Tory reforms, the cap already exempts all the categories of the ‘most vulnerable’ (the sick, the disabled, the elderly, carers, families with children etc.) cited endlessly by our politicians as an excuse to do nothing. So who are they really protecting?

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Sinn Féin MLA Phil Flanagan is trying to crack the problem of the RTE Player telling viewers north of the border they are not "in Ireland." Stormont’s enterprise committee, where Flanagan is deputy chair, is pursuing the possibility of Northern Ireland having its own block of internet protocol numbers for websites to identify. However, this is a technical non-starter for reasons that are only becoming more pronounced. As recent debate on funding the BBC has revealed, the likeliest future for online broadcasting is subscription identification via TV licence numbers. So would RTE sell licences in Northern Ireland, and would anyone buy them?

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