Stormont is staring into the political abyss. It already was I hear you say, but over the past week the tone of compromise that gave a faint flicker of hope has all but disappeared.
Unionism has marched right into a cul-de-sac nudged along by the current leader of the Orange Order who has about as much political wit as Jolene Bunting.
Edward Stevenson said that “when language is used as a cultural weapon by political republicanism it clearly becomes a threat to our identity and community”.
And lo and behold within days the DUP’s initial proposal to deal with the Irish language was taken off the table with nothing to replace it. Removed by none other than party elder Sammy Wilson who once referred to Gaelige as a ‘leprechaun language’.
The DUP grassroots have had anti-Irishness drummed into them for so long that for some this now appears as a bigger concession than going into government with republicans a decade ago. Words like ‘weapon’, ‘threat’, ‘impose’ and the painting of a picture to unionists that they will be ‘stripped of their Britishness’ is indicative of the siege mentality that unionist leaders reinforce when it suits them.
The most blatant example of this was when the UUP’s Reg Empty stated that Irish will be a compulsory subject in all schools if an Irish Language Act is introduced. No party, no group, no individual even has ever proposed this in the debate about this Bill. The UUP sensed the degree of pressure on the DUP about the current talks. So to undermine them, well they just decided to make things up!
Unionism is not ready to make a deal. Not now, not anytime soon.
I wish I was wrong but there simply are no signs of optimism from any party. If James Brokenshire had been replaced by Droopy the Dog perhaps the parties would have been more driven to reach a deal. However the limpless Secretary of State has done nothing more than set up the occasional press conference in his front garden.
It appears that the time for a deal has passed. The DUP would rather take their chances on Direct Rule with our 90 MLAs’ constituency services ticking over in the background, similar to the situation we had between 2003 and 2007.
Our MLAs are working hard. Of course they are because constituents are demanding and there is plenty of work to keep them occupied. The case that they ‘do nothing’ is nothing more than a lazy argument.
However If the DUP thought that their constituency offices would be closed and Arlene Foster had to check into the dole office once a fortnight that would make a deal more likely. Remember theres one thing that motivates the DUP more than anything else – money.
Its not going to happen though. The Tory dog isn’t going to bite its DUP tail.
For nationalists and republicans this must also mark the end of the age of constructive ambiguity. The trust that ensured the implementation of agreements in the past is gone. Negotiators will have to dot their i’s and cross their t’s in the future. Timetables for implementation signed off prior.
An Irish language Act would not have been such a big leap for the DUP had they agreed to even small parts of it over the past ten years. They refused to be generous on the issue. What’s worse is that we still haven’t moved on from the days of the Orange Order shouting jump and the Unionist parties replying ‘How high?’
This is their own fault, not anybody else’s. Whenever they deny people rights that are taken for granted in both Britain and the rest of Ireland they really don’t have a leg to stand on. The DUP can either show leadership and come into the the 21st Century or stand their ground with the Orange Order and the knuckedraggers in society.
The last time the DUP had power they disrespected nationalists, republicans, gay members of our society, the Irish language community and many more besides. None of those groups are in a rush to see that party take the position of First Minister again and act that nothing has happened over the past year.
There are 2 scenarios in which Stormont can return. One is that the DUP changes its attitude toward minorities. Two is that the structures at Stormont are changed to prevent further abuses happening towards minorities in the future.
Neither of these are going to happen in 2017.