I found it difficult to work up much interest in the North’s Assembly election.
Speaking to other former republican prisoners in the South revealed something similar on their part. Out of sight out of mind, peace process fatigue or whatever, it was just something that seemed to have little relevance in this part of the world. In a tweet the journalist Ger Cunningham dismissed it as a "competition to implement London-made Tory policy in Stormont", and ultimately it was hard to see it as much else. I only started to glance towards it around Tuesday, and then without a lot of enthusiasm.
The election came about not because Sinn Fein was really upset about the RHI scandal, otherwise Conor Murphy would never have called for the scheme to be extended. The cosy club up at Stormont would have trundled on forever and a day had the Sinn Fein MLAs who snorted there had their way. Peter Robinson made it clear that there would have been no change had Martin McGuinness not been ill. However, the animus at grassroots level towards the DUP slapping nationalism down managed to puncture the up to then impenetrable wax in the leadership’s ears. As Gerry Adams put it the DUP under Foster "radicalised a younger vote for Sinn Fein".
The one imponderable was whether Sinn Fein with new Northern leader Michelle O’Neill at the helm could up its game against a DUP whose vote was likely to hold up but not improve. The party in West Belfast had slipped into decline after Gerry Adams moved South. If O’Neill felt the departure of an ailing Martin McGuinness would leave her presiding over a similar decline, she need not have worried. Sinn Fein ripped the DUP a new one to the point where only one Assembly seat and around 1000 votes separate the two.
As much as we might dissent from Sinn Fein it would be an "alternative fact" to suggest that there was no large measure of satisfaction derived from seeing bigots battered and bruised, with people like Nelson McCausland and Maurice Morrow despatched to the dole lines where they will rub shoulders with people their austerity policies had previously sent there.
As for Michelle O’Neill, without casting aspersion on her capabilities, the Sinn Fein administered trouncing was more accident than design. There was indeed a woman behind the surge in Sinn Fein but it was Arleen Foster. She “seems to have done something that ten years of Sinn Fein banging the green drum has not: motivated nationalist voters to go to the polls.” RTE was reporting this evening that some Sinn Fein leaders were amazed at the extent of the party's success.
When she took over from Peter Robinson, as much as I opposed her, I felt her appointment was part of a more secular, less sectarian forward moving wave within the DUP. That she ended up behaving as backward and as bigoted as Willie McCrea in his prime, was something of an eye opener. Arleen Foster had not taken over the DUP, it had taken over her.
Lacking the strategic acumen of Peter Robinson and equipped with the sectarian antenna of one of the raving reverends the DUP long took guidance from, Foster delivered a Triple A performance – Arrogant, Abrasive, Awful.
She might have complained that Sinn Fein was arrogant to have suggested it wanted to put manners on the DUP. But a party that has room for the type of sectarian hatred expressed towards the innocent civilians massacred by British Paras in Derry is in need of more than mere manners.
With Foster willing to stand shoulder to shoulder with this type of bigot, nationalists can hardly be blamed for being unable to tell the difference.