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20 March 2008 Edition

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The Mitchel McLaughlin Column

Could we be approaching a ‘Battle a Day’?

Ever since Ian Paisley announced his intention to stand down in May we have been subjected to much speculation about the relationship between Sinn Féin and the DUP.
Some say the absence of Paisley will finally deliver the ‘Battle a Day’ that was predicted following the initial agreement by the two larger parties to form a power sharing government. If recent events are the hallmark then there could be some justification for believing that we are entering what could well turn out to be a very rocky period.
Contrary to expectations following the formation of the Executive last 8  May, Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley succeeded in building a sound working relationship. A feat that confounded the cynics! Politics began to deliver and the people’s confidence in the Institutions grew.
Unfortunately, the DUP Leadership’s attitude has not reflected the confidence of the general public. They continue to look over their shoulders at the likes of Jim Allister, the UUP and a sizeable minority of backwoodsmen and women in their own ranks. The result of the Dromore by-election and Allister’s showing undermined the confidence of those within the DUP who want the political institutions to succeed.
The timing of Paisley’s decision to quit was obviously influenced by this result compounding the controversy surrounding Paisley Junior, which this built up within the party.
The focus now turns to the next leader and what approach he (and it most certainly will be a he) will take in his public relationship with Sinn Féin in general and Martin McGuinness in particular. It seems that unless there is some unforeseen revelation,  Peter Robinson will succeed Paisley as the new DUP leader. In a transparent attempt to influence the style of the new leadership and to ward off any attempted challenge from the ‘no change brigade’ there has been a hardening of the rhetoric coming from Ministers and senior spokespersons.
Hence the offensive utterances by Edwin Poots and others on the Irish language, the transparently sectarian attitude displayed by Sammy Wilson and his acolytes to Catríona Ruane’s education strategy, particularly Irish medium education, the developing controversy surrounding the Long Kesh Stadium/Conflict Transformation Centre, the International Women’s Day event in commemoration of Mairéad Farrell etc. Therefore, it’s imperative that in the coming months we display firm leadership.
We have our own agenda; we have issues that we have to deliver on for the people who elected us and for the wider electorate. The DUP and our other political opponents will just have to accept that we are not going away, nor will we be silent. There will be an Irish Language Act. There will be a stadium at Long Kesh or none at all. There will be transfer of policing and justice powers and there will be a total reform of the education system – the question is not if but when. If it takes a ‘Battle a Day’ then so be it.

An Phoblacht Magazine


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