With the obscenities that are happening in Gaza, it’s an effort to wrench attention back to our own tormented situation. But wrenched it must be, to listen as Peter Robinson tries to laugh off suggestions he might be pushed from his leader’s perch. It is of course no laughing matter, which is why the DUP are so keen to pin the blame on republicans, and why the Ulster Unionists are even keener to show themselves even deeper not-an-inchers than the DUP. Which poses a problem. What to do if unionist politicians, having rejected Haass in their usual classy way, are now refusing to even sit down and address the problem of flags, parading and the past?
The obvious answer is to call in the co-guarantors. That’s the Irish and British governments. If they see parties failing to live up to their promises, it would seem obvious that they should step in.
Have they? Well er um No. As far back as March 2012 the British and Irish governments signed a Declaration called British-Irish Relations: The Next Decade. They spent much of it looking at the economy, trade, enterprise and energy relations between the two states, along with EU membership. Fair enough. A state’s got to look after its own interests first, find allies where it can. But what did it say about the North? Well here’s Enda on the doorstep of 10 Downing Street in March 2012: “So we have committed ourselves to supporting the Good Friday and the institution and all of that peace process”. Now why do those words make me think that maybe Enda is holding the matter of the north at arm’s length, while his other hand is holding his nose?
But deeds are what matter, not words. So how did Enda do when Haass was here and needing support to get unionism off its backside? Er, ask me another. OK. What did he do when Gerry Adams was arrested and interrogated in the mouth of the recent election? Well there’s no documented proof that he shouted “Gotchyayahooryah!” but likewise no proof that he didn’t. He certainly didn’t express disapproval at what looked like an attempt to influence the outcome of an election, especially if he figured it might start votes flowing his way. So when I hear Enda talking about “all of that peace process”, I get worried because those sound like the comments of a man who wishes the north would just go away so he can concentrate on his own problems.
And the British government? Well we know that the Tories have made one botched attempt to shack up with the Ulster Unionists (UCUNF and all that). Now Cameron’s turned to the DUP. Had them round to Downing Street for tea and crumpets, to show how much he likes them, just in case he needs their support in a tight corner after the next general election.
In his statement on the No 10 doorstep after signing the document with Enda in 2012, Cameron said (oh God, I’m not sure I can do this without feeling a bit retchy): “Enda and I are determined not to just roll back on our heels at this moment but actually to roll up our sleeves and really make the relationship mean even more”. Which means what? Why, being “good partners in the European Union” and pushing for “pro-growth, pro-enterprise, pro-trade policies”.
And Enda? “I want to echo the Prime Minister’s comments here. The fact that we signed a declaration today and have signed it speaks of the future relationship between Ireland and Britain, which is at an unprecedentedly cooperative and very high level, covering a whole range of a spectrum here, from business to trade, to economics, to politics, and as the Prime Minister himself remarked, family ties, which is included in the declaration.”
George Orwell used to say you could tell the clarity of thought through noting the clarity of a person’s speech. What a pity he never met Enda.
And what a greater pity that the British and Irish governments, instead of mouthing platitudes and snuggling up to each other, haven’t intervened in the North. Haven’t rolled up sleeves and banged those heads that require banging, so that the Good Friday Agreement of which they are co-guarantors is fully implemented. Not next year. Not before Christmas. Now.