Democracy shapes our lives…
Talk is cheap they say, but talk of talks is even cheaper. So, good call from Colum Eastwood to ask what on earth is going on between SF and the DUP? In the Irish Times, he is reported as saying…
“I would be very surprised if after the intense negotiations that have been going on for eight or nine months that they were not close enough to a deal that they could sell and that would be seen as real change,” he said.
“It seems strange and it leads people to question their motives,” he added. “We were told for months they were close to a deal. Let’s see how close they were. Let’s see what the gaps were. Tell everybody the full truth, produce the papers, show us where we got to and let the public decide.
“In negotiations you have to maximise your position but you rarely get everything that you want. It’s now time for the two parties to tell us how far they got.”
Mr Eastwood said it would be poor negotiating by Sinn Féin if the end result was direct rule from Westminster where “the DUP would have the whip” due to the fact it is propping up Theresa May’s government.
It falls to Newton to state what so many others seem to want to avoid…
In the Scottish referendum the following year, the UK almost broke up in what felt like a fit of absent-mindedness. Irish republicans escaped questions about how this could happen without any sign of British “dirty tricks”, especially over a region the UK would most definitely want to keep.
But now Sinn Féin is pointing to Spain and unwittingly reminding everyone of how passive the UK is towards its constituent parts. Beyond UK politics, the Catalan crisis has compromised the EU for Sinn Féin and Scottish National Party purposes.
Scottish nationalists have been left in no doubt that unilateral action towards independence will cause horror in European capitals, even after Brexit.
Sinn Féin has had a more complicated let-down. It has presented Brexit as unacceptable in part because the EU is a protector of rights and citizenship.
On this basis, Sinn Féin has then claimed leaving the EU represents such a constitutional change that it merits a Border poll outside the agreed terms for calling one.
This elaborate chain of reasoning is weakened at every link by the EU’s total abandonment of the Catalans.
It would be an exaggeration to say Sinn Féin’s argument is destroyed – it has found a huge and willing audience in the northern electorate.
However, it is becoming unwise for the party to claim ownership of the Catalan issue, and to keep drawing attention to it as if drawing a parallel. All most people can see now are differences, for which they are increasingly thankful.
The Stormont crisis, like the Catalan crisis, is coming to a head amid warnings of direct rule. This is an unfortunate coincidence for Sinn Féin, in both timing and language. No expression comparable to “direct rule” is used in Spain – people refer either generally to “intervention” or specifically to the constitution.
It is the British and Irish media that has picked up the English-language phrase and applied it to Catalonia, creating a sudden equivalence to Northern Ireland.
That only brings the differences into focus. London, unlike Madrid, is clearly extremely reluctant to call a formal halt to devolution. In Belfast, unlike in Barcelona, the main nationalist party has caused the suspension of regional government and is also issuing the darkest warnings about direct rule.
It was already difficult to keep all these arguments going – Sinn Féin’s proclaimed alternative to direct rule and devolution is “joint stewardship” by the British and Irish governments. Last week, Dublin called this “a distraction” and accused Sinn Féin of cynically “preparing for direct rule”.
Confusion risks turning to farce if republicans keep railing against direct rule in Northern Ireland and Catalonia, when the details in each are reversed and everyone knows it.
As Mr Eastwood notes…
“The only outcome is that the British government will take more power, a British government that is held to ransom by the DUP.”
Harsh, yet broadly fair. We have entered into another period of pseudo politics, although that’s hardly extraordinary in the short history of Northern Ireland’s peace era. There are no reliable accounts of what is going on, either from Sinn Fein or the DUP (who appear assiduous in holding up their end).
The SDLP leader should not allow himself to forget that it was his party’s pressure which drove Sinn Fein’s cattle into this dead-end canyon, rather than the British, or even the DUP: despite vague protests from SF to the opposite effect.
This week the Sinn Fein leader got himself bogged down in a pointless argument about the price of a bottle of wine in the Republic suggesting he’s in receipt of rather more than the average industrial wage. Tiocfaidh ar la de dah chuckled Dublin North West FG TD, Noel Rock.
Not a great sign of the party’s current political health.
Accountability as a virtue which is vastly underestimated in this always on, always someone else to blame era. It is better to take the rap, and move swiftly on to the next phase of play. Democracy is nothing but a cheap televisual sham without it.
When there is no sharing of power, no rule of law, no accountability, there is abuse, corruption, subjugation and indignation.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty
Living History 1968-74
A unique, once-in-a-lifetime 10-week course at Stranmillis University College Belfast featuring live, in-depth interviews with leading figures from this tumultuous era in Northern Ireland’s cultural and political history.
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