Time for nationalism to provide representation based on an expansion of the future for ALL the people of Northern Ireland

So Brian’s cartoon made the News Letter’s editorial yesterday. I’ve only ever cited a leading article on a handful of occasions but this is worth noting…

On one hand, it’s just a statement of what ought already to be obvious. But after a year of Sinn Fein propaganda, a lot of people seem to have been convinced that the strange disappearance of the Institutions of the Good Friday Agreement has no tangible cause.

Others uncritically take SF’s line that we are in this hiatus because the DUP has not implemented certain matters that SF itself was jointly responsible for taking forward for most of the last ten years. So in all the talk of a language act (which wasn’t agreed), where’s the language strategy (which was)?

For the DUP’s part, particularly since the June election handed their ten MPs a spectacular whip hand at Westminster, behind the scenes they have continued to fulfill their obligations as best they could without a willing regional government partner.

For all the easy talk to the contrary at the time, there was no money for the Orange order or any other DUP pet project: that £1 Billion was negotiated carefully in order to align with a Programme for Government they had jointly negotiated with Sinn Fein.

In order to achieve that the DUP maintained contacts with SF separately to official negotiations to make sure they were briefed and informed as negotiations with the Tories progressed.

Opinion in Westminster is adjusting to the idea that the May government will spin this arrangement out to end of the fixed term in 2022. In that time, there are big opportunities and big threats to NI. SF’s refusal to voice nationalist concerns seems calculated to maximise damage.

Early complaints raised against the DUP in the summer about the implications of this for Northern Ireland largely missed the point that after the Belfast Agreement there ought to be no need for the UK Government to interfere in the devolutionary settlement.

The instability arises, as Andrew Gallagher so eloquently highlighted last week, from Sinn Féin’s continual (and increasingly fruitless) pursuit of ‘transactional’ as opposed to ‘representational’ politics.

Whilst their abstentionism at Westminster may be principled, this new abstentionism at Stormont looks like a bad old habit that is spiraling out of control. And bad habits often give rise to further bad habits.

Speaking with all the certainty of a politician who wouldn’t touch social media with a barge pole, Sammy Wilson made a telling point on Wednesday, about how the perceptions of some SF politicians are at odds with their actions:

The words of 2017 have given way to the actions of 2018 and it is very clear that it is Sinn Fein and Mairtin O’Muilleoir who “don’t get it”. Whilst the spotlight has rightly been on the disgraceful behaviour of Barry McElduff there has been less focus on the fact these actions were endorsed online by Mairtin O’Muilleor.

Every profile written about Mr O’Muilleoir mentions his prolific use of social media yet apparently it had to be pointed out to him that the taunting of victims was causing offence, and this only happened after the video was finally deleted. We are all asked to believe that he found the time to take 16,000 selfies whilst he was the Lord Mayor of Belfast, yet curiously took a holiday from social media immediately after giving his approval to the re-traumatisation of victims.

 The self-proclaimed voice of ‘new Belfast’ has, like the rest of his colleagues, apparently lost his voice now in the hope the issue will be quickly forgotten. Perhaps Mairtin should explain whether taunting the victims of terrorism represents the kind of progressive and inclusive Ireland he previously talked about? [Emphasis added]

Sinn Fein’s two narrative approach to post agreement politics in Northern Ireland gives rise to exactly this kind of political psychosis.

So an Orange band marching in a circle outside a Catholic church playing the melody of the Famine Song is hugely offensive, yet the attendance of the then deputy First Minister a paramilitary display at the hunger strike commemoration event at Galbally is not.

As a result, Sinn Fein is the only party in Northern Ireland which continues to lionise its fighters from times like those immediately surrounding Kingsmill (think of the O’Dowd and Reavey families and the vilification that preceded and followed even into the Commons).

Kingsmill just was just one of many small but still very painful betrayals, the nature of which can be ignored but not hidden indefinitely. As Am Ghobsmacht put it so laconically yesterday, the problem is not just one underemployed absentee MP acting an eejit: the ongoing affront to the IRA’s victims is official policy.

That it falls to the DUP, whose own legacy from the troubles was on many occasions utterly indefensible and shameful, to call time on this kind of two-headed double-dealing only deepens the tragedy around this incident.

That alone should prompt serious questions from northern nationalism as a whole? Is this the best we can do with the huge opportunities promised by an island-wide democratic endorsement of the Good Friday Agreement?

Sophocles once said “if you try to cure evil with evil you will add more pain to your fate“. This is not, as far too many good and smart folks have convinced themselves, a one way game of religious demographics (Catholics increased by just one percent between 2001 and 2011).

So it is long past time nationalism provided a public representation based on an expansion of the future for all the people of Northern Ireland rather than being preoccupied in exacting endless vengence upon those very people a resolution of its own ambitions will ultimately rely on.

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