Tuesday, April 28, 2009


April 28th 09


President Obama is one hundred days in the White House. Early days indeed but already the record of his administration is being scrutinised by the media and by political commentators. Things on this little island move much more slowly.

Next month will mark two years since the establishment of the power sharing government involving Sinn Féin and the DUP and the other parties. That’s the longest period that the political institutions have been functioning since the old Stormont regime was stood down in 1972.

The deal which led to this development between Sinn Féin and the DUP, at that time led by Ian Paisley, was recognised as a historic step forward. And it was. Even if I say so myself.

Few thought it possible and many thought, and some hoped, that it would not last. But it has.

Of course working with the DUP is not easy. Remember this is a party established 40 years ago to oppose Civil Rights; a party which set its face against power sharing.

This is a party which pledged to smash Sinn Féin.

This is the party that wouldn’t take its seats at the Executive table the last time the institutions were in place and which wouldn’t attend all-Ireland Ministerial meetings.

Where is it today?

For the past two years the DUP has been at the Executive table; attending all-Ireland meetings; in government with Sinn Fein, and sharing the office of First and deputy First with Sinn Féin as equals.

And their leaders are to be commended for this.

But let’s be clear about it all.

Like the Afrikaaners some unionists continue to oppose change.

Over a decade ago, when we achieved the Good Friday Agreement, I said that it would be a battle a day making the institutions work.

Working and negotiating with the DUP is very like that. In private they can be courteous, good humoured and engaging - when they engage.

In public, for some of them, it’s a different matter entirely. For them, it’s all about fighting the good fight against the rest of us. Even if they do have to go out of their way to pick a fight or the pretence of a fight.

And that is the reality. Of course there are real and fundamental differences between us but with some of their representatives these fights are sham fights – more style than substance. They also have this really wearisome habit of couching their positions in the most negative way possible. No, Nay Never is a chorus line most favoured by their spin doctors. And for some their publicity is no more than a litany of outlandish claims about all the things they claim to have staunchly prevented Sinn Féin from doing.

Maybe they have worked out that this is the line the unionist constituency wants to hear. Maybe it reflects their own insecurities. Maybe they really believe it. Who knows? Who can tell? Is this heaven or is this hell? Anyone for the last few choc ices?

Clearly the DUP is closer to grassroots unionists than me but I fancy somehow that positive leadership is as necessary in that constituency as in any other one. On the other hand I suppose it depends on what you mean by positive. What sounds negative to the rest of us may be very positive in the acoustics of DUP land.

Anyway notwithstanding all of this, or any of it, the DUP are where they are. They are reluctant partners. They don’t like equality. They don’t like democracy. They don’t like being part of a system which they cannot dominate. But they are, to repeat myself, where they are. And that’s a good thing. And it’s two years on. And that’s also a good thing.

But it’s not good enough just to have functioning, if fledgling, institutions. They also have to deliver. On the economy. In the battle against poverty. Against sectarianism. For equality. The Irish language. Policing. All Ireland matters. And on all the other issues which are important to citizens.

So, one of our tasks is to keep working with the DUP and other unionists because we believe that they are capable of doing bigger and better things.

And I, for one, two years on, really believe this.
So this dimension of our work is about dialogue, good neighbourliness, consensus building. It is about eradicating sectarianism. It is about making friends with unionists. It is about nation building.

Our responsibility is to work the agreement and to build on it in the future.

That means engaging with unionism on every aspect of it.

It means pointing out to them that the main principles are their legal guarantees of fair treatment in a new shared Ireland.

Most unionists are persuaded of the merits of all Ireland co-operation and partnership. They know it makes sense.

We also need to persuade them of the logic and good sense of Irish unity.

This blog knows that that is a mighty challenge.

We are back with that great Protestant patriot Wolfe Tone. Genuine democrats and thinking republicans, will recognise the validity and wisdom at this time, of Tone’s great call for the unity of Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter. That my friends is what this is all about.


Ed Feighan said...

Hi Gerry, Another fine blog and another topic on unity that years ago was impossible to think about. Today that high mountain to climb seems doable with the strategy Sinn Fein has laid out. A few years ago I had second thoughts when I had the opportunity to sit in on the town meeting on the Falls road when Arlene Foster started off the night telling the audience she was born in West Belfast and her mother was born in West Belfast and that she was proud to be british. That is the kind of leadership of the DUP you have to persuade that leaving the United Kingdom is good for all the people.A big task but within reach with your leadership. E.F.

Mama T said...

Well said!

Anonymous said...

What is the Sinn Fein strategy for the Irish language?

Kate said...

Keep up the good, yet hard work.

Ta ar la anois


Maire said...

I continue to be educated & inspired by your blog. Years of cultural bigotry and ignorance is a very hard thing to overcome. When I was growing up, my Mother had a great intolerance towards bigotry, always explaining to us what it was like to grow up as a minority in West Belfast. This has had a great impact on me, it helped to foster a strong belief in equality. I cannot express the happiness my family feels in Belfast, to finally be living in a place where true equality is within their grasp. Maybe someday, the people who support the DUP will realize how they were culturally raped of their heritage by a government that divided its people in their own birth country. Just a very humble simplistic opinion.
Take care~

Linda Coleman said...

Thanks for the update on the St. Andrews Agreement; as always, I'm inspired by your patience throughout this protracted power-sharing peace process.

I'm borrowing this one of your thoughts for a letter I'm writing to a Senator (a Democrat) who's standing in the way of universal health care over here: "But it’s not good enough just to have functioning, if fledgling, institutions. They also have to deliver." (He's claiming universal health care is "not on the agenda," so I'll start by offering helpful suggestions on how to add items to the agenda, and conclude with a variation of your thought, that it's not good enough just to win the majority, now they have to deliver).

Timothy Dougherty said...

Wonderful post Gerry,
Outward, for centuries, flowed the tide of British Empire; back, in hurried decades,it ebbed,Of course, there is always a witness to the crime.In still the marbled citadels of fantasy and opulence remain.The politics leads us through the Gates of history into the Kingdom of Hope.

Ideally, the politician should combine the integrity and wisdom of Solomon , the supreme physical agility of an acrobat,and the imperturbability of Buddha.In the end the politician tells us: all things may change us, but we start and end with the family.As times change, you want to really revere your heredity, but you don’t want to be a shrine. A good strategy Gerry.

Seán Mór said...

Tá sé go deas a bheith ag caint agus ag comhoibriú leis na haontachtaithe, a Ghearóid, agus aontaím leis sin, ach tá cuid mhór poblachtánaithe ag cailliúint dóchais sa phróiseas seo... níl aon dul chun cinn á dhéanamh (seachas ar cheist an Scrúdú Aistrithe).

Tigh Tadhg said...

Fair play Gerry, very good post. I also read Martin McGuinness' address on Irish Unity. I am a Fianna Fáil supporter but in recent years have felt that they are not doing enough for Irish unity. Sure they have their pensions, why rock the boat. But while I continue to be concerned about Sinn Féin's ability to lead a government on other issues such as the economy, I whole heartidly agree with your visions. We are on the path, obviously they will want to hold on to power, but all-Ireland institutions are vital to Ireland. I feel if we can make these work then Unionist's might start to see that an island united is more favorable. We must make a effort to understand them and accept them as Irishmen even if they don't feel it themselves. Like you say Tone was a great Protestant Irish Republican. For me, I believe we should work towards 1/ strengthening All-Ireland Institutions, introducing island-wide healthcare, policing. 2/ Then work towards the north breaking away from the UK while not yet joining the republic; i believe this is achievable, the unionists aren't ready to be a one island republic in name yet, but through this with all-island institutions we would be a long way towards unification. 3/ maintain the shared government in the north with stronger connections to Dublin. 4/ eventual political reunification. I don't believe Britain will give the north to the republic, we have to work on the ground to create favorable conditions which I think your doing. The problem is those Unionists are scared they will lose power, and they will, and rightly so, they do not represent Irish people (Island wide), so while you have these old fella's in government they will be stubborn and hard to work with.

saz2020 said...

It seems to me that, for people who term themselves 'British' unionists are fairly blind to what's happening over here on the big island. The 'union' was established for the benefit of the wealthy and powerful in order to maximise their wealth and power. It has always been of limited benefit to the ordinary people of both these islands and is now largely irrelavent. We have nationalist parties in government in all of the devolved administrations and a rapidly growing movement for recognition of Englishness as a separate entity from Britishness. The union is doomed and few, except those whose power is dependant on it, will mourn its passing. I think that eventually the DUP will have to realise that they are better off engaging with the island of Ireland than an increasingly fragmented union. Gerry I'm looking forward to Sinn Fein's conference in Britain (I'm hoping that its gonna be in England!) next year.