Surprise, Surprise! Surprise Election Triggered

10 January 2017 - by Quintin Oliver

Sinn Féin has, as so often, surprised everyone, seized the initiative, framed the agenda and left their opponents gazing at their navels.


Surprise has always been an unnerving tactic. Remember the second IRA ceasefire? Who predicted 17 July 1997, at the height of the marching season; total decommissioning in 2005, reshuffles of ministers, Adams's move to Louth, McGuinness's Irish presidential bid, greeting the Queen quite so effusively?

By seizing this unexpected moment, they have everyone's attention, they are calling the metaphorical shots.

'Enough is enough' on a competence issue (the Renewable Heat Incentive drama) prompts enquiry as to why now and with what outcome. They are setting the terms of the debate.

Clever framing of the problem as 'arrogance', 'ignorance' and 'parity of esteem', Sinn Féin has elevated the election to one of principle - not just competence. It returns to the heart of the republican project.

'Who governs Britain?' became Tory Ted Heath's UK electoral downfall in 1974, after the miners' strike, but will serve Republicans well in 2017.

They will motivate their disillusioned voters to turn out on angered principle, while others will struggle to cajole their supporters to the ballot box. That is because for many, politics has become dirty, venal and greedy, prompting sullen apathy.

Remember, too, that fighting reduced five-seat constituencies helps larger parties, efficient in 'vote management', while squeezing independents and single-issue candidates. Thirty MLAs for the blocking Petition of Concern mechanism stays - maybe the DUP will not reach 30, Sinn Féin hopes.

Add to that a weakened SDLP on the nationalist side, and a fragmented unionism, with Arlene Foster's happy honeymoon period now apparently in tatters, Sinn Féin strategists will judge that they can only strengthen their political mandate, even possibly topping the poll and landing the First Minister post.

But that post will not see Martin McGuinness ascend Disraeli's greasy pole - his doctors have read him the riot act: 'continue as before and you'll not survive - retire now and enjoy some more time at home'; the extraordinary end to an extraordinary career in making war, then helping craft an uneasy peace.


This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, 10 January 2017