Northern Ireland regional government in crisis by Fra Hughes


The devolved regional assembly of Northern Ireland which sits at Stormont the building which previously housed the N Ireland government from 1922 to 1972 is in crisis.


The precipitation something as ordinary as a funeral  something that happens every day all over the world but this was no ordinary funeral 
This was the funeral of Bobby Storey a charismatic leader of the Irish Republican Army. An icon to generations of republicans and a man held in high esteem by colleagues and former comrades alike.


A close personal friend to Gerry Adams former leader of Sinn Fein an ex-prisoner and the man many believe masterminded the escape of 38 republicans from Long Kesh maximum security prison camp known as HMP The Maze on September 25, 1983, One of Europe’s most secure prisons and designed specifically to prevent communication between  political prisoners 
The ‘H’ Blocks of Long Kesh HMP The Maze Prison


Storey was also credited with overseeing the appropriation of  hundreds of classified secret police Special Branch files in March 2002 at their Headquarters in Castlereagh Police Station   


On December 15, 2014, the Northern Bank Headquarters based on Donegal Square West Belfast had 26.5 million pounds stolen. Accusations that Storey and the IRA were involved in the raid have never been proven
B

The anecdotes involving Mr Storey are too numerous to mention and many will probably never be told  Known only to a few people who will probably carry them to their graves.

Mr Storey passed away shortly after having an unsuccessful lung transplant in Newcastle Upon Tyne  England 
He died on June 21 aged 64 and had served 20 years in prison on various charges connected to his membership and active participation in the IRA armed campaign for national liberation 


Michelle O Neill is the deputy party leader of Sinn Fein and serves as Joint First Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly
Since Ireland was partitioned by the British in 1921  we have had two governments on the island of Ireland one North and one South of the border. 
The North of Ireland after partition had an inbuilt pro-British unionist colonial population and through this inbuilt gerrymandered majority the Ulster Unionist Party ruled the North f of Ireland rom 1921 as a one-party state
 ‘A Protestant  Parliament and a Protestant State’ is a quote from Lord Craigavon in 1934.

The indigenous Catholic Irish absorbed into this new partitioned statelet were treated as second class citizens and viewed as an enemy by the new state.


After nearly 25 years of internal armed conflict in Northern Ireland from August 1969 to the IRA ceasefire June 1994, a new dispensation was then created and the people of Ireland North and Soth voted in favour of the Good Friday Agreement also known as the Belfast Agreement on April 10, 1998, and the IRA embraced politics as a method to obtain National Reunification over armed militant struggle and so the Peace Process was born


This was followed by a devolved government being elected and the IRA enter government at the old Parliamentary Building at Stormont.
The newly elected Assembly first sat on July 1 1998
Powers were re devolved to the Northern Assembly on December 2, 1999, having been suspended from 1972


This has been an uneasy marriage between two sets of political antagonists.


One one side the descendants of the colonial settlements of English and Scottish settlers who wish to maintain the link with the United Kingdom they are Unionists and then we have the indigenous Irish who wish to see the final removal of the British State occupation of Ireland with the national reunification of Ireland where all of the people of the island, unionist and nationalist, republican and loyalist can decide on their future together without  British governmental interference.


The outworking of this experiment is a forced Mandatory coalition delivering  both political parties a veto on disputed legislation  
The assembly has collapsed twice before 
That last collapse was in January  2017 with the assembly only reforming after fresh elections on  January  11 2020.


The COVID 19 pandemic has led to restrictive enforcement of legislation around funerals.


It limited the number in attendance to 10 close family relatives and until recently the cemeteries and crematoria were closed to the public.
With the Death of Mr Storey, an impasse has been reached.
Prior to COVID 19, Mr Storey would have received a full semi-state like funeral from  his IRA comrades and the political Elite of Sinn Fein
Thousands would have attended from all over Ireland America Britain and Europe



His funeral would have been massive akin to the funerals of the IRA and INLA Hunger Strikers in 1981

However, the restrictive guidelines in place today because of COVID 19 allow for a maximum of 30 people to attend the funeral, socially distancing at between one and to metres.


At Mr Storey’s funeral, there were indeed 30 people walking behind the funeral cortege. There were also 120 in attendance at St Agnes requiem mass on the morning of the funeral. A guard of honour and the streets lined with  former IRA  comrades and Sinn Fein members from the church  to the cemetery 


Probably in excess of 1000-to 1800 people attended  perhaps more with the streets lined with mourners many of whom were from Belfast showing their respect for a fallen hero 


Now the Unionist members of the Assembly aided by some members of the Social Democratic Labour Party have called on the joint first minister Michelle ONeill deputy leader of Sinn Fein to stand aside from her position while Police carry out an investigation as to whether she and leading members of Sinn Fein, all elected members of both Parliaments on the island, are in breach of their own COVID 19 restrictions? 


Sinn Fein has consistently claimed the funeral met all statutory regulations as to the number of mourners and social distancing


They claim they tried  to mitigate the size of the crowd in attendance 


To the other Assembly members, Sinn Fein are not above the law and must lead by example during a Pandemic and they have called for ONeill to resign


The Assembly is a combative pugilistic type arena and many outside see the calls for resignation as nothing more than political opportunism from unionists and optics for the gallery


Having fallen twice before, should the assembly collapse again it could be strike three and you’re out!

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