How will the parties “reflect” on their stance towards Assembly restoration during the Christmas lull? Will it be peace on earth, good will to all or only a Christmas truce? The finger of fate is pointed at the DUP. Will their resentment spill over into resistance?
How dare the secretary of state break precedent and single them out for blame just because all the other parties seem to have supported a deal? Even that is the wrong conclusion because as the Newsletter says with the air of producing a killer argument – the UUs or some of them- fiercely oppose a Legacy Bill they insist is biased against the security forces. That, claims the paper, shows a majority of unionists are not in favour of the alleged deal.
Since when was dealing with the past a deal breaker over returning to Stormont?
And whatever happened to the DUP’s readiness to resume without conditions?
Let’s hope for once history is an unreliable guide and they’re indulging in brinkmanship.
We seem to have been here before. For three years agreement has been only a few steps away and then it never happens. Under pressure from the general election results this time may be different. We have a British minister apparently serious about calling an Assembly election after 13 January, (but remember “no ifs no buts” – for Leave on 31 October). Does the DUP work on the basis of the “die on the ditch” that wasn’t, or Leave on 31 January that will happen?
Smith’s blatant pressure – or call it a nudge – provoked an outbreak of victimhood in the Newsletter over the cultural imperialism of an Irish Language Act which is contrary the spirit of republican 1798 which had Presbyterians taking part. The case made in a Newsletter in a classic of its kind by the academic James Dingley.
Economically Gaelic is useless and functional to only a small number of self-indulgent activists who will make an highly (tax payer) subsidised living out of translations no one really needs.
It will add economic costs to public and private services and increase social and economic costs in terms of increased sectarian divisions and duplication of services, which only republicans will benefit from.
I have every sympathy for the serious, scholarly study of Gaelic (which has been most useful to my own academic work). And what anyone wishes to do in their spare time in clubs and societies is purely their own affair, unless they try to impose it on the rest of society.
However, it is the use of Gaelic in public as part of a political strategy by republicans, to sow discord and adversity within Northern Ireland (to enable them to gain greater community control and funding) that must be resisted.
Theirs is also part of a strategy to increase separation from the rest of the UK, stressing difference and separation. On both counts it should be resisted. Concurrently Unionists would be well advised to avoid going down the same route, ie of Ulster-Scots as a (of highly dubious provenance) language. This just increases the divisions and plays into republican hands. Unionists should stress the richness and success of their shared cultural heritage within the UK, not least in science (where English is the universal language) and the arts (where all the great ‘Irish’ names wrote in English). A single language not only unites, but in English we have the universal medium for modern knowledge, learning and progress, the very thing Irish nationalism always feared and resisted, yet is so successful for the rest of us.
Unionists must resist the divisive tactics of republicans and learn to defend the cultural values of liberal-democracy and language policies that unite rather than divide.
Already one can note how Gaelic street signs demarcate nationalists area and a creeping control by republicans over large sections of society, from which unionists (Catholic and Protestant) often feel excluded. Thus unionists learn to feel alien in their own land, taken over by hostile forces, which encourages a migration of Unionists both within Northern Ireland and out of it as it undermines their sense of belonging and security.
Further, it deters inward investment and the kind of jobs that would provide the longer term employment economic security that will keep people here and give everyone a better future.
Finally, language policy must not be seen in itself, but as a part of a strategy of republican ‘salami slicing’ of small gains and concessions. Each, by itself, seems harmless and insignificant, but added up, over a period of time, amount to significant changes in the culture, environment and political imperatives that surround us. Slowly unionist identity, social, cultural and political references and landmarks are removed, the environment and ethos of places dismantled for a slow republican take-over.
It is the continuing logic of PIRA’s ‘long-war strategy’ and TUAS (Tactical Use of the Armed Struggle). It’s now a cultural struggle, subtle and less overt, to replace unionist identities with nationalist ones until we just come to accept a nationalist understanding and view of our world. And unionists are sleep-walking into it.
Here we have the theory of inevitability indulged in just as much by a unionist fairing defeat, as by any republican fanatic hiding behind warm words to pursue the war by other means.
This harks back to the elemental unionist distrust of the republican position. It matches the Republican loss of patience with unionist lack of “respect”. Expressed this way, it seems irreconcilable. Dingley was running a train of thought until it crashed into the buffers. Must it really operate without brakes or diversions into sidings? If this sort of stuff is taken seriously, what hope is there?
As Newton Emerson has tweeted, the abortive non- deal of last year for Irish hardly merited such apocalyptical language:
– Official status ( that is, fire proofed against non compliance) – Irish facilitated in courts “when deemed necessary” ( and discouraged by the judges on grounds of delay and costs) – Commissioner to “promote and facilitate” Irish in public sector – Parallel legislation for Ulster-Scots (sadly a political necessity) – No mention of signage, job quotas or offence of non-cooperation.
This pretty much enshrines the status quo while allowing expansion by demand criteria that remain to be decided. Must these be fully agreed before resumption? The hint from Sinn Fein is no.
Is the petition of concern the bigger problem? The DUP evoked it 82 times, Sinn Fein and the SDLP 29 times each out of a total of 115 between 2011 and 2015. Some deal supporters argue that now that a Stormont opposition can be formed, the petition of concern is no longer needed as a political device. This is far from obvious if the DUP as a leading party in government were to remain the most frequent (ab)user.
It’s perverse to encourage the Alliance and the SDLP as the parties most willing to cooperate in government to form the opposition while the parties which find it the most difficult form the Executive. It would be a calamitous mistake for the two parties best able to form a centre ground not to make a determined bid for roles in government with an explicit commitment to cooperate with each other. They should accompany their bids with the case to end the structural discrimination inherent in power sharing between unionist and nationalist blocs against an expanding Alliance party. A centre dominated government not an opposition of the centre, is the prize.
Edwin Poots has said most about the DUPs position. I simply don’t follow him. What’s keeping them? If the DUP are prepared to go back now and negotiate “ in a parallel process” who bears the burden of blame more, the DUP or Sinn Fein?
The voters passed unmistakable critical verdicts both on Sinn Fein’s reasons for continuing the boycott and on the DUP’s reasons for holding out against them. More than ever, the pressure is on the negotiators aided by British and Irish facilitators to reconcile the differences.
We badly need the transparency that either confirms dark suspicions or dispels them.
Straight after Christmas the secretary of state Julian Smith should seek the agreement of the parties to publish the state of play. As in an Agatha Christie whodunnit, the one who hangs back has done the dirty deed. The time for secrecy is over. Let’s have it out and then let the people decide in an election.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London