By Brian Feeney (for the Irish News)
Have you noticed how carefully Bertie Ahern, Tony Blair, Brian Cowen and our own dear proconsul avoid saying the dread sentence, ‘the DUP refuse to share power’, let alone publicly demand of the DUP that they do share power?
Instead we hear that the problem is ‘technical matters’, or ‘institutional issues’ or ‘politics’, or ‘accountability’. Anything to avoid actually putting up the truth to the DUP, the bald truth that they are finally exposed, trapped in a cage of their own making in full view of everyone squabbling with each other about how much bigotry they can get away with.
Contrast the treatment of republicans over the last decade who were asked at every interview no matter whether it was concerned with housing, drainage, or the price of postage, when or whether the IRA was going to surrender its weapons. Meanwhile spokesmen for the UVF whose ceasefire had broken in murderous fashion, mostly against fellow loyalists, were invited on TV and radio to commentate on the political scene.
Let’s be absolutely clear: technical matters, politics, accountability, call it what you will, they are all euphemisms for the reality with which the DUP is now confronted, namely that it has no option but to share power on equal terms with republicans or have no power at all. It was perfectly obvious from the leaks at the weekend that Tony Blair was exasperated with them and now awaits the DUP’s arrival in the 1970s when all British politicians decided there would never again be majority rule in the north. It took 25 years to dawn on the rest of unionists.
They say Dublin and London have pencilled in a date before Halloween for the parties to gather to witness the DUP’s acceptance of reality. If it does arrive at that point it will be an enjoyable spectacle. Watching the likes of Willie McCrea and Ian Og eat crow will be delightful. Especially satisfying will be the final humiliation of Paisley himself, the man who roared ‘Nevaar, Nevaar, Nevaar!’
They’ll all have to speak to Sinn Féin representatives. It’s inevitable. They’ll all have to unsay the nonsense they filled their followers heads with. They’ll have to flip-flop, turn turtle, all the contortions they reviled Trimble for performing because the fact is he had to unsay more than most to inveigle himself into power sharing.
Perhaps that’s why both governments are trying to find words other than power sharing or partnership to describe the present impasse? They’re afraid using those words will mean the DUP won’t be able to eat crow, or at least sufficient crow to enable it to enter an agreed executive. Don’t forget it has to agree to all-Ireland bodies too and sit on the North/South Ministerial Council. What fun.
Is such a turnaround too much too fast? Will the DUP split? You can already see the strains. The fundamentalists in the party who loathe Catholics and nationalists to a degree recognisable in other contexts as racist, will simply not be able to reject the habits of a life-time. For them going into a power-sharing executive would be like de Valera taking the oath in 1927. He found a way round it which split republicanism. What way can Paisley find round doing what he has spent his life avoiding and not be called a Lundy?
While the DUP wrestles with its demons does the nationalist population have to wait? Are nationalists not entitled to the dividends of peace as of right without having to wait for the bigots in the DUP to behave themselves? Look at it another way. For the British government to refuse to move on the whole package until the DUP bigots see the light amounts to giving the DUP bigots a veto on progress. Suppose we reach Halloween and the DUP can’t bring itself to cut a deal because the party might split. Does everything grind to a halt until it does, which may be on the Twelfth of Never?
What does the Irish government have to say about any of this? Is it content to let the British government make the running in every respect?
Does it accept the British analysis that the establishment of political institutions in the north is the only priority? Why can the Taoiseach or a minister of foreign affairs not be as unequivocal about equality and human rights as Tony Blair has been about the arms issue?