‘Old politics’ must be left in past: Time to get over the Sinn Féin hang-up

It was the late British prime minister Harold Wilson who was credited with coining the phrase “a week is a long time in politics”.

‘Old politics’ must be left in past: Time to get over the Sinn Féin hang-up

It was the late British prime minister Harold Wilson who was credited with coining the phrase “a week is a long time in politics”.

Indeed, the past week or so has been a momentous one for politics on the island of Ireland.

The Northern Ireland executive is, after an absence of almost three years, up and running again, while south of the border, we are facing into an early election on Saturday, February 8.

Already, battle lines have been drawn and red flags waved, with both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil insisting that they are not prepared to go into coalition with Sinn Féin.

Whether Sinn Féin is ready for government in the Republic remains questionable. The party’s policies on housing, health, and childcare are clearly rooted in the politics of the left, not unlike the Labour Party, and could easily fit into an overall programme for government with other parties.

However, its commitment to a hefty wealth tax could pose problems for any possible coalition with parties of the right.

Aside from that, there remains the suspicion that Sinn Féin TDs are subject to control from shadowy figures north of the border. Leo Varadkar has said he would sooner “bring back the wolves than let Sinn Féin into government”, while Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin says he won’t coalesce with Sinn Féin because he does not trust them and “people outside of the elected representatives dictate what transpires”.

Data courtesy of The Irish Times

That is a view echoed by Labour leader Brendan Howlin, who justifies his reluctance by citing issues with “controlling forces” in Sinn Féin.

But such intransigence is, in many respects, a characteristic of old politics. We are supposed to be in an era of ‘new politics’ where parties and politicians attempt to forge a bright future instead of having their discourse and their politics rooted in the past.

It is a long time since either Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil commanded an overall majority. They have each recognised the necessity of governing jointly with Labour and the Greens, even when they were at odds on policy areas.

They may be forced to at least engage on coalition talks with minority parties of all ilks, if that is the indication from the electorate. The final decision should come after the election, not before.

Power-sharing has returned to Northern Ireland after Sinn Féin joined the DUP leadership in backing a deal to re-enter devolved government.

If DUP leader Arlene Foster and the leader of Sinn Féin in the North, Michelle O’Neill, can put their enmity aside for the good of their people, why not Leo Varadkar or Micheál Martin?

At the same time, those in charge at Sinn Féin need to realise that if they want to enter government south of the border, they must accept the wishes of the electorate, the wishes of the Dáil, and the principle of cabinet responsibility.

That means decisions for the Republic being made in Dublin, not in Belfast.

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