Donnybrook: Time for Real Change
By John Myers
Time for Real Change is the slogan for Sinn Fein’s 2022 Northern Ireland Legislative Assembly elections. Sinn Fein is the party most closely associated with the call for a united Irish republic. The election will be held on May 5th, which happens to be the 41st anniversary of the death of Hunger Striker Bobby Sands, MP.
Michelle O’Neil is the Vice President of Sinn Fein, Ireland’s oldest political party, and the only party than fully engages in elections, both north and south. She stated in April that “This is the most important election in a generation.” Often, we hear that phrase in both American and Irish elections, but this is not just hyperbole; the May 2022 election in the Six Counties could see Sinn Fein as the top vote getter, resulting in Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neil being selected as the First Minister of the Northern Ireland Legislative Assembly. She has previously served as Deputy First Minister with DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson as First Minister.
Sinn Fein will be putting forth thirty-four candidates in the eighteen different Constituencies (districts) throughout the Six Counties. The N.I. Assembly was created as a result of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement (GFA). Election of the ninety members of the Assembly uses the proportional representation, single transferable vote system.
The Assembly was dissolved earlier this year upon the resignation of Jeffrey Donaldson, The DUP party leader, and First Minister of the Assembly. Sir Jeffrey Donaldson resigned in protest over unionists’ frustrations with the N.I. Protocol Agreement and the implementation of the Irish Sea Border.
The Northern Ireland Assembly meets at Stormont Estate, a regal family estate home built in the 1830s, located in East Belfast, and converted to governmental use in the 1920s. Thus “Stormont” is often used as shorthand for the Northern Ireland Assembly and Government.
The Northern Ireland market research and polling company, Lucid Talk, projects the following results based upon voter sampling in early April: Sinn Fein: 26%, Democratic Unionist Party (DUP): 19%, Alliance Party: 16%, Ulster Unionist Party (UUP): 13%, Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP): People Before Profit Party (PBP): 2%, Others: 2%. Of course, the old axiom reminds us that the only poll that counts will be on May 5th, election day.
In the kick-off rally for the May election, Sinn Fein’s President Mary Lou McDonald stated, “we are Proud, not afraid of our differences on this Island, and we embrace it. We must plan for the change that is coming, to plan for a United Ireland.”
Further Ms. McDonald shared that “our success must be judged on the ability to govern and deliver progressive change.” McDonald is looking forward “To lead across Ireland. “We want to unite our people; we want to unite our country. We are determined to realize the true potential which is all around us.”
SF Vice President Michelle O’Neil continued the program by stating “The change Sinn Fein is looking to lead is about putting workers and families first. Our priority is to make politics work; our priority is to show real change is possible, and to make each day of people’s lives better.” O’Neil reminded her fellow party members that we are celebrating the 24th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, and that it is the “Bedrock of the Peace Process.., with the principal of consent, equality and respect at its core.”
She said that Donaldson’s and the DUP’s resignation and subsequent collapse of the Northern Ireland Assembly was an “Act of political vandalism,” and that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had failed the GFA by his silence and acquiescence to this act of vandalism.
The British Government, per the GFA treaty, is obligated to be a co-guarantor of the terms, which also include the failure of Westminster to address the legacy of the past and protecting basic rights. O’Neil expounded: This “tells us everything we need to know about his interests in the people, place and politics here. This is a British Prime Minister and a Tory Government who never has and never will prioritize the needs of the people here. I represent the Good Friday Generation and I intend to defend it at every turn.
“I was in Washington for St. Patrick’s with Mary Lou McDonald and we delivered this message in defense of the GFA. But we equally heard from the Biden Administration that the U.S. will NOT do a free trade agreement with Great Britain if the GFA is jeopardized in any way.” Bojo’s Westminster Government, used to the “special relationship” treatment, cannot get their heads around this clear and stern admonition from the Biden Whitehouse.
Sinn Fein V.P. Michelle O’Neil shared at the campaign rally that, “We know the solution to the Brexit problem is the Protocol, and while it certainly is imperfect, it does mitigate us from the worst impacts of Brexit. It prevents a hard border; it puts off the complete unraveling of the GFA; and no credible alternative to the N.I. Protocol exists.”
While the Unionist claim the sky is falling due to the N.I. Protocol, in reality, the economy has shown many positives: N.I. is at a thirteen year high in economic output; The economy is 3% bigger than pre-covid; and “exports” to the Republic of Ireland were at Four Billion pounds, a 65% increase over 2020.
Michelle O’Neil, the likely next First Minister of the Northern Ireland Assembly, if polls are to be believed, wrapped her message to Sinn Fein supporters in sharing: “Our message is loud and clear: we are only moving forward. Sinn Fein say YES to Peace and Stability, says Yes to the Good Friday Agreement, says YES to the N.I. Protocol, and says YES to a First Minister for ALL. We will be defending the Good Friday Agreement, we will NOT be renegotiating the GFA, not now or in the days ahead. We will not be moving the goal posts to satisfy Unionism.”
And yet, while not obviously shying away from the United Irish Republic, O’Neil left the crowd with “While our past was divided, our future will be shared.”