Two women in the political headlines in recent weeks – both, as it happens, party leaders in the north. That’s Michelle O’Neill and Arlene Foster.
Let’s start with Michelle.
She’s in the headlines because John O’Dowd has signaled that he plans to run for Sinn Féin vice-president at the next SF Ard Fheis. Michelle, you’ll remember, was elected unopposed to the vice-president position when Mary Lou McDonald left it to become president after Gerry Adams stepped down.
If you listen, that rustling sound you hear isn’t the autumn trees sighing; it’s Sinn Féin’s many critics rubbing their hands and whispering “A Shinner split! Yee-ho!”
When Gerry Adams was returned year after year as president, the party’s critics miaowed about military discipline, party dictatorship, not a normal party at all at all. Now that John O’Dowd is running for vice-president, the cry is “Internal warfare!”
There are seven people running for the Democratic presidential nomination at present, as well as a plethora of wannabes. Have you heard any commentators say that the Democratic Party must be split? When Boris Johnson beat those other candidates to become Tory Party leader, were there cries of split? But hey, it’s like that £1.5 million Sinn Féin was bequeathed: it can’t be a straightforward story, there must be dark undercurrents.
The fact is, that with the departure of Gerry Adams and the death of Martin McGuinness, things in Sinn Féin were bound to change. And anyone who believes in democracy should welcome this display of democracy at work within the Shinner camp. Alas, there are those who are all for democracy but are even more enthusiastic about putting the boot into Sinn Féin.
The other party leader in the headlines is Arlene Foster….What do you mean, you didn’t see those headlines? Admittedly I haven’t seen them myself but surely in our fearless media system, there must be headlines about Arlene. After all, she did sigh and roll her eyes during an interview when the killing of an innocent young man – Aidan McAnespie – was mentioned. Surely our fearless hacks confronted Arlene and asked if she was going to apologise to the McAnespie family for this display of oh-not-again-ness? NO? You amaze me.
OK, except some unbiased champion of victims like Kenny Donaldson wants to stand up for the McAnespies, let’s pass by this show of ho-humness for an innocent victim.
And look at this headline grabber: Arlene was the headline figure in that RHI scandal, which cost the public hundreds of millions of pounds. There was a public inquiry into what happened – remember that? What are the chances that this report will come out before we all die of old age? Maybe those compiling it are suffering from writer’s block.
And a third reason for Arlene being in the headlines: she leads a party which is going to be central if there’s a UK crash-out from the EU. That if it happens will cost us all big-time, and I mean BIG-TIME. There hasn’t been a credible business or farming voice to say they think the DUP are doing the right thing, by propping up the Tories and oxtering them towards the door marked “Crash-Out”.
Ask yourself: what was the greatest political achievement on the island of Ireland in the last twenty-five years? Of course – the Good Friday Agreement. And what would a crash-out do? It would destroy the peace so carefully inserted into the Good Friday Agreement. So in her past political actions and in her present political actions, Arlene has a lot of questions to answer.
But will they get asked? Nah. The press pack will be too busy running barking after Michelle and John and demanding “Is this the end of Sinn Féin?”
When a united Ireland comes, as come it will, there’d need to be more than the health service carefully scrutinized and reformed. The media in Ireland might benefit from going back to school and learning the meaning of the word “impartial”.