|Michelle O'Neill TD , Rev David Latimer, Declan Kearney MLA, |
Mary Lou McDonald TD and Elisha McCallion MP
On Monday the Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald used the term 'Derry or Londonderry' after a meeting with some young people in Londonderry. The meeting had been organised by Rev David Latimer, minister of First Derry Presbyterian Church.
His role in the visit was not surprising in view of what he described as his 'unbelievable relationship' with his close friend, the late Martin McGuinness. That relationship found expression in Mr Latimer's seminal role in the Martin McGuinness campaign for the presidency of the Republic of Ireland. It was Mr Latimer's speech at a Sinn Fein ard fheis which encouraged the Independent TD Finian McGrath to sign McGuinness's nomination papers for the presidency and when Sinn Fein held a rally in the Bogside, before McGuinness embarked on the presidential campaign, Mr Latimer appeared in the platform party.
This visit seems to have been part of the Sinn Fein programme of 'unionist outreach' which they claim is directed towards 'national reconciliation'. That means their strategy of convincing unionists to support a 'new Ireland', in other words a 'united Ireland'.
However that campaign has never really gained much traction. They have been working on it for more than a decade and it was back in 2007 that they published their 'Charter for Unionist Engagement'. The programme was fronted at one time by Alex Maskey and at another time by Martina Anderso but neither of them had the necessary skills to present plausible case. More recently Sinn Fein have turned to their national chairman Declan Kearney, who is in the picture behind David Latimer and is a more polished performer.
The insincerity of the Sinn Fein outreach programme was illustrated in February this year when Alex Maskey tweeted about Northern Ireland being 'a putrid little statelet'.
This outreach programme is part of Sinn Fein's wider political strategy and the visit to First Derry Presbyterian Church has come at an appropriate time for a party that wants to improve its image in the Republic. Recently Leo Varadker described Sinn Fein as a 'sectarian' party and that must have stung Mary Lou. She is also trying to deal with the aftermath of the Barry McElduff tweet, which was then retweeted by Mairtin O Muilleoir, and the equally offensive tweet by a Sinn Fein senator about a man who was murdered by the IRA. The visit to Londonderry and the subsequent media coverage will be of some use in addressing those difficulties .Indeed some elements of the media, the more gullible elements, have been almost gushing in their reporting of the way in which the Sinn Fein leader used the word Londonderry.
Nevertheless the Sinn Fein programme of 'unionist outreach' is something which unionists would do well to note and reflect on. It is limited but there may be more of it going on than most unionists realise.