The leader of Ireland’s main opposition party, Fianna Fáil, has launched a scathing attack on the performance of both Sinn Fein and the DUP, accusing them of putting their own interests ahead of those of Northern Ireland as a whole.
Addressing the annual Wolfe Tone commemoration at Bodenstown, Co Kildare, over the weekend, Micheál Martin TD explained:
“The Peace Process was always intended to be about more than an absence of violence. The people of the north deserve a political system that delivers progress that demonstrates that politics works and which is about making their lives better. Any calm and objective analysis of the performance of the assembly and executive over the last year would, very reluctantly, have to question whether they are delivering in these terms.
“There have been notable successes – the Our Time, Our Place (tourism) campaign has been excellent, but we have seen just five pieces of legislation pass through the assembly and we have seen the news dominated by old parades politics.
“More depressingly, we have also seen things get worse across a range of key indices. For example, the north was confirmed as having the highest levels of child poverty in the relevant comparisons, with an average of 28%. West Belfast currently has a staggering 46.2% of children living in poverty.
“As a Republican Party we have to care about these issues. As long as any Irish citizen is being failed by politics, we need to take an interest and do what we can to address it. Most of the major advances in the peace process required years of work in getting the DUP and Sinn Fein to change their policies. Getting them to accept the principles of the (Belfast) agreement in all their dimensions delayed its full implementation for nearly a decade.
“It is at best foolish and at worst reckless to step back and believe that the DUP and Sinn Fein are capable of working in the interests of all groups. They have constantly shown an interest in putting party interests ahead of broader interests.”
Turning his fire especially on Sinn Fein, he accused it of effectively glorifying the Provisional IRA’s campaign of violence.
“Playing politics and putting their party interest first is a consistent part of their ideology - something we see every day in the Dáil. They have also refused to acknowledge the founding logic of the peace process – which is that the campaign of violence and division was wrong. They glorify the Provisional’s (IRA) campaign, including some of the worst atrocities. They are trying to have it both ways of demanding to be treated just like any party but refusing to be open about their past or apologise for it.
“What is actively dangerous about this is what it says to others that might be foolish enough to want to keep their tradition going. How can they stand against the Real IRA and other groups if they keep asserting the legitimacy of the Provisional’s campaign? How can they condemn those who present themselves as inheritors of the mantle of revolutionary republicanism if they honour a group which was rejected time and again by the Irish people?
“Peace is not something to be taken for granted – it must be built upon. The idea that seems to have seeped into Government Buildings – that ‘the north’s sorted’ – is extremely short sighted. Equally, the unity of people on this island in one state remains the aspiration of the majority of the Irish people and it is the duty of our government to work for it with real commitment.”
Turning his fire on the Irish government, meanwhile, he accused the Taoiseach Enda Kenny of complacency, arguing too many have concluded the hard work of establishing and maintaining peace is effectively done.
“Unfortunately too many people today think that the work is over - that we can take for granted what has been achieved. This could be a mistake of historic proportions. The Irish government has dramatically reduced its level of engagement with northern affairs. Given the effort that went into this process over a very long time by very many people, this sort of disengagement and complacency by our own government is unacceptable.
“I know that these are hard words, but they are fully borne out by the reality. The Taoiseach has had the bare minimum of meetings concerning the North and has outlined not a single new item for his agenda. There has been no attempt to move the process to the next stage. There has been no push for initiatives to undertake vital anti-sectarian work. There has been no discussion of how the long-term roots of division and underdevelopment are to be tackled.”
Dismissing Martin’s remarks as the “hollow” criticisms of a man who “fears” the party, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams responded:
“Micheál Martin’s criticism of the Fine Gael/Labour government rings hollow. This government is simply implementing the policies of the last Fianna Fáil government. His attack on Sinn Féin is equally bogus. The end of conflict, the peace process and the power sharing institutions are among the greatest achievements of modern years.
“Sinn Féin on the Executive is attempting, in the absence of fiscal powers, to manage a serious economic crisis and is succeeding much more effectively than Fianna Fáil in government or in opposition has. Micheál Martin’s comments have more to do with his fear of Sinn Féin in the south than a concern about the north.”
• Sinn Féin plans next moves towards Irish unity – 10 Feb 2012
• Irish election: Sinn Féin’s moment? – 20 Feb 2011