Well, I must admit I read this morning’s announcement that a crisis last night (that nobody seems to have known about) was narrowly averted, with some surprise. Did anyone else know there had been an actual crisis over nominations today?
Well, that post midnight meeting with the SoS gave Sinn Fein the perfect opportunity to run to the press and get their story out first. However, some of the early claims of what the SoS said fall very far short of what was agreed in reality.
Gareth Gordon provides a fuller picture…
When Arlene Foster stood down as first minister on Monday, Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill also lost her position as deputy first minister because the roles are a joint office. They then had seven days to nominate replacements.
Mr Poots had named Mr Givan as its pick to replace Mrs Foster, while Sinn Féin said Ms O’Neill would resume her post as deputy first minister.
But Sinn Féin had wanted commitments from the DUP over a timetable for implementing Irish language legislation, as set out in the New Decade, New Approach deal that restored power sharing in January 2020.
The party said this was not forthcoming, and it called on Mr Lewis to bring in Irish language legislation via Westminster.
Now, here’s the (major) difference between the SF spin (which seems to have thrown the press in the wrong direction and completely freaked the DUP parliamentary party) and what the SoS actually said:
…following my intensive negotiations with the parties over the last few days, I can confirm that if the executive has not progressed legislation by the end of September, the UK government will take the legislation through Parliament in Westminster.” [Emphasis added]
He added, no more, and no less than that already agreed. So, what does he mean by legislation? Thankfully, Robbie Meredith did the hard work (so we didn’t have to) of detailing what it actually is the Secretary of State is threatening to do:
…while there is proposed new legislation on Irish and Ulster-Scots, it comes in the form of amendments to the existing Northern Ireland Act, 1998, rather than in the form of a new stand-alone act.
There’s no act, because the previous agreement (despite multiple claims to the contrary in the mainstream media) does not contain any promises for one. What SF agreed to was for there not to be an Acht na Gaeilge.
However, it’s a reflection of just how hair-trigger mainstream politics has become that the reporting threw the DUP into such a panic with their MPs making a show of themselves over something that turned out to have little substance.
No political crises for the whole of a real international crisis (the real reason the agreement on language legislation has not yet been acted upon), followed by non crisis and then a second leaving the FM and his party looking very foolish indeed.
Still, the public won’t get the subtlety of the situation, and so Sinn Féin will be awarded another tribal slam dunk without actually putting a ball through any hoop. (BTW, don’t hold your breath on Westminster doing anything by September).
But, yeah, let’s not go there, because that’s a whole other story…
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