Fine Fail says Good Friday Agreement legacy at risk
As TDs in Dublin move away from the traditional two-party system in deciding a Ceann Comhairle and committee chairs – if not an actual government – Fianna Fail has called on the British government to end Sinn Fein’s and the DUP’s power sharing ‘stranglehold’ on Stormont.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, at his party’s 1916 centenary commemoration in Arbour Hill in Dublin, called on London and Ireland’s ‘caretaker’ government to act directly and quickly. He also called for an overhaul in the north-south bodies set up under the Good Friday Agreement.
Mr. Martin said the DUP/Sinn Féin power-sharing administration had wreaked “immense damage” on Northern Ireland’s Good Friday Agreement institutions.
“We need direct engagement by both the Irish and British governments to end the stranglehold in Stormont by two parties. This is doing immense damage to public support for the institutions and public engagement in politics,” he said, accusing both parties of pandering only to their own constituencies.
The Good Friday Agreement – in which his own party had played a central role while in government – was about not just accomplishing “an absence of war but also lasting reconciliation and development”.
“This opportunity is being wasted,” he said.
“We need a new beginning in the concept of northsouth bodies, which have an enormous potential to deliver services and sustained development on both sides of the border,” said Mr. Martin.
North-south bodies include Waterways Ireland, Food Safety Promotion Board, Trade and Business Development Body (known as InterTrade Ireland), Special EU Programmes Body, North/South Language Body, Foyle Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission and Tourism Ireland.
Mr. Martin said that parties in Dail Eireann were at last within reach of a more complex style of government in which party leaders, and Taoisigh in particular, will not wield as much power over Dail and government business as they once did.
The Fianna Fail leader has been especially critical of what he called the highhanded attitude of Fine Gael and Labour ministers between 2011 and this year’s General Election. Mr Martin said the days of majority rule are over and he hoped “that we will shortly be able to move our politics on to a more inclusive and consensual approach.
“No one in Dáil Éireann will be able to dominate decisions – and this is a good thing.” Ireland’s old political system was now “broken and cannot continue”.
“The idea that you can only govern if you can control everything which happens in the Oireachtas is completely discredited. We need a politics which respects important differences between parties and groups and requires a much deeper engagement on substance. This works well in many countries and it can work here if people are willing to try,” said Mr. Martin.
Meanwhile, speaking separately and before Mr. Martin’s comments Ireland’s acting Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan told the Irish World that it was wrong to think Sinn Fein’s experience in Stormont had any bearing on how Ireland is governed from Dublin.
“I don’t have any difficulty with Sinn Fein in opposition but if you’re talking about a comparison between Dublin and Stormont I don’t accept that the situation is similar. We have an enforced (sic) system of government in Northern Ireland. Under the Good Friday Agreement Sinn Fein is part of that power sharing process. That is unique to Northern Ireland and doesn’t have any consequences for the Dublin government,” Mr. Flanagan told this paper.
DUP leader Arlene Foster, who is leading her party to campaign for Britain to leave the EU rejected Mr Martin’s criticism of Stormont’s power sharing Executive and said it was “offensive and unjustified”.
She asked how he could criticise political leaders north of the border when, in the Republic, a Government has still yet to be formed following a General Election on 26 February.
“If it wasn’t so offensive it would probably be quite funny,” said Mrs. Foster who wants Britain and Northern Ireland out of the EU.
“Here is a man who is part of a political jurisdiction that 53 days after a general election can’t form a Government, yet he spends his time making comments about a different country. He really should concentrate on forming a Government in his own country,” she said.