Ian O'Doherty: 'Populism threatens our island with catastrophe - and Sinn Féin is cynical enough to profit from it'
There was once a popular TV commercial for an insurance company which boasted the famous promise "we won't make a drama out of a crisis". Oh, to now have such clear heads at the tiller in this country, where it's becoming increasingly clear we have already left mere "crisis" behind and are heading full speed into a catastrophe.
Even those who had warned against Brexit before that fateful vote in the summer of 2016 failed to predict just how disastrous the negotiations would be.
That was largely because even those nay-sayers who saw trouble on the horizon still retained a modicum of belief that the situation would at least be approached by professional political operatives - political operatives who, when push came to inevitable shove, would put their country first.
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In relation to the UK, that involved relying on the presumption that the main players would eventually realise the enormity of the situation and, under the weight of such gravity, would actually do their job.
Instead, we've been left with what will surely go down in history as the most malignant and self-serving bunch of political spivs any of us can remember.
In fact, most of us have struggled to comprehend that the future of this nation is in the hands of a bunch of UK politicians who are so far removed from the current reality they are perfectly happy to sacrifice their own country's future prosperity - and bring everyone else down with them if needs be - on the altar of their own petty personal ambitions.
To really put that farcical sense of disconnect into perspective, the fact many of the leading Tories are already expending more energy on securing their own positions post-May and post-Brexit rather than trying to find a solution for the rather more pressing prospect of life post-March 29, is a frankly horrifying reminder that these otherwise intelligent people still stubbornly refuse to see the bigger picture.
In other words, they're still playing inner-party politics at a time when everyone in the UK, and this country, and regardless of their own views on the principles that motivated Brexit, is looking at events unfold with increasing and justified horror.
But the Tories aren't the only ones guilty of playing Russian roulette with their nation's future.
At a phase when we desperately need some degree of stability in our governance, Sinn Féin's constant chomping at the bit to inflict as much damage as possible on both the Government and the confidence and supply agreement with Fianna Fáil, is yet another reminder that it simply does not have the country's best interest at heart.
Nobody is going to defend this Government's record. In normal times, the litany of failures that can be laid at its door would surely be enough to have the people demanding a return to the polls.
But, once more - for the benefit of those Sinn Féin supporters who can't see beyond the grubby fortunes of their own party - these are not normal times and their party's decision to table a motion of no confidence in Simon Harris is a reliably cynical reminder that Sinn Féin cares about Sinn Féin first and everyone else second.
Despite the indignant cries of senior Sinn Féin representatives who insist that they don't want an election, they know full well what a no-confidence motion could trigger.
This, they see, is a chance to supplant Fianna Fáil as the pre-eminent Opposition party - further showing the country just how much we miss a strong Labour Party - and it's an act of political mischief that borders on delinquency.
More mé féin than Sinn Féin, Mary Lou McDonald et al are aware the country is in more turmoil, and the people are more volatile, and therefore more open to be exploited at the polls, than at any time since the crash.
Given the justified outrage over the chronic overspend on the National Children's Hospital, combined with Harris's undeniably hapless stewardship of his brief, as well as the CervicalCheck scandal; the ongoing evictions row and the seemingly innumerable and ever escalating, self-inflicted problems faced by this administration, it's almost harder to not score points off this Government than it is to land easy, populist blows.
But as tempting it must be to beat Harris like a piñata until he is defenestrated, the Sinn Féin assertion it merely wants a new Health Minister and isn't actually looking to capitalise on the current imbroglio by forcing an election should have been delivered with a nudge-nudge and a wink-wink.
It knows perfectly well what the fallout would be.
It just doesn't want to be the one blamed for plunging us into a distracting and disastrously timed general election.
We're currently witnessing a rise in extremism in this country which is a concerning indicator of how enraged the population has become in recent times.
But it's also a rise which has been mirrored across Europe.
That sense of frustration and fury at our elected representatives is understandable, but is open to exploitation by cynical actors who see this as their chance to pounce.
The fact that some protest groups now think it's acceptable to gather menacingly outside a politician's home is bad enough. The fact that so many people support this form of self-professed "direct action" is worse.
Using terms like "battalion" and "flying squad", they hark back to distant days we hoped had passed, and it was interesting to see the terminology employed by one of the groups, who issued a statement which insisted that "The Free State's days are numbered".
While there is no suggestion that any of the protest groups have any links to Sinn Féin, the language comes from a similar hymn sheet and there is always the sense that the end game from this current crisis, as far as Sinn Féin is concerned, is a United Ireland.
Quite what role it would play in such an environment remains a mystery, of course.
After all, between the shenanigans in Stormont, which has now overtaken the Belgian parliament as the most inefficient in the world, as well as their abstentionist policies in Westminster, we should never forget that the Shinners are the worst parliamentary truants in western politics. They're happy to lob bombs from the sidelines but not so keen to do anything as risky as taking responsibility.
Sinn Féin sees the Government's weakness as its opportunity.
But embarking on a crusade which would plunge us into further turmoil when we need to be focusing on the looming disaster that is Brexit is a move of breathtaking cynicism.