On a thread about the DUP St. Andrew’s consultation I mentioned I had submitted a qualified No and was asked why. Here is the third of six parts of an article explaining why.What are my problems with the St Andrews deal? (continued)
The complete absence of a mechanism to deal with default is a deep concern. There is nothing in the document about the future of the PIRA or a mechanism to deal if it messes up again. There are two potential solutions to this, neither of which are in the St Andrews Agreement. First, the PIRA formally disbands in accordance with the Green Book. This removes any ambiguity if a PIRA member is caught commiting terrorism or crime, no need for the IMC to make a value judgement on whether a PIRA member engaging in crime is or isn’t doing so for the organisation or to mumble about not enough intelligence to make a determination.
Alternatively, there could be an effective mechanism to isolate a paramilitary linked party from the Executive (more important again as the SAA removes the present unequal punishment of suspension). Sinn Fein object to this as they see it as a ‘Get them’ rule. However, would such a rule also ensure no Third Force, Ulster Resistance or the equivalent of the McCrea/Wright shared platform? Unlikely scenarios but not impossible if dissident attacks grow.
On parades yet another review is poor delivery and bad politics. The Loyal Orders onside would have made selling any deal that much easier. The counter-argument that republicans would never agree to proposals to Unionist liking doesn’t fly. Senior DUP figures say they were presented with the final document including the Irish Language Act late on and told the Act proposal was non-negotiable. What is good for the goose…
The Irish Language Act also brings into focus two issues. First, cultural concerns were a contributor to disillusionment with the Belfast Agreement and the UUP. Irish culture was given greater prominence, more media inclusion, and extra public investment, not a threatening process in itself. However, the various cultural expressions and interests of the Unionist community were squeezed at the same time – British flags and symbols removed or radically reduced, more restrictions on parades, frustration of any genuine movement for Ulster-Scots (although Laird proved a ‘useful fool’ in that agenda) and the most obvious, the change of name and symbols of the RUC. In the SAA parades gets a review, Ulster-Scots gets nice words but the Irish language gets a specific and non-negotiable commitment. If a strong approach is taken to the Language Act then the SAA will continue that past pattern and another lesson from the UUP‘s era will be ignored.
Fortunately for the DUP, the Irish Language Act proposal has not attracted particular public or media interest yet, despite attempts by the UUP to raise its profile. A culturally ignorant media and unaware public can have its advantages. The nature of the Act will determine how big a problem it will be.
An Act that gives effect to the language rights in international human rights treaties would mean little to the public purse or to those not interested in minority languages. An Act that made the present European Charter Rights legally enforceable would similarly have little impact on the public purse, prove useful to the Irish language community as it would ensure proper implementation of the Charter and still maintain the safeguards within it. If as the SAA implies, an Act will be closer to the RoI and Welsh models then it will become a significant wedge issue between the two main communities here (and possibly between the nationalist community and minority ethnic groups if the Quebec experience is anything to go by). A maximalist Act will costs millions if not tens of millions and the distinct possibility of sections of the public sector staff being required to learn Irish will be the source of serious resentment.
(I will be unable to respond to comments because I have important domestic matters to attend on Thursday followed by a romantic week-end. I will reply as best I can upon my return. The remaining pieces are timed to appear at 9.00am and 2.00 pm each day.)