Sinn Féin gathered en masse at Free Derry corner this week to renew Martin McGuinness’ pledge that there will be no return to power-sharing without commitments on equality from the DUP and British Government.
Members of Mr. McGuinness’ family were joined in the Bogside by political representatives and cumainn members a year to the day since the former Deputy First Minister collapsed the Executive over what he viewed as intractable DUP intransigence.
Speaking at the official launch of a new billboard Sinn Féin MP for Foyle Elisha McCallion reaffirmed the party’s maxim that there will be ‘no return to the status quo’.
She said the late Mr. McGuinness’ claims that the DUP have consistently failed to embrace the “equality, mutual respect and all-Ireland” aspects of the Good Friday Agreement rang true for many within the republican constituency.
Dozens of supporters who gathered for the rally on Tuesday also heard that the British Government and the DUP needed to keep promises on an Irish Language Act and a Bill of Rights for the North that were made 11 years ago at St. Andrews.
They must also move on same-sex marriage in order to bring LGBT rights in the North on a level with the rest of Ireland and Britain, she said.
“We want the power-sharing institutions to be back up and running and that could happen tomorrow if the DUP agree to implement previous agreements. It’s a simple message. There are no red lines. No fancy elements,” said Mrs. McCallion.
“We have said from the start that we are looking for the DUP to implement what they have already promised the citizens of this part of our Ireland.
“Implement previous agreements. Start by showing some respect to our community and we have the basis of moving forward in terms of reestablishing the institutions,” she said.
A month-and-a-half after Mr. McGuinness resigned last January, and just a few weeks before his death, Mrs. McCallion topped the poll in the Assembly Elections in Foyle. Last June she became the first republican MP elected for the city of Derry since Eoin MacNeill took his mandate into the First Dáil following the General Election of 1918.
The Foyle MP is in no doubt her late mentors decision to resign his position on the basis of equality last year was a key factor in this surge in support.
“This day last year Martin McGuinness rose from his sick bed to perform a duty, his last duty as the Deputy First Minister on behalf of Sinn Féin.
“This day last year he resigned and effectively collapsed the Stormont institutions at that time. Our message is that the reason behind the collapse of the institutions remains the same.
“We expect respect, integrity and equality from our partners in government and we hope ultimately at some stage to find a way forward. Everybody wants to see the institutions working but unfortunately as we stand here today those principles haven’t been met.”
Sinn Féin’s disciplined adherence to Mr. McGuinness’ legacy of unionist outreach and the party’s egalitarian message has been somewhat undermined by a surreal video of the party’s Irish language spokesman Barry McElduff balancing a loaf of Kingsmill bread on his head in a service station on the anniversary of the Kingsmill massacre of 1976.
The West Tyrone MP has denied any intentional connection, has apologised, and been suspended.
Mrs. McCallion is unequivocal about the McElduff incident.
“His actions weren’t appropriate for an MP or for anyone who represents Sinn Féin. We acknowledge the hurt that was caused, regardless of whether it was intentional or not, and we’ve apologised for that.”
Another unforeseen event this week has been the Secretary of State James Brokenshire’s resignation due to ill health and his replacement by Karen Bradley, the former Minister for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport for England and Wales.
While wishing Mr. Brokenshire well she does not believe any British Secretary of State can be a fair chairperson of the ongoing Stormont talks.
“I don’t believe James acted as an honest broker but I don’t beleive anyone coming from the tory government, given the current political situation in Westminster, where the DUP are essentially propping up the Tories,” said the Foyle MP.