Government `vocabulary' must change
Government `vocabulary' must change

By Brian Feeney (for the Irish News)

By now you'll have read the studiously bland communique from Hillsborough that Irish and British officials agreed before Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair met yesterday.

Instead of puzzling over every sentence to ensure the correct tone and balance, they might just as well have released a copy of that traditional English song Keep right on to the end of the road.

It's repetitive but entirely appropriate. Here's the chorus:

Keep right on to the end of the road,
Keep right on to the end,
Tho' the way be long, let your heart be strong,
Keep right on round the bend.

It was composed by Sir Harry Lauder shortly after his son was killed in the First World War and sums up the dogged pointlessness with which both taoiseach and prime minister face the apparently endless political trail facing them.

It's perfectly clear that neither they nor their officials have a clue about what else to do except plod along waiting for either Sinn Féin or the DUP to make a move.

It's equally clear that neither of those parties intends to make a move before the next British general election. Despite Tony Blair's silly assertion that the two governments are not going to wait until an election, both DUP and Sinn Féin will correctly keep their powder dry.

The last 40 years have been punctuated by elections called to suit British politics which have completely wrecked progress here - the two elections in 1974 being the best examples. Why should either party make a major compromise now only for the electorate to punish them in June?

Whispers are beginning that there could even be a British election in October because it's generally agreed that since matters in Iraq can only get worse in the next year, the smart move for Blair would be to cut and run in the autumn rather than wait until May 2005.

Either way both Irish and British governments just have to face the unpalatable truth that the DUP simply can't go into partnership with Sinn Féin in the next year. It's a step too far for their voters.

There is no possibility of Peter Robinson standing on the steps at Stormont beside Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness this side of a general election, perhaps even this side of another assembly election. It's not on.

There are a couple of other facts both premiers chose to ignore yesterday.

First, and most important, most unionists now oppose the Good Friday Agreement and have done since 2002. That's why most unionists voted in 2003 for the DUP and any UUP candidates whose position was barely distinguishable from the DUP's: because those candidates were opposed to the agreement.

Secondly, most unionists prefer direct rule if the alternative is sharing power with Sinn Féin. Dublin and London choose not to accept this simple fact.

Third, the DUP has a mandate to negotiate a new agreement. It's no use Bertie and Blair talking about getting an executive up and running `again'. Their proconsul admitted in Washington last week that even if by some miracle they did resurrect it, it wouldn't last six weeks.

Bertie and Blair need to stop using words like ``again''. You're not going to see an executive in the same format as the one agreed in 1998. Furthermore, the DUP has yet to be reconciled to all-Ireland bodies, the price republicans and nationalists demand for agreeing to share a northern administration.

Finally, if Sinn Féin and the DUP succeed in administering the political coup de grace on their UUP and SDLP rivals in European and general elections, are they going to give them a leg up by establishing an executive on the basis of results in November 2003? No folks.

If Sinn Féin and the DUP cobble together a deal after Paisley has sloughed off his mortal coil it will be their agreement, not one dominated by the UUP and SDLP. It will have to be endorsed by the electorate, and needless to say both Sinn Féin and the DUP hope that the electorate will consign the SDLP and UUP to the dustbin of history.

All of which means that the two governments need a new vocabulary. As predicted here some months ago, they have with astonishing speed already accepted the DUP as born-again democrats full of sweetness and light and the authentic voice of unionism, despite being an extremist party.

They need to end the renewed demonisation of Sinn Féin, for demonising them means demonising the majority of northern nationalists who support them.

The effect of this demonisation of Sinn Féin while smarming over the repellent DUP is equally predictable. A surge in support for Sinn Féin at the polls. Does the old double standard vocabulary make a deal easier?

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