At the best of times, Northern Ireland isn’t exactly “well served” when it comes to our executive. The two largest parties of the DUP and SF have such staggering levels of incompetence and ignorance entrenched within them, that many of us from here frequently offer the eye roll, throw the arms up in the air, give a “humphhhh” of exasperation before returning to our daily activities. We have grown so immune to the continuous nonsense of OFMdFM to the point that when there is yet another calamitous f**k up, all we can seem to do is offer the eye roll, throw arms in the air, and add the sigh of exasperation.
On the 21st of December, amidst great confusion and anger at what the latest turbulence in the world of COVID-19 could mean for “our wee country”, our First Minister took to twitter to reassure us all. Wrong. Wrong. No. Wrong. Of course Arlene couldn’t bring herself to provide clarity in the madness. Instead, she fanned the flames of division once more with an “on this day, the IRA” post. Because what the people of NI really needed in this time of crisis, is not a coherent message, nor transparency in how the decision-making meetings are coming along, what we all needed was a quick reminder of an event that took place nearly 50 years ago. This must have struck a nerve West Belfast MLA, Órlaithí Flynn, who later in the evening returned the First Minister’s ignorance in kind. You could have been forgiven for thinking that SF’s spokesperson on Mental Health, with a lovely sparkling Christmas tree behind her, was about to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, or to tell us all to look after each other, but alas, you’d have been left disappointed. Flynn’s message was essentially once that said Christmas was for reflecting on the lives of lost loved ones, but save a little extra reflection for those who died serving the IRA. Two tone deaf takes, but they have not been alone in this crusade of ineptitude.
Harry Truman once said that “the buck stops here”, but it appears that the two antagonists in this baron dystopia are much more interested with playing a game of Knick, knock, run when it comes to public responsibility. Foster should have gone after the Renewable Heat Incentive palaver, but so thick is the skin of the Northern Irish public when it comes to scandal, she managed to outstay the story amidst the political disquiet. Perhaps what helped this was not being involved in the running of government for 3 years. After the death of Martin McGuinness, many thought that Michelle O’Neill and Foster would be able to coax some semblance of working relationship back together again. Once again, the optimists found themselves on the receiving end of the “told you so” brigade. The First Minister and Deputy First Minister’s failure throughout that time led the country to become a laughingstock and the holder of a few unfortunate records.
However, hope springs eternal, and Julian Smith made more effort at getting the gang back together in 6 months than any other politician had done in 36. And hey presto! By January 2020, everyone was back on board the sister sledge governance bandwagon. It wasn’t going along too badly on the power sharing side of things for quite a bit of 2020. Even with COVID and Brexit, although there were plenty of disagreements, it was relatively clear that Michelle and Arlene were putting the public interest first. Then came the derailing of harmonious governing, and it was going so well.
Bobby Storey passed away on the 21st of June. His funeral, which took place on the 30th, was the subject of great controversy across the entire island of Ireland. It would be this funeral that would break what little trust existed between the DUP and SF during the pandemic, and since this, the trust has not yet been restored. Michelle O’Neill, like her executive partner Arlene Foster, should not be in the job she currently holds. It is intensely ironic that she can lecture Northern Irish people on “overflowing sinks” when discussing the current lack of a travel ban from GB to NI when she was part of a funeral procession of thousands of people, when the restrictions outlined 30.
What is becoming increasingly clear, is that it is simply impossible to trust our two leaders unless you wholeheartedly support them. Foster should have gone years ago and O’Neill a few months ago. The seeds of distrust they have sewn have already blossomed into an overarching Venus fly trap ready to swallow up whole the growth in intended for each of their parties. Now is no longer the time to resign as they are both in too deep as far as this public health crisis is concerned. Nevertheless, upon the restoration of equilibrium, whenever that may be, our two leaders should conclude that their façade of leading is drawing to a close. From their point of view, it is unfortunate that their legacies will be COVID, Brexit, a collapsed Stormont, Cash for Ash, and an IRA funeral, but it is entirely right that they are.