A Letter from Ireland
It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. Ireland is in the middle of a cold snap with temperatures not getting above freezing for a week. I know this is nothing for parts of the US and Canada, but for us it is cold. Weather for hot whiskies and warm firesides.
Outside it is frozen and at times politics seems to be the same. This weekend a new Taoiseach will be installed to lead the Irish Government. The new Taoiseach looks a lot like an old Taoiseach. Michael Martin leader of Fianna Fáil will stand down and be replaced by Fine Gael Leader Leo Varadkar. This switcheroo is part of a deal struck between the two parties after the election in February 2020.
Since the state was formed 100 years ago, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael had controlled government and opposition. Switching places, but retaining broadly the same policies in election cycles. All that changed in the election of February 2020. Sinn Féin emerged as the largest party. Hungry to retain power at all costs and deny Sinn Féin a place in government Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael formed a coalition. The Sinn Féin President, Mary Lou McDonald became the first woman and Sinn Féin leader to head the official opposition.
The option of this coalition and a rotating Taoiseach was not on the cards during the election. The Irish Government will now be headed by the leader of the third-largest party. If the Government was confident in this agreement then they should call an election and seek a mandate.
Speaking of elections, if the British Government had held true to their agreements and to the law, the counting of votes in the North of Ireland to elect a new Government and Assembly would be underway this weekend. But they changed the law and pushed back an election to April. This was supported by the Irish Government which believed an election would not be helpful (you see a pattern). The British Government has said this provides time to conclude negotiations with the EU and get the government up and running in the North.
This assumes two things:
1) The negotiations will conclude successfully. The British government has sent out conflicting signals with no obvious change in policy, so an agreement is not guaranteed.
2) The DUP will agree to go back into the institutions if any deal is achieved and serve alongside a Sinn Féin First Minister.
Hope is not a replacement for a plan. The British Government needs to reciprocate the flexibility that the EU has demonstrated, stop threatening to impose their demands, and enter the negotiation in good faith to get a deal. They also need to make clear the contingency plan for the option that the DUP continues to block government formation.
There is a truth to the saying, 'hope for the best but prepare for the worst'. Maybe not the Christmas message that some wanted to hear.
We have still a week to go to Christmas, presents to buy, friends to see, and a country to unite.
Have a great weekend and stay warm.
Ciarán Quinn is the Sinn Féin Representative to North America. Each week he writes a letter from Ireland with news and analysis. It is featured in the weekly Friends of Sinn Féin USA Newsletter. Be sure you are subscribed to stay up to date.