Unionists seek clarification on Sinn Fein Easter message

Basil McCrea Basil McCrea says unionists need more information on what Sinn Fein means

BBC Northern Ireland Political Reporter Stephen Walker is standing in for Mark Devenport

Traditionally Sinn Féin dominates the political headlines at Easter.

It is a moment to mark the events of 1916, discuss how life has changed across the island of Ireland and it is an opportunity for senior republicans to map out where they think politics needs to go.

For those tasked with drafting the Sinn Féin Easter message, it has become a tried and tested formula in speech writing.

They are often polemical and historical and with an eye on the news bulletins, each address is naturally sprinkled with soundbites.

At this time of the year the political news agenda is quiet with Stormont, the Dail and the House of Commons in recess so Sinn Féin politicians find it easier to make headlines.

This year, the party sent out advance notices of major speeches being given by party president Gerry Adams, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, Donegal TD Pearse Doherty and national chairperson Declan Kearney.

There is a common theme to each address and although the words are slightly different the sentiments are the same.

Essentially each Sinn Féin platform speaker was saying that if republicans want a united Ireland they must win the argument politically and that means convincing sceptical unionists by engaging with them in a thoughtful constructive manner.

Declan Kearney expanded on this thesis by calling for greater dialogue and engagement with the wider unionist community.

He acknowledged the practical difficulties and said that "presents a huge challenge for us".

"Unionists continue to harbour suspicions about republicans".

Addressing the past 40 years he said: "Unionists have been hurt by the war and so too have republicans.

"We need to keep moving the peace process into new phases ".

It was a theme picked up at an event in north Belfast by the Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly who said his party wanted a united Ireland that "unionists feel welcome in".

So has this fresh overture to unionists worked?

Well, first accounts would suggest that the cynicism and the questions that existed before Easter still remain.

'Hand of friendship'

The Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson took to the BBC Radio Ulster airwaves and said he would judge republicans by their actions rather than by their words.

The DUP MP told the Stephen Nolan show that when it came to investigating the past, republicans were not cooperating in the way they should.

He claimed that as an example Sinn Féin and the IRA could do more to assist the Smithwick Tribunal in Dublin which is investigating Garda collusion with the IRA.

He said if republicans were serious "they must step up to the mark".

Building trust and understanding your political rival's intentions naturally takes time and it is clear other unionists are wary about Sinn Fein's motives.

Jim Allister, the TUV MLA, is unconvinced by what he heard at the weekend.

He said: "It is clear that when Sinn Fein talks about 'reconciliation' they mean nothing less than their age old bloodstained ambition of the unification of Ireland, something already democratically rejected by the greater number of people in Northern Ireland."

Ulster Unionist Basil McCrea says the "jury is still out" on whether Sinn Fein's hand of friendship is genuine.

He had previously taken up an offer from the party to speak at one of their conferences.

Whilst he said he was received well at that event he said once it had happened there "wasn't much engagement afterwards".

He thinks the various Sinn Féin Easter messages were also aimed at another audience.

He told me Sinn Féin is "most worried about the dissidents" and said the Easter statements were aimed at the "wider republican community to keep them onside".

Basil McCrea says unionists need more information on exactly what Sinn Féin mean.

The UUP MLA wants "clarification" - now where have we heard that word before?

You can follow Stephen on Twitter at StepWalkTV

Mark Devenport, Political editor, Northern Ireland Article written by Mark Devenport Mark Devenport Political editor, Northern Ireland

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    I can't see how one can have a united Ireland where unionists feel welcome. There can be no unionists once the union has been broken and if there ever was a united Ireland it is highly unlikely that the whole island would ever enter into union with Britain again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Let's not be negative about this. I welcome a hand of friendship, whoever offers it. We can respect and cooperate with those whose beliefs differ from our own without compromising our own beliefs. Sinn Fein are offerring real leadership here; the Unionist parties need to do the same, if they are not to be swept away by the tide of history.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Forget the rhetoric and just think about the practicalities and realities for one moment. South is bankrupt and it is only a matter of time before they will need a second bail out. While NI is it not much better off totally reliant on the public sector. So it is just economical suicide to even contemplate joining forces for this is one time when two negatives will not make a positive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Surely we should be talking about the economy rather than both sides trying to passify their own followers. I see that the BBC states that "Northern Ireland housing market sees some improvements". However goes on to say that prices are expected to keep on falling. The truth is that property is still overpriced and with our economy on such shaky ground stability is still a long way off.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    It is surly about time our politicans started doing what they are paid to do and that is turning around our economy rather than "Committee to debate flying Irish tricolour at Stormont". What a complete waste of time. Our education minister surely has better things to do with his time rather than utilising their time arguing about what flag to fly. Both parties are a shambles.


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