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Our relationship with the UK matters - is Sinn Féin really the party to nourish it?

Laura Lynott


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Victim: Lyra McKee died in rioting by disaffected youths drawn to paramilitary groups. Photo: Getty Images

Victim: Lyra McKee died in rioting by disaffected youths drawn to paramilitary groups. Photo: Getty Images

Victim: Lyra McKee died in rioting by disaffected youths drawn to paramilitary groups. Photo: Getty Images

As the country braces itself to go to the polls, with Sinn Féin surging and the Tories triumphant in the UK, we are teetering on the edge of collapsing Anglo-Irish relations which are vital to harmony on both islands.

As I write, Sinn Féin is currently the most popular political party in the opinion polls and on Saturday Ireland will decide if a party with links to the IRA in recent history will hold a share of power in government.

Across the Irish Sea, Boris Johnson's isolationist Tory government is ruling Britannia and, rather than the unity we had taken for granted, a wave of ultra-nationalism is now feeding false hope to the disaffected in both countries.

Those who have been left behind in the shadow of economic recovery are the driving force behind this new divisive politics.

We have no control over the UK but the electorate can dictate what future we want in Ireland. And on polling day we must all examine our consciences before marking X on a ballot paper.

Fine Gael has made some disastrous mistakes in office. The housing crisis has affected an entire generation, locked out from buying their own homes, while many are unable to even afford the basics of rent, forced to live in crowded family homes.

The health system is creaking at the seams with our older people lying on trolleys and thousands of children languishing on waiting lists.

There is little point in repeating the mantra of a 'future to look forward to' as an election slogan when many see no future at all, while boasting of almost full employment is wasted on the ears of those who struggle to afford rent and cannot save for this promised future.

Meanwhile, many have rightfully been angered by the jingoistic posturing of the Brexiteers and politicians, more like parody caricatures, such as Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Dominic Cummings.

Their politics has only served to be disruptive in the UK, and Ireland and has further encouraged the spread of ultra- nationalism on the two islands, once applauded internationally for embracing the ideology behind the European Union and the Good Friday Agreement, mechanisms to bridge nations, not just economically but culturally and socially.

I am the product of the two nations, born in Manchester to Irish parents, and I fear a rise of this poisonous brand of nationalism. I'm blessed not to have lived through the Troubles but my family did and we have also experienced anti-Irish and anti-British sentiment on both sides of the Irish Sea from the uneducated few.

I identify with both countries equally and I'd hate to witness any further hostility between my two nations.

Sinn Féin is currently promising to build 100,000 council homes over five years, at a cost of €6.5bn. The party vows a refundable tax credit to cut rent by €1,500 annually. It has given an assurance to freeze rents for three years and to revert back to a State pension at 65, costing €368m.

Such promises are intoxicating to those left behind in this recovery but they need to remember the connotations of Sinn Féin culturally and historically.

And promises of a fairer housing system and more left-leaning landscape may well be impossible to fulfil against the Brexit backdrop.

This is a party which has always refused a seat in Westminster and which had until recently been part of a non-functioning Assembly in Northern Ireland, a stalemate with the DUP lasting three years.

Yet as an electorate we are supposed to trust it can communicate even-handedly with the British government?

While housing, employment and health are vital issues today, Brexit is a spectre waiting in the wings and many voters seem to be forgetting this because of the immediate concerns of housing and health in their own lives.

But Brexit is indeed a threat coming down the tracks. It has already helped revive Northern Ireland's paramilitary groups with disaffected youths.

Journalist Lyra McKee was murdered in April last year in Derry amid rioting among such youths in the nationalist area of Creggan. The New IRA admitted responsibly for the murder.

We must not forget Lyra or the more than 3,500 killed in the Troubles. We cannot forsake the pain of families still suffering and searching for answers.

Can a party with such recent historic ties to the IRA, with such a fractious relationship with the UK government and the DUP in Northern Ireland and without real-time experience of steering economic policies here claim to be capable of charting Ireland through what is set to be one of our most challenging periods, maintain peace and prosperity and keep hard fought for Anglo-Irish relations intact?

I would suggest not, though the message delivered so far by the electorate is that change must come and political leaders must heed this cry.

But those who recognise how recent the violence and instability was on this island, and how it spilled into Britain, must also realise it can happen again and there is a need for even-handed politics to maintain relations with the UK.

We cannot risk being dragged back into a past no one wants to be reborn.

Irish Independent