Sinn Féin was on over 20% in polls in the “26 counties” after the resignation of the late Martin McGuinness as the NI Assembly’s deputy First Minister on 9 January this year. The party demanded “respect” and “equality” and specified that Unionists had denied them that on issues such as the Irish Language over the previous few weeks. Sympathy for the party across the island, even among some of broadly unionist background, had probably never been higher.
Polls now place Sinn Féin on 14%. A third of its Southern support has disappeared.
The reason for this is obvious. Sinn Féin is a party which likes to demand – but rarely actually delivers.
The posters screamed “Irish Language Act now” – yet not a single clause of Irish Language legislation has been delivered (and indeed much sympathy for the language has been lost as its proponents have been seen to put their interests ahead of those on waiting lists for hospitals and schools).
The posters screamed “Marriage Equality Now” – yet all the evidence is that Sinn Féin has not made any headway whatsoever at the talks on the obvious block to it, namely the abuse of the Petition of Concern so that a minority vote against can still carry in the Assembly.
The posters screamed “No Tory Brexit” – yet Sinn Féin has opted out of taking its seats both at Westminster and Stormont and thus has precisely zero influence over Ireland’s EU future.
Lots of demands. No delivery. At all.
Sinn Féin’s continuing failure to do a deal with the DUP merely makes it look like a party of instability – one which will thus struggle to find either votes or partners to achieve its stated objective of entering Government in Dublin. Worse than that, Sinn Féin simply looks like a party which isn’t very good at governing. It cannot point to a “record of delivery” because it quite simply doesn’t have one.
What is all the more bizarre is the route to delivery is obvious. The parties already have a deal on Irish Language legislation in front of them which is acceptable to both; academics have put forward proposals to reform the Petition of Concern which would maintain equality protections while removing the potential to abuse it solely to block social change; and a Northern Ireland Executive could soon argue the case made by the Independent Council on Europe among others for zero border infrastructure alongside “particular arrangements” with favourable Corporation Tax and Air Passenger Duty designed to protect and promote jobs and free movement.
Indeed there are even other gaping open goals Sinn Féin does not seem even to have thought of. For example, if the DUP can get money from London for the York Street Interchange, why not use this interlude to get money from Dublin for the A5 or even the connecting N2? This would be, literally, a concrete gain to which Sinn Féin could point on both sides of the border, yet it seems peculiarly unable to see the opportunity.
Demands are all fine, and not always unreasonable. But in the end you must be judged on delivery. Is Sinn Féin really intending to end 2017 having delivered precisely nothing?