A prominent Sinn Fein figure has said that party members have become disillusioned with the Stormont Assembly even as Sinn Fein issued a call for new efforts to restore power-sharing in the Six Counties.
In a letter to the Dublin and London governments and leaders of other political parties this week, Sinn Fein’s leader in the North, Michelle O’Neill said negotiations should resume on Monday, August 28. They had been expected to begin next month.
Ms O’Neill said that Sinn Fein was committed to making the power-sharing institutions work. However, she repeated her assertion that Stormont will only be restored “on the basis of rights, of respect, and of equality”.
“Clearly we have to see previous agreements implemented in order to establish the executive, but this can be done, it can be done very, very quickly if people have the right approach,” she said.
Since March’s snap assembly election over allegations of corruption by Sinn Fein’s partners in the Six County Executive, the DUP, there have been two rounds of unsuccessful negotiations.
Sinn Fein’s former director of publicity Danny Morrison (pictured) said he now believes there is little prospect of the party returning to the Executive soon.
Mr Morrison, who is not an official Sinn Fein spokesperson, said that the party’s support base has become disillusioned because unionists failed to reciprocate outreach gestures.
In an interview with the Irish News, he said relations began deteriorating four years ago when the DUP vetoed development plans for a peace centre at the site of the former Long Kesh prison.
“It’s about the DUP either unintentionally or deliberately misconstruing republican efforts at outreach as weakness,” he said, citing other examples such as the withdrawal of Irish language funding.
He said the Sinn Fein leadership had sought to remain in the executive even after the RHI corruption scandal despite strong pressure for DUP leader Arlene Foster to step aside as the North’s First Minister.
“It appeared to me, even at that stage, that Sinn Fein was still trying to preserve things but I believe the base had shifted,” he said.
He pointed out that Michelle O’Neill’s call for an early resumption of talks had been dismissed by unionists as a “stunt”, with former DUP finance and health minister Simon Hamilton describing Sinn Fein as holding Stormont “to ransom” over a “political wish list”.
“It may well be that we’re at stage where the unionists - in the guise of the DUP - can’t make this leap,” Mr Morrison said. “And if they can’t make this leap then republicans have the power to deprive them of power - and that’s what’s going to happen.”
Meanwhile, Mrs O’Neill rejected Hamilton’s claim that her party was not serious in its call for the resumption of talks.
“It’s not a stunt,” she said. “What it clearly is about is trying create a bit of momentum, trying to kick-start a process. I have heard [British Direct Ruler] James Brokenshire saying that he wants to resume things before the end of the summer, but it needs to happen now.”
The Sinn Fein leadership figure was also dismissive of a suggestion from Hamilton that talks could be held in parallel to a restored Stormont Executive.
“What we’ve had is a failure from the DUP to deliver on people’s rights, to deliver what they’ve previously signed up to, so I don’t think it’s tenable that you can have an executive while we see those issues outstanding,” said Mrs O’Neill.
Mr Morrison said the attitude of Simon Hamilton showed there had been no change in the DUP position over the summer.
“I can’t see the thing being put back together again,” he said, and admitted that full direct rule from London would likely follow.
“It’s more important that a marker is set down for the DUP and this is it. And you have to ask why Sinn Fein would go back into an executive when the DUP has a disproportionate influence on the British government?”