Time for DUP to accept the game’s up


By Brian Feeney (for Irish News)

‘We wanted to see a new executive formed’, Arlene Foster told the press on Monday.

Disingenuous but really, what an idiotic remark. Of course that’s what she wanted.

So that the DUP could return to Stormont as was. So that people laughingly called ministers could continue to throw money at Orange halls and the UDA and paint out signs in Irish.

At no point in Foster’s remarks did she address any of the serious matters that caused the collapse of the Stormont institutions or what she would do to remedy the problems.

You might think she doesn’t get it but Foster knows fine well what the problems were and continue to be and she knows rightly that forming an executive is not Sinn Fein’s priority.

Mind you, she’s not alone. From repeated statements by both our hapless proconsul and his equally ineffective Irish counterpart and the tame media you would think reinstating a dysfunctional executive is not just a desirable, but the only, objective.

It’s not. If Sinn Fein had returned to office there would have been a howl of outrage from nationalist voters who streamed out to vindicate Sinn Fein’s decision to bring the whole edifice to the floor.

How many times have Sinn Fein leaders said, ‘There will be no return to the status quo’ and, ‘It will not be business as usual’? Either you believe them or you don’t.

If you don’t, you’re living in cloud cuckoo land. Sinn Fein endured a rising crescendo of indignation from their supporters in recent years, culminating last autumn, so they know they daren’t return without a major sea change in the DUP’s attitude and concrete evidence of a firm purpose of amendment. Probably they can stop short of a full act of contrition from Foster.

The talks were a shambles. There was no agenda, no structure, no plenary sessions and we know whose fault that is - our proconsul’s.

It should also be said the minor parties were complicit in that shambles, a demonstration of how pathetic they are.

Why did no-one in the SDLP or UUP or Alliance party go public a fortnight ago and say what wasn’t happening?

Instead they wheedled around the DUP and Sinn Fein wringing their hands, trying to find out what was happening among the big boys. They’re surplus to requirements. What are they for?

Just as pathetic were the Irish and British governments. As Bertie Ahern reminded the BBC on Monday, the evidence of the past 25 years shows that progress is only made when it’s ‘brokered by the two governments’.

Instead the two governments stood at arms length like the irrelevant minor parties. Remember the impasse on justice and policing in 2010 when Depooty Dawds said policing wouldn’t be devolved “in a political lifetime”?

Enter Brian Cowen and Gordon Brown and it’s done in a fortnight despite a mini revolt in the DUP.

There are two other important points that need to be borne in mind.

First, Martin McGuinness’s resignation letter outlining his reasons for pulling down the executive, citing crass DUP bigotry and their refusal to embrace equality, mutual respect and the all-Ireland dimensions of the Good Friday Agreement. Sinn Fein must achieve delivery on those objectives McGuinness laid out or stand accused of betraying his memory.

Secondly, it seems the DUP are too narrow-minded to realise that the terms of trade in politics have changed. That means it’s in their interests in make a deal now from a position of strength before they slip into powerless minority.

For example, it’s in their interest to maintain the petition of concern because in six or seven years they might need it badly if they don’t learn to behave. The same is true of other safeguards originally designed to protect nationalists. As a dwindling minority in the known universe the remaining unionists would be well advised to hang on to them.

Conor Murphy’s right. In a few years, when all the agreements made since 2006 have been honoured - Irish language, pro-active engagement in all-Ireland bodies, funding for inquests, dealing with the past, etc. - people will wonder what all the foot-dragging was about.

Still, it will only happen when the DUP accept that the game’s up.

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