As Sir Jeffrey emerges with an unexpected answer to Northern Ireland’s dilemmas, so must others…

Brian has it in one. There are no excuses, now the DUP’s great misadventure with an aspirational Brexit they (nor any of their loyalist critics) would never be able to shape or control is at an end.

Their eyes were bigger than their belly, which allowed them to be distracted from their main purpose as an NI Unionist party, which as Jeffrey Donaldson has noted, is to make Northern Ireland work.

I appreciate Frank’s concern about some of the wording of the statutory instruments published in Westminster, but none of that should concern an engaged and confident nationalist leadership.

Nationalism now has what it has agitated for over the last seven years which is an opportunity not just to lead one section of the Northern Irish community, but to be seen to lead all of Northern Ireland.

We can argue (as Sinn Féin has done itself) that there are no actual differences in the powers of each office, but the perception is that the leadership of Northern Ireland is now their gig to retain or lose.

Some of us (including myself) remain sceptical of the party’s willingness (or aptitude) for the task of making it work. Many of their supporters see government as an endless game of Hoops v Gers.

They’re not entirely to blame for adopting that perception. Through the years, the DUP and others have behaved as though Northern Ireland was still the Protestant only state it was at its foundation.

But I sense that many who once held that view have since moved on. If there was significant internal dissent from ratifying this deal now, I suspect it was from fear of a beating from other unionist voices.

Also the fact the whole party has thrown its weigh behind at deal that creates a SF First Minster effectively shoots a long running fox that the DUP simply didn’t want to follow a Nationalist FM.

But more importantly nationalism needs to start tuning in with a little more diligence to the uncomfortable gamble the DUP leader has taken with his own dissenters inside and outwith his party.

Writing in the News Letter today, Arthur Aughey suggests that what’s at play here is a seeing down of a Unionism of perfection from the Centre for the Union by a new form of unionist pragmatism.

I recommend reading the whole thing, but here he notes:

Lee Reynolds wrote recently that unionism requires adaptability. It cannot simply ‘repeat’. That’s especially so when the temptation is to repeat the same old mistakes. Self-interest requires adapting abstract principle to changed circumstances.

In 1985, equal citizenship as resistance helped enthuse a political generation, persuading those who were pro-Union to embrace with confidence unionist politics. Today it is having the opposite effect.

To deploy it as an echo of never, never, never, as the Centre does, does not reflect of the centre of gravity of pro-Union opinion, unlike 1985. It divides rather than unites.

Moreover, it squanders an enormous opportunity. Opinion polls show the project of Irish unity is going nowhere ‘despite Brexit’. The Republic of Ireland is fundamentally unserious about either unity or about Northern Ireland and the majority here remain opposed.

The SNP isn’t going to deliver break-up of the Union any time soon as nationalist commentators predicted. Therefore, proclaiming equal citizenship may be magnificent but it’s vacuous. It would leave local politics in frustrating impotence between two impossibilities: Brexit one and indivisible and Irish unity one and indivisible.

Equal citizenship shouldn’t become (ironically) the mantra of local nationalism, diminishing the appeal of the Union, not expanding it.

What’s happening here (as I read it, you may disagree) is a recognition from unionism that both traditions live in an iterated prisoner’s dilemma in which endless defection brings zero rewards.

Fo those of you not following my logic here I recommend reading Chapter Three in our 2003 pamphlet A Long Peace, called Facing the Dilemma. [For a small donation I’ll send you a hard copy].

I’ll pick this out from the final sections of that chapter:

The final lesson underscores all the others. It is to transform the game by increasing the rewards for cooperation. You enlarge the shadow of the future by creating an expectation that the future will be better than the present.

Success helps keep both friends and enemies close and encourages all participants to judge the system through actions rather than words. And the more people are winning, the easier it becomes to avoid envy.

This deal, the money, and the promise of a better trading future for all the businesses of Northern Ireland regardless of religion or political outlook is a strong opening move. Let’s see if it’s returned?

You need to realize you do have a choice and that choice includes all the results of your every choice. It’s a different song, a different voice than the one you thought kept you safe.

John Kellden

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