Sinn Fein ‘the enigma’ and it’s ministerial appointments.

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I wrote of the IRA in South Armagh many years ago ‘ nothing ever is what it seems.’ The ploughing up of a field out of season wasn’t the behaviour of some eccentric farmer. A wire for triggering a bomb lay concealed beneath the freshly turned over sod. How could a young soldier from Liverpool be live to such danger? A woman out walking her dog was not necessarily as simple as it seemed. That dog might well have been sniffing about to test the bushes for soldiers hiding in there. A boat discovered on Lough Ross was found to have been kitted out with remote control facilities. The conclusion of the security services was that the boat was being used to ferry explosives across the lake from County Monaghan into South Armagh. Wrong again. That boat was destined for targeting a Special Patrol Boat in Carlingford Lough. You get my drift .

For weeks there had been so much speculation that Sinn Fein would walk away from Education in the share out of ministerial portfolios. The dogs in the street were claiming Sinn Fein’s first choice of ministries would be DETI. The DUP was absolutely certain in wake of the drubbing Caitriona Runane had taken as Education Minister that republicans would go for DETI. Wrong again. Sinn Fein grabbed Education and left Mervyn Storey ‘ coming up for air.’ He and colleagues had been cock of the walk for weeks pledging how they were going to undo what ‘Ruane’ had done to grammar schools. Once again in Republican tradition ‘nothing ever is what it seems.’ Someone in the canteen said after the share out of the ministerial spoils ” don”t play poker with Sinn Fein.” Wise advice.

We had heard a lot of talk in the run up to the putting in place of the new administration ‘Team Sinn Fein.’ Little could anyone have known in advance what this meant. RTE once ferried me to Dublin by taxi and because I had so much reading to do I chose to sit in the back seat. I learned so much about myself during that trip. Being chauffeured could become so intoxicating even if driven in the much derided Skoda! One Assembly member who lost out on a ministerial post much to his chagrin told me of watching yearningly at a convoy of brand spanking new Skodas motioning towards Parliament Buildings. How he lusted for the use of one of those Skodas! Had his time passed him by he wondered?

Spare a thought however for Michelle Gildernew, Conor Murphy, Caitriona Ruane and Gerry Kelly – Team Sinn Fein was no friend to them. They were unceremoniously stripped of the trappings of power including the Skoda. The baton was passed on with the ruthless efficiency of a military machine.

Tiering of leadership has long been a republican practice. In the wake of the signing of the Anglo Irish Agreement there was a genuine fear that Margaret Thatcher and Garret Fitzgerald might introduce selective internment or even go down the road of cross border ‘ hot pursuit’ whereby police from either side of the border could operate without cries of ‘ territorial violation.’ To obviate a crisis in IRA ranks the leadership put in place second and third tier leaderships.

Many people have asked then what is Sinn Fein’s thinking in being so sweeping in burgling the Executive of so much experience? Affording new people experience at the highest level of government is obviously one factor. Being pro -active on gender and not just talking about it would have informed the decision also to promote women. That would not however be for the sake of simply having women in the Executive. Caral Ni Chuilin who was chief whip was a former woman prisoner who took a degree from Queen’s Univerity having started it while in gaol. Described as a ‘tough woman, who gets things done’ she is at the helm in DCAL.

There are big opportunities for Sinn Fein in the next five years. The Olympics are around the corner. Three new stadia are coming on stream. There is also the City of Culture opportunity in Derry. This is all high profile stuff and predominantly a good news package.

The appointment of Martina Anderson as a Junior minister is a recognition of her contribution ‘ to the struggle’ here and in Britain where she served long prison sentences. She is big on equality and human rights. She is stylish and attracts the eye of one well known broadcaster. She is quintessentially Derry and can possibly share her car with her husband who works in Martin Mc Guinness’s office. She was a special rapporteur with the protestant community on behalf of the party for a number of years.

The promotion of Michelle O Neill took everybody by surprise to the post of DARD. She comes from a pedigreed republican Tyrone family and would be generally deemed a capable and hard working Assembly member much admired ( to put it mildly) by red blooded male Unionists. She takes no prisoners but people say they can work with here.

The ‘ big beast’ John O Dowd was Caitriona Ruane’s fireman and he distinguished himself in that field probably having progressed more than most Assembly members over the last four years. He will be no push over. Electorally he has served notice to the SDLP in Upper Bann. His approach to Education will be much scrutinised in coming months. Will he pursue Miss Ruane’s ‘ equality crusade’ so despised by Unionism generally? Will he travel down the same road with a softer focus? How do I know? Nothing ever is as it seems in that party .

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I am a regular contributor to discussion programmes on TV and radio both at home and abroad. An experienced political editor and author specialising in Politics, Security and 20th Century Art.


  1. Eamonn…. you’re always confusing ‘its’ (possessive; no apostrophe) and ‘it’s’ (contraction of ‘it is’, with apostrophe) – your readers expect better!!!

  2. Decent article that is let down terribly by the comment re women working within Sinn Fein. Why do you feel its important to say that
    “She is stylish and attracts the eye of one well known broadcaster” ? or indeed
    re: Michelle O Neill  as “hard working Assembly member much admired ( to put it mildly) by red blooded male Unionists”

    Who actually it such writing meant to appeal to. Perhaps it does justice to the mysoginistic culture that remains at the heart of northen politics