Now that the DUP have finally outlined the dividend they have negotiated in return for supporting a ‘confidence-and-supply’ arrangement with the Conservatives, or at least the non-subversive elements of it (which don’t state how they will undermine the legacy backlog), the public focus has inevitably shifted towards the status of the talks process to revive the ailing Assembly. In the Sunday papers, it was speculated that Mrs. Foster could take up a senior position for the UK government, negotiating the Brexit arrangement, which would facilitate the Sinn Fein demand that she will not be First Minister until and unless she is cleared of any potential wrongdoing in the RHI debacle. So, if a deal is reached, then an alternative candidate for First Minister will have to be agreed upon in the interim period; but what, crucially, of the talks themselves? What should a deal encompass?
There have been heated calls from a number of quarters over this past while, pressing Sinn Fein to return to the Executive as quickly as possible. The member for West Belfast, Mr Gerry Carroll, suggested stopping the wages of MLAs who could not reach an agreement, some time ago; Colum Eastwood has taken to the media routinely to lament the perceived ‘stalemate’ of the whole ordeal. And the British and Irish governments have repeatedly criticised the collapse of the institutions, having been brought up in Dail debates as a point of negative indignation. All of these people involved in perpetuating this ongoing chorus of how important the existence of an Assembly is seem to gloss over the substantial underlying issues that brought it to breaking point in the first place. Would they themselves tolerate it on their own watches? Would they welcome the continuing of a government of disunity and consistent disrespect, coming overwhelmingly from the Unionist side?
So, in relation to the North, I quote Theresa May – ‘’No deal is better than a rotten deal.’’ On that basis, maybe Colum Eastwood and Gerry Carroll don’t have a strong political bottom-line or a faithful electorate to deliver on behalf of; because if what they are suggesting is a return to what we had before the collapse, dolling up the status quo to look a bit prettier, then why did they want an inquiry into the scandal to begin with? Why were they such fierce critics of that system when it was in place? Why did they walk out of the Assembly when they did, only to want to establish it again before any clarity or solutions have been garnered? You noticeably could not trust nor send either of those two to the market to negotiate the price of salmon, let alone the livelihoods of the electorate. Both are proverbial ‘’chancers’’, whom the Unionists could press into selling the Nationalist people’s interests down the river. If they want to get into bed with the DUP, minus any changes or safeguards in place, then they do so at their own peril; for the public are still disgusted at how their money was brutally squandered.
There are members of the DUP, who following the General Election result with the Tories, have publicly articulated that Sinn Fein will now be running with their tail between their legs to kick-start devolution; they believe they are in the driver’s seat now. Capitulating to that, without any fundamental modifications to the way Stormont operated previously, would not only be politically damaging within the Assembly, but would be an act of electoral self-harm on a grand scale. Put simply, people in both the Nationalist and wider community are sick of the legislative bigotry and corruption which Unionism has perpetrated against the best-wishes of the overwhelming majority of citizens here. Victims and Survivors of state-murder need answers. The LGBT community requires respect, not petitions of concern. And the public demand accountability regarding the way in which their money is spent. These are modest and reasonable features of a normal parliamentary ‘’democracy’’, within any civilised society. But ‘’Northern Ireland’’ is not a normal parliamentary democracy, it is a state imposed on us until a sufficient number of Irish people, and that is happening as we speak, wake up to the prospect of terminating it.
Now I don’t like the idea of a return to Direct Rule, but unless sufficient changes are secured to break with the old order, then it may prove an inevitability in time. If it comes to that, the Tories will be under so much international and domestic scrutiny that the DUP will find it exceptionally difficult to exercise any leverage over political decisions made locally here, in the North itself, by Direct Rule Ministers. The Irish government will have to be routinely consulted on all such matters, working the Anglo-Irish Agreement which the DUP so bitterly opposed. The Americans have already and will continue to intervene accordingly. The EU also will also have a dog in this fight. All culminating in a climate of political hysteria which will render the Unionist-Tory arrangement worthless in the face of anything but Westminster budgets and votes-of-confidence in Mrs. May’s weak and dying administration.
There are many out there who feel exhausted by the slow pace of change. Some are disillusioned that their political representatives appear not to be able to ‘’agree on anything’’. But the question I put to you is this – What is politics really about? Why do we have elections? Of course it is important to listen, but it is vital at such a given moment to lead. And to lead in a way which makes it abundantly clear that there can be no U-Turns on core demands. It is all or nothing from here.
For there is absolutely no merit in seizing the moment to overthrow an old order and form a new, while maintaining the dubious elements that preceded its original demise. Reducing the ‘rotten boroughs’ to a proportionate constituency size to the population may have forever ended the perpetual Unionist majority, but it has not inhibited the parliamentary Unionist veto over many things. Politics, in its tooth and claw form, is the clash of competing ideas; the ability to adopt policies, amend policies, change men who adopt policies. No arena calling itself ‘’democratic’’ will ever establish full consensus on all areas of statecraft, so it is a constructive and splendid sight to behold for elected representatives to battle it out on behalf of their constituents. This is a collateral fight over who will fold first, and I’m not up for a game of bluff.
We, as a society, must accelerate the move forward and no longer settle for regression backwards or pausing on the road to reconciling all aspects of Irish life. However long it takes, we are at a cross-roads power struggle between equality and intolerance. What you must focus on is not the rhetoric or media semantics, but the bread and butter outcome for you, your family and your community – And pertinently, who is fighting to deliver it. If there are no sizeable changes, there should be no Stormont.