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Lack Of Government Continues To Plague Northern Ireland

SUBHEAD: Sinn Fein Blames DUP For No Deal

by Tyler Roaix

In America, we are facing a very tumultuous and toxic time in our country’s history. But despite constant debate and unrest, few realize that it can be worse. That is exactly the case in Northern Ireland.

Since January of 2017, Northern Ireland has been functioning, or at least trying to function, without a formal government. The collapsed government was a result of several issues. Sinn Fein, a left-wing political party commonly associated with the Irish Republican Army, and the Democratic Unionist Party, a conservative party, have disagreed on nearly every major issue, eventually causing Sinn Fein members to walk out on the assembly. The tension between the two parties runs so deep, a BBC journalist joked that they “can’t even agree on how to make a cup of coffee.”

Also, Martin McGuinness, a prominent Sinn Fein member who was serving as Deputy First Minister, resigned from his post amid the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal, which brought suspicions against Arlene Foster, DUP leader and First Minister. Per the Northern Ireland power-sharing agreement, McGuinness’ resignation forced Foster to step down as well, leaving Northern Ireland with yet another hole in its government. McGuinness passed away in March of 2017, which was a big blow to Sinn Fein.

The Northern Ireland Executive was formed after the Good Friday Agreement, with the hopes of having the parties work together to run Northern Ireland. Obviously, the exact opposite has happened. With one party, Sinn Fein, deciding that enough is enough, the whole system came crashing down. Without an executive, local politicians have been trying to run the show, but they can only do so much.

Differing opinions on issues like gay rights, a language act, which calls for the Irish language to have an equal prominence with English, along with the aftermath of The Troubles have been at the heart of political tension that has been building for several years.

Sinn Fein member and Senator, Padraig Mac Lochlainn, also cited Brexit, British control over Northern Ireland and a “weak British government in power with the DUP” as a root of the tension, while addressing students from Central Connecticut.

“It’s deeply frustrating for us because our people want to be, and I imagine all people across the world, governed by politicians who you elect directly,” Mac Lochlainn said. “We don’t want to be governed by British, we want to be governed by those we elected ourselves. For all its limitations, you could at least take them out at the next election. That’s the beauty of democracy. So, it’s not good, it’s not good at all that we don’t have institutions in the North.”

Mac Lochlainn also said he thinks Westminster’s ability to control the taxation in Northern Ireland, and “the overall parameters of your budget are generally set” in Westminster gives too much power to an institution that does not reside in the land it governs.

While he thinks Irish issues have been put on the back burner by the British, Mac Lochlainn did cite a deal that Sinn Fein had in place with Foster, who he said simply couldn’t sell it to the MPs of her party.

“They see themselves as ‘We are the power brokers. We hold up the British government. We don’t need an assembly,’” Mac Lochlainn said.

This isn’t the first time Sinn Fein has placed blame on the DUP for its handling of Northern Ireland’s government. When the IRA initial 1994 ceasefire fell apart in 1996, Sinn Fein blamed British Prime Minister John Major and the Unionist MPs in the government for letting the ceasefire fall apart.

“We’ve been here before and we’re here again,” Mac Lochlainn said. “They’re holding us ransom in terms of Brexit, in terms of the North, so we just have to be patient.”

John Guthrie, a Derry native, also expressed his discontent for the DUP. Guthrie is a Protestant, which makes his views unique, since Protestants typically support the DUP. But even Guthrie realizes that the current political climate is not healthy.

“The DUP is so bedazzled by the fact that they’re keeping the government afloat. ‘We are the kingmaker,’” Guthrie said.

The lack of an executive in Stormont, Northern Ireland’s parliamentary buildings, has trickled down into the smaller cities around Northern Ireland.

Peter Hutcheon, editor at the Londonderry Sentinel, said that their reporters have come across political issues as a result of the political turmoil. A report on the Sentinel’s website from February showed how the collapse of the government has proven to be detrimental to local businesses. The report stated how the collapse at Stormont has resulted in “the greatest economic challenge of our generation,” according to Jennifer McKeever, Londonderry Chamber of Commerce President.

While the future of Northern Ireland remains in question, the only thing that’s certain is that the country needs to find a way to get a government in place and working again in order to stabilize the nation. But the ‘when’ in this is still very much in doubt. While it seems all parties want a government, no one is actually willing to budge to make it happen. But while Sinn Fein and the DUP fight for control, it is the people of Northern Ireland that suffer the most.

For Mac Lochlainn, the message is clear from Sinn Fein that the focus needs to be on representing the people.

“I’ll tell you this now, there can be no Unionist minister anywhere in the North of Ireland until they understand respect for the Irish language and for our people, and when they do that then we’ll be back in power and we look forward to that,” Mac Lochlainn said. “I don’t say that beating my chest. I say that because there can be no power without respect and equality. We feel exasperated by the situation.”