Northern Ireland: tribal politics triumphs again

Blame transference and evasion of consequences is the name of the game

No matter how you approach it, there is no escaping the conclusion the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin have allowed tribal politics and sectarian-linked Orange and Green considerations overwhelm the broad interests of the people of Northern Ireland.

As the dominant political forces, it was their responsibility to provide leadership and stability at a time when Brexit developments are threatening the incomes and economic prospects of their supporters. Instead, they have taken refuge in “not an inch” politics that echo the sterile, confrontational patterns of the past.

The hope is – and it is only a hope – that the political accommodations required to re-establish an Executive and a functioning Assembly may be agreed following the resumption of talks in September. DUP leader Arlene Foster and Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams publicly declaim their willingness to facilitate a functioning political process, even as they refuse to compromise on outstanding issues. Such intransigence helped to feed discrimination and sectarianism in the past and it is sending a very negative signal in advance of the marching season.

Blame transference and evasion of consequences is the name of the game. Having failed to agree on the terms of an Irish language Act and related Ulster Scots provisions, both sides looked outside for culprits. Michelle O’Neill blamed British prime minister Theresa May while the DUP found fault with Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney. Party leaders insisted, however, that members of the suspended Northern Ireland Assembly should continue to be paid in full. The move was designed to limit internal party criticism but was indicative of skewed priorities.


Since last year, when Foster scored a significant Assembly victory, Sinn Féin and the DUP have been in confrontational mode. Complaints concerning a lack of respect led Sinn Féin to collapse the Executive and relations between the parties soured further when it called on Foster to step aside because of her role in a “cash for ash” scandal. Sinn Féin made major gains in the following Assembly elections but that performance was, in turn, eclipsed by the DUP when it secured the balance of power in Westminster elections and extracted a £1 billion confidence-and-supply deal for Northern Ireland.

Having objected to a deal with the Conservative Party on the grounds that it would not be good for Northern Ireland, Adams is now raining on the DUP’s homecoming parade and resumed negotiations are likely to coincide with a “cash for ash” inquiry.

For an under-performing economy with a growth rate of 1 per cent, Northern Ireland needs all the investment it can get as well as responsible politics and an end to the current dog-in-the-manger approach of party leaders.