I’m back at work though suffering with a cold, flu or ‘man-flu’. I don’t like feeling congested at the best of times. Being back at work at the start of a cold and wet January doesn’t brighten my mood.
This is all put in perspective by Martin McGuinness who has serious health issues, it seems. I wish him a speedy recovery. Nara fada go raibh tú ar do shean léim! In the light of his illness, his effort to attend a press conference on Monday to announce his resignation as Joint/Deputy First Minister is all the more admirable. It contrasts sharply with Arlene’s video message posted from in front of a roaring fire in her Fermanagh home (I presume) to announce glibly that she and the DUP would always defend unionism and ‘put the people of Northern Ireland first’.
In that video statement, and previously, she said she didn’t want to step aside to allow an inquiry to take place into the RHI scandal at the behest of republicans/Sinn Féin. A day later, she blithely remarks she is ‘no longer First Minister’ so why not have an inquiry now? This is, presumably, to rub salt in Sinn Féin’s eye, that party having taken a drastic step in order to force an issue which had become a matter of grave concern and which the DUP had failed to take on board.
What I wonder is why, if putting the people of Northern Ireland first is her concern, and if she truly believes that an election now would be ‘brutal’, why she thinks that her position today is different to that she would be in had she ‘stepped aside’ to facilitate the inquiry over the mess/scandal that is the RHI scheme? After all she’s been forced to vacate her office by Sinn Féin – perhaps the difference is that now there is the distinct possibility she may never get back into the role of First Minister while under the SF proposal she would been minding her garden for approximately four weeks. And she wouldn’t have to face a ‘brutal’ election – and neither would the population of NI.
There’s little or no logic or reason involved here, it seems. There’s a great deal of hot air, ironically but not unexpectedly, from DUP MPs and MLAs, some of them raising issues that had never been mentioned in a vain attempt to keep the ‘mainland’ media interested in their side of the story, If all fails, wrap the flag around them. For whom, again, is patriotism the last refuge?
As the smoke clears, a picture is emerging in which we are seeing that Sinn Féin might have stayed on board the Executive in spite of the RHI scandal but for the overwhelming arrogance of Arlene and her colleagues. This arrogance is underlined by the fact that all the parties walked out of the Assembly when Arlene began her solilquay to a chamber empty of all but her own DUP colleagues. Afterwards she said, as if the entire episode hadn’t been witnessed by the entire population of NI, that Sinn Féin had not ‘turned up’. They had turned up and walked out in disgust. As had all the other parties, apart from her own.
However the Líofa decision before Christmas put the tin hat on the debacle. It was, it seems, designed to underline the DUPs lack of respect for their coalition partners and their more general lack of respect for the Irish identity as a whole, despite their constant refrain that they are representing all of the population of NI and their laughable claims from time to time that they’re attracting nationalist/Catholic votes.
The decision re Líofa is the latest addition to a long catalogue of similar decisions and insults by the DUP to the Irish language and identity. When I worked as editor of Lá Nua back in 2008, we ran into trouble when we first broke the story that the then Culture Minister, Edwin Poots of the DUP had cut unilaterally support to the Irish Language Broadcast Fund, even though the money for it was coming from Westminster in addition to the normal DCAL budget. That happened in October 2007. In January 2008 we reported along the lines that Sinn Féin and SDLP ministers had been either asleep or negligent that they hadn’t stopped this decision when it reached the Executive. We definitely thought it inexplicable that such a decision had been made with their consent, considering how hard fought the campaign to secure the ILBF had been. Shortly afterwards there was a crisis of sorts as Ian Paisley resigned and Peter Robinson lined up to replace him. Sinn Féin refused to nominate Martin McGuinness until they could secure some concessions on issues such as the restoration of the ILBF and the creation of a new fund – the Irish Language Investment Fund – which has been put to good use since then.
I relate this story because the lesson learned then will have an import in future negotiations. Back in 2008, following the electionm of Peter Robinson, Gregory Campbell was nominated in the DCAL role and when he was visited by SF’s Gerry Adams looking for the enactment of the promised Irish Language Act, it was as Gregory has since boasted a ‘short meeting’.
It was amusing, in this context, to watch Communities Minister Paul Givan claim that unionists had ‘saved Irish’ during a TV interview on BBC NI on Monday evening. A little knowledge – or the the early 90s version of fake news – is a dangerous thing, I suppose, but he’s correct in the sense that Presbyterians such as Robert McAdam were to the fore in promoting Irish at the end of the 19th century. Whether or not he was a unionist is a moot question but even if he had been, I doubt if he’d have been too happy about how unionist politicians such as Paul Givan and his DUP colleagues are treating Irish today. With short sighted decisions such as the Líofa cut, Paul Givan has ‘weaponised’ Irish as an issue beyond his understanding. It’s my own belief that people in the unionist community are way ahead of their political leaders on the issue of the Irish language. That belief probably holds true for wider issues as it seems to me that most unionist political leaders, particularly those currently in positions of leadership, inhibit rather than lead their communities.
The next meeting on this issue, Gregory, a chara, will be long and detailed. There will be an Irish Language Act before you or any DUP colleague ever gets ministerial power again. It will be detailed and comprehensive and will include the resolution of all outstanding issues, including the restoration of an Irish language newspaper in Northern Ireland. Over the years since 2008, the NI Executive have refused to submit a report regarding the implementation of the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages because of the failure to deliver on the commitment to support an Irish language newspaper in Northern Ireland. This has meant that the British Foreign Office has been rapped on the knuckles repeatedly by the Council of Europe over this issue. Not a serious matter to lose sleep over no doubt for a Government which has alot of other issues to face. However this means that the British Government i s in default technically of the Good Friday Agreement.
Nobody has been paying too much attention to these issues for a long time. Not the co-guarantors of the GFA, the British and Irish Governments, not the mainstream media, not the political parties. So intent were they all on maintaining the facade that the Good Friday Agrement institutions were working and power-sharing was in operation.
Now these same institutions/people are trying to gloss over these issues in the hope they won’t be asked why they didn’t ensure the commitments freely entered into weren’t delivered.
Now we have arrived at this sorry pass. If we want to get back to powersharing as the preferred form of governing here, well, the issue of the Irish language hasn’t gone away.