Alex Kane: Sinn Féin and the DUP deserve each other - The Irish News
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Alex Kane: Sinn Féin and the DUP deserve each other

Themselves alone: Sinn Féin and the DUP, led at Stormont by Michelle O'Neill and Arlene Foster, are as bad as each other

ON November 21 2016, a joint article by Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness was published in local newspapers.

This is an extract: "It's hardly a secret that our two parties come from very different places and have very different ideologies. However, that should not and will not stop us working together on day-to-day bread and butter issues.

"Brexit is a case in point. Our parties have opposing standpoints on this important issue.

"That hasn't prevented us agreeing a practical way forward as Executive ministers - identifying the key priorities as the negotiations unfold.

"Our parties will continue to stand up for their core beliefs where necessary - in private and public. This does not mean filling the airwaves with endless squabbles, making the Assembly a by-word for division.

"It's vital for the peace process that politics can move on. It's also essential for the people we represent.

"We firmly believe that a devolved Executive, with Ministers working together effectively and collectively, is in the public interest."

Those are fine and dandy sentiments; the sort of sentiments designed to make old cynics like me sit up and take notice.

Six months in and this was the Executive telling us that they could work together and would work together; and not a peep, hint or even suggestion that Sinn Féin had problems.

The article was designed to flag up the message that the DUP/SF relationship was better than it had ever been. Yet it turned out that the actual purpose of the article was to pull the wool over the eyes of the public and silence the external critics.

And we know that was the purpose, because Martin McGuinness told us so in his resignation letter of January 9: "At times I have stretched and challenged republicans and nationalists in my determination to reach out to our unionist neighbours.

"It is a source of deep personal frustration that those efforts have not always been reciprocated by unionist leaders. At times they have been met with outright rejection.

"The equality, mutual respect and all-Ireland approaches enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement have never been fully embraced by the DUP.

"Apart from a negative attitude to nationalism and to the Irish identity and culture, there has been a shameful disrespect towards many other sections of our community.

"Women, the LGBT community and ethnic minorities have all felt this prejudice. And for those who wish to live their lives through the medium of Irish, elements in the DUP have exhibited the most crude and crass bigotry.

"Over this period successive British Governments have undermined the process of change by refusing to honour agreements, refusing to resolve the issues of the past..."

Are we now expected to believe that all those concerns only arose after November 21; or, as seems more likely, that McGuinness - with SF approval - signed off the piece with Foster well aware of the DUP's "negative attitude to nationalism".

So, why did he sign off? Why did he boast of the value of the DUP/Sinn Féin relationship if he believed the DUP guilty of "crude and crass bigotry" and that successive British governments were undermining the process?

Why did Sinn Féin want to convey the impression that they had a good relationship with the DUP? More important, why, just 49 days after the joint article, did Sinn Féin decide to crash the Executive, force an election and not agree to reboot the process until the DUP had signed up to respect, equality, an Irish Language Act et al?

The answer is fairly straightforward. Even before the joint article it had become clear that Sinn Féin's base was not happy with the 'overly cosy' relationship with the DUP - and Foster in particular.

Indeed, their reaction was fairly similar to the reaction from the DUP's base when Paisley and McGuinness were nicknamed the Chuckle Brothers in 2007: a reaction that saw Paisley toppled by Robinson.

I suspect that the joint article tipped many key figures in that base over the edge.

That's why the RHI scandal came at a very useful moment for them; while Foster's arrogance and 'not an inch' dismissal proved to be a Godsend. Imagine how miffed they would have been if Arlene had actually demonstrated a little touch of nous, stood aside for a few days and avoided the election.

Anyway, I think Sinn Féin need to abandon the self-righteousness in which they have wrapped themselves for the past three months.

As I say, there wasn't a single word of concern expressed in the joint article: quite the reverse, in fact.

Yet, when they realised that they had miscalculated and were risking grassroots' support, they simply forgot about the apparently disingenuous piffle in the joint article and didn't even bother trying to explain why they hadn't mentioned any of these latest concerns at that point.

Surprisingly - or maybe not, given the circumstances at the time it was written - the DUP hasn't asked Sinn Féin why McGuinness was happy enough to sign off an article when he was obviously so unhappy with both them and the British government.

Oh, I know why. Both parties are as bad as each other when it comes to these matters. November 21 was a very deliberate linguistic sleight-of-hand. They deserve each other.

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