Sinn Féin waits to see which way the crowd are headed

As Northern Ireland experiences a similar level of disruption connected to the number of reported Omicron cases, the political confusion is a lot more obvious.

In the Republic, the main opposition party Sinn Féin is the consummate master of not actually opposing any of the key elements of the ongoing restrictions while managing successfully to convey the impression that they are on the side of those inconvenienced by them.

Although it has been part of running the other part of Ireland now for the best part of two decades, it still tries to portray itself as a sort of opposition. This has become glaringly obvious again this week where a Sinn Féin MLA made a well-publicised demand that the Stormont Assembly convene as a matter of urgency to discuss in particular the situation regarding the re-opening of schools.

Presumably, Pat Sheehan MLA has some way of contacting his party colleague Michelle O’Neill who is the Queen’s Deputy First Minister in the Executive? Surely, then all he had to do was to give her a buzz and suggest that she get this to happen?

Which is what did happen, and the Assembly will convene on Monday. No need for any drama. But of course, that would not maintain the pretence that Sheehan and the rest of them are still some sort of anti-establishment rebels.

The confusion has been added to by the statement from DUP leader and First Minister Paul Givan that there are no plans to tighten the restrictions regarding the wearing of masks. Indeed, he went further and that said that businesses would not be required to demand proof from anyone who entered a premises with out a mask on the grounds that they are exempt.

O’Neill responded quickly to claim that the Executive had not made any such decisions but did admit that it was “very difficult to make it work.” The fact is that the sheer number of cases – few of them with serious health implications – threaten to bring most sectors to a standstill if the current restrictions were to be strictly enforced. In reality, many people are ignoring them if they can.

The public squabbling is just another manifestation of a dysfunctional and basically undemocratic quango designed to provide British sovereignty over the north with a facelift. One that was perhaps necessary 25 years ago in the aftermath of a military cessation but is now almost absurd. Sinn Féin, who were telling people back then that this was only something that would last a few years are now as deeply committed to its maintenance as any party that has had its snout in the trough of power for several decades.

The main bone of contention in the north, as in the rest of the country, is the re-opening of schools. In another ludicrous disregard of whatever thing it is that holds the Executive together, O’Neill attacked the DUP Education Minister Michelle McIlveen for not properly equipping the schools to be “safe places” for teachers to return to. Its worth saying, again that O’Neill and her party are in government in Stormont.

Oh, and it is teachers we are talking about here because children are not in any real danger of becoming seriously ill. Nor do they vote or join trade unions.

Just like Sinn Féin in the Republic, who are nominally in opposition, Sinn Féin in the north has chosen to dissimulate on the issue of schools re-opening. Of course, that might change over the weekend depending on whether there appears to be balance of public opinion in one direction or the other.

So instead of being menschen and standing up and saying either “The schools should not open,” or alternatively “Schools should open,” the Shinners have chosen to engage in political passive aggression by indicating well yes of course it would in general be a good idea, but first classrooms ought to be turned into something akin to Intensive Care Units. Otherwise, it seems, teachers will be dropping off more quickly than lads going over the top at Ypres.

And some people think these characters are going to be a breath of fresh air.

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