24 May

My Eye – A depressing thought…

With Northern Ireland making the news during the UK General Election campaign, Senior Account Executive Jack Gibson gives his (somewhat downbeat!) thoughts on what this means for Northern Ireland.

During the last week, Northern Ireland has come to be an issue in the UK-wide election campaign, after Jeremy Corbyn refused to single out IRA bombings for condemnation.

The issue is somewhat contrived – Jeremy Corbyn, under any reasonable interpretation, did condemn IRA bombings. But the issue of NI is a weak point for Corbyn because of his professed sympathy for a united Ireland.

The reaction from the Conservatives, and from the unionist parties in Northern Ireland, was extremely critical.

For the Conservatives, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire, posed a number of questions to Corbyn on his attitude towards the IRA. While Brokenshire’s challenge is valid, it’s also valid to ask whether the questions ought to have been posed by a serving SoS during an election campaign.

Doubtless, Tory chief strategist Lynton Crosby felt they should. One wonders, however, whether Brokenshire’s successor will thank him…

Meanwhile, DUP leader Arlene Foster described Corbyn’s stance as being “beyond the political pale”, and Robin Swann, the recently elected leader of the UUP, said that Corbyn was “betraying the memory” of MPs murdered by the IRA. On the other hand, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams described Corbyn as having been on “the right side of history”.

For the UUP and DUP, this is simple electoral politics – a chance to shore up the hardliners in their core vote, while at the same time sidling up to the Conservatives. For Adams, it’s showing loyalty to a politician who was willing to openly meet him during the troubles.

None of this is helpful.

While the General Election is undoubtedly important, the biggest political issue in Northern Ireland is surely still our lack of an Executive. As we head into our fifth month without Ministers, we need conciliation and support from Westminster (and elsewhere).

To use our troubled past for electoral point scoring is a short-sighted strategy. It is only ever likely to inflame divisions among our political parties, and make a post-election agreement harder to achieve.

That is, unless the powers that be within the Conservative Party have given up on restoring devolution in the near term, and just wanted to take what electoral gain they can from Northern Ireland. Now that would be a depressing thought…

The Chambré Public Affairs General Election 2017 Bulletin is your free guide to the 2017 General Election in Northern Ireland. To subscribe for free, please click here and fill out the short form. For more information about Chambré Public Affairs and what we do, please visit www.chambrepa.com

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