That’s it, then. Matter closed. After days, weeks of sniper fire from all angles, the Mary McArdle affair is now closed. She will not be resigning. Those who had an eye to adjusting or removing the present power-sharing arrangements used the pain of Ann Travers as cover while they launched salvo after salvo at Sinn Féin. Had these people no feelings? Did they think they were going to heal the wounds of the past by appointing a woman like McArdle? It seemed as though the blitzkrieg must eventually force the withdrawal of McArdle and an apology for the appointment from Sinn Féin. Until, that is, Martin McGuinness spoke on the matter.
Two things are noticeable about McGuinness over the last year or so. One is the growth in the authority he projects. When Ian Paisley was around, when Gerry Adams was around, the Deputy First Minister played the role of Uimhir a Dó to perfection. He waited for Paisley to say his bit before he said his, he stepped aside and let the Never x 4 man pass through doors first, he stood to the right and behind his party leader at press conferences, he confirmed statements articulated by the Sinn Féin president. Not now. Peter Robinson may have survived Irisgate, he may look relaxed for a man who recently teetered on the edge of the electoral abyss, but it’s the Deputy First Minister who these days gives weight and certainty to joint pronouncements. And as far as Sinn Féin in the north is concerned, McGuinness is in charge.
The second thing worth remembering is that a lot of unionists, whether they’d admit it or not, like it like that. Eh? Well you see, McGuinness has made it clear he’s implacably opposed to the violence of the dissidents, that he’s completely behind the political process. Sure, some unionists still wish there wasn’t a Shinner around the place, including McGuinness, but a lot more derive comfort in their hearts that this guy is inside the tent and not outside it. “Let it be ever thus, Lord” is their prayer.
So when Martin McGuinness says he’s touched by the pain Ann Travers is suffering but Mary McArdle will remain in her post, you can take it that’s the final paragraph of this story. Yes, Ms Travers has met with Peter Robinson and yes, Sammy Wilson will look at how special advisers are appointed (whatever that means); but if Mary McArdle were to be removed from her position now, it’d come at a price few unionists would be prepared to pay. Because if McArdle were to go, McGuinness, who has put the full weight of his authority behind her, would have to go first. And that will not happen.