|Belfast's Felons Club.|
In return the DUP have none nothing to win the confidence of the nationalist communities, believing the Stormont Assembly was the only game in town for SF and its leadership would do nothing to bring it down. After the DUP's Arlene Foster became first minister she became ever more intransigent to the Shinners' pleas. When she became embroiled in a million pound scandal over the the renewable heat incentive, (RHI) and refused to stand down while an inquiry took place, the Sinn Féin leadership regarded it as the last straw that broke the camel's back.
Forty eight hours after Martin McGuinness had resigned as deputy First Minister, which under the terms of the GFA also forced out the DUP's first Minister Arlene Foster, Sinn Féin called a meeting of its members in Belfast's Felons Club. Hundred of republicans packed the club to hear Gerry Adams, first in a public speech and then in a private briefing after the media were told to leave.
It has became increasingly clear to the leadership their own members and their communities are questioning the worth of the Stormont institutions and SF's attempts to work as equals alongside the DUP at the head of the Northern Ireland Executive. Despite SF having bent over backwards to gain the trust of the DUP it's produced little of real value for their core communities.
When one republican said in the private session, “bring the institutions down now" the gathering cheered to the rafters. A well known Belfast councillor told the meeting “People have reached the end of their tether, the anger in our community is palpable.”
Those on the platform included party chair Declan Kearney, Martina Anderson, Gerry Kelly, and Raymond McCartney - all former prisoners who have morphed into politicians - and Michelle Gildernew, Gerry Adams, and the new party leader at Stormont, Michelle O’Neill
When a former IRA member asked them; “Why are you up there in Stormont?”, before those on the platform could answer someone else in the audience cried out; “no return to the status quo".
NI journalist Brian Rowan summed up the mood of Sinn Féin members at the meeting in an Irish Times article:
For over two decades, a key consideration for the republican leadership has been the cohesion of its movement and party and community. During that period, Adams and McGuinness have relied on a small group of senior republicans to be their eyes and ears, to take the pulse and to know the mood.
Among that small group are a number of Belfast republicans, who were significant figures in the IRA leadership and who have been part of the transition into peace and into politics. Bobby Storey, Seán Murray and Martin Lynch were all inside the Felons Club.
“They are not just reflecting it, they are the mood,” another republican told me. He means that key group, working closely with Adams and McGuinness and other senior republican figures such as Ted Howell, have come to that point of questioning the credibility and viability of the Stormont political project.
When such senior figures speak, they cannot be ignored. The talk now is of the need for “qualitative change” if the political institutions are to be restored.
Republicans have been reminded of the old ghosts of unionist rule. They accuse the DUP of not embracing, indeed of ignoring, the principles and rules of partnership and power-sharing – the foundation stones on which the Good Friday Agreement was built.
There are big issues on which they have made no progress – a process to address the vexed questions of the past, the shelved plan for a Maze/Long Kesh peace centre and an Irish Language Act. Unless the DUP changes its attitude substantially which seems unlikely to me, the Sinn Féin member who shouted from the floor "no return to the status quo" may well have been bang on the money.