Updated: 04/03/17 : 09:19:47
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Sinn Féin still has to steer its ship into dock

By Eugene McGloin
Political Editor


SINN FEIN has twenty one days plus to avoid snatching defeat from the jaws of its immense political victory yesterday, Friday.

First, the victory - the almost dead heat with its main unionist rival on first preference share AND seats share in Thursday's election.

Starting Blocks

It gets better: Eighty of the ninety new seats have fallen damn near 50/50 between nationalists and unionists.....for want of better descriptive terms.

Secondly, that potential Sinn Fein defeat up ahead -- will they, would they, how could they -- be the prime facilitators of direct rule imposed from London.

Last time it happened was the month of March too, Stormont was prorogued on March 24th 1972. It took a whole generation to unwind the travesty.

1. Arlene Foster was fastest out of the starting blocks yesterday to say the mandate from this election is against direct rule. 

2. She also told Eileen Magnier of RTÉ she is ready to negotiate with Sinn Fein.

Maybe not much, given the bruising election just finished but her advisors have made many good calls. 

The DUP predicted all along how close this contest might become; they hardly ever saw it as tight as 1,200 votes with their main rivals, did,they?

It may have been a bruising election for the DUP but for Sinn Fein they are cruising after an historic outcome when votes were counted yesterday.

Therein lies the problem, superbly summarised in one phrase by RTE Northern Editor Tommie Gorman throughout yesterday.

One phrase, almost one word, as Gorman put the poser out there: Would Sinn Fein now be 'overconfident' in the upcoming negotiations.

Manners, Manners

Seven hours later, the veteran pundit of Northern politics, Fionnula OConnor, pondered another shade of the same poser on BBC Northern Ireland.

Manners. Manners. O'Connor almost barked the word as she recalled some recent political indiscretions by Gerry Adams himself re: his opponents. 

The success, or otherwise, of the talks up ahead could well turn,too, on such pathways learned from your mother when you were knee-high to a grasshopper.

Value-Added

Tommie Gorman's caveat about the (potential) negative value of Sinn Féin's ''over-confidence'' will sound and resound through the negotiations up ahead.

So, far the only consensus emerging from several party soundings is that Tory minister James Brokenshire cannot be the chair of those talks.

That may be as good as it gets before we get a second election, or, direct rule. Twenty one days and counting.....

Only (real) leadership -- magnanimity, generosity, compromise -- will see Sinn Fein steer its ship to port and to dock after its momentous victory.

Of course, shaping the 'new' Stormont is not the only thing at stake for Sinn Fein.

Success in the upcoming formation of a new government in the north would offer significant 'value-added' potential to the party in the south. 

Failure by the Shinners would send the reverse message, and for a generation.