It’s really irritating when you see something on television and then later can’t remember details such as the names of those involved in a discussion. I find myself in that prickly state this morning. Yesterday I watched a programme on BBC News 24 where several guests, including the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee, discussed the impasse in our little North-East Nest and the matter of an Irish Language Act. I can’t remember the name of the presenter or the programme, so you’ll have to take my word that it happened. Or maybe fill in my mental blanks if you saw it.
One major matter in the discussion struck me. There was much attention to the intransigence of the DUP and Sinn Féin, connections between the impasse and Brexit, and talk of the significance of an Irish Language Act for nationalists and republicans. What didn’t get discussed – I don’t think it was even mentioned – was the fact that commitment to an Irish Language Act had been made in the St Andrew’s Agreement, an Agreement signed up to by the British and Irish governments along with Sinn Féin and the DUP.
Why no mention? Because that might have meant the finger of blame being pointed at the British government’. The official line is that our NEN is populated by bellicose paddies who, despite Britain’s best efforts, keep falling out with each other. What should have been made clear in the BBC discussion and wasn’t, was the following sentence of the St Andrew’s Agreement which, as I say, the British and Irish governments, as well as Sinn Féin and the DUP put their names to:
“The [British] Government will introduce an Irish Language Act reflecting on the experience of Wales and Ireland and work with the incoming Executive to enhance and protect the development of the Irish language.”
As you can see, the British government took responsibility for passing an Irish Language Act. All there in black and white. Has it done so? Obviously not. Has this breach of trust been a central part of the discussion about an Irish Language Act? No. Time blame was placed where blame belongs.
If you mention to unionist politicians that the promise of an Irish Language Act is contained in the St Andrews Agreement, as I did to Jamie Bryson last Thursday on BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine Show, the reply will be that this was a side deal between Sinn Féin and the British government, nothing to do with them, they didn’t agree to it. The answer to which is, oh yes you bloody-well did. If you sign an Agreement, you’re agreeing to all the clauses in it. Whether one signatory or another is given responsibility for executing a particular commitment doesn’t take away from the fact that, in signing, you are agreeing to the package of measures therein.
Unionist politicians pride themselves on their straight-dealing, plain-talking approach to matters. The St Andrew’s Agreement exposes this self-preening as sad self-deception. You sign a contract, you are expected to stand by it. The DUP have been ducking and diving to disown responsibility, pointing the finger at the British government; meanwhile the British government have gone down with a severe bout of memory loss, to the point where their St Andrew’s commitment is never even mentioned.
It’s past time that the DUP are reminded what the term ‘good faith’ means, and that the ticking parcel of direct blame was strapped to the British government’s lap.