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2 October 2017 Edition

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It’s make your mind up time for political unionism

• DUP leader Arlene Foster is wrong in claiming an Irish Language Act is a bid to humiliate unionism

SINN FÉIN’S strategic project is to transform Irish society. Equality, rights and inclusion are essential to that process.

The political institutions in the North are required to make positive change in the lives of citizens.

The election of the Tories in Britain in 2010 provided those most hostile to the Good Friday Agreement within the DUP and political unionism to push back against the democratic transformation of the North.

The ongoing crisis is the culmination of successive financial scandals associated with the DUP, the failure to implement past agreements, the rejection of proper power-sharing and partnership, and the failure to reciprocate significant gestures of reconciliation.

The integrity of the political institutions has been eclipsed by the DUP’s hostility towards the Bill of Rights, an Irish Language Act, marriage equality and issues such as anti-poverty and racial equality strategies, tackling sectarianism, or dealing with the past.

These have defined the DUP’s mindset towards working in the Executive and Assembly.

Rights and respect

It’s now 50 years since the civil rights movement campaigned for a modest programme of democratic reforms in the North. Political unionism and the Northern state literally beat that agenda off the streets.

Last March and June, people gave their verdict on that reality.

They ended the political and electoral majority of political unionism in the Northern state and called time on the corruption of the political process.

The message was that the majority of citizens in the North are not prepared to be governed under terms set by the DUP or to go back to the status quo.

The democratic basis of the Good Friday Agreement and St Andrews Agreement are now under threat. That has been escalated with the fall-out from Brexit and the formalising of the Tory/DUP alliance after the Westminster general election in June.

The political institutions will only work if they are re-established on the basis of rights and respect to make them sustainable.

The DUP has recycled the notion of a parallel process being activated. That’s simply code for putting things back up as they were before.

The DUP leader repeated that she wants the Executive set up ‘tomorrow’ to deal with the problems bearing down on our public services due to Tory austerity.

If the DUP cannot embrace proper power-sharing and a rights-based approach to government, how is it going to tackle these other massive economic and social challenges (especially bearing in mind the DUP is now politically compromised in its support for Tory austerity policies)?

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•  The DUP is both emboldened and compromised by its alliance with the Tory Government at Westminster

Missing the point

Since the summer, the DUP, the Ulster Unionist Party and extremists in political unionism, supported by senior Orange Order figures have ramped up political opposition to an Irish Language Act with the incendiary rhetoric of ‘cultural war’ and ‘supremacy’.

DUP leader Arlene Foster has said that the Irish language threatens no one but she also suggested an Irish Language Act is an attempt to humiliate unionism and the British way of life.

That comment is as offensive as it is blinkered. It also gives the game away that the DUP leader’s offer of a parallel process is meaningless as she has made it clear the DUP has no intention of resolving the issues which led to the collapse of the Assembly.

The DUP leadership is completely missing the point.

An Irish Language Act is about more than freestanding language legislation, albeit an essential requirement. The implementation of an Act is central to parity of esteem and proper, official acceptance of the Irish national identity in the North of Ireland.

There is also an Irish way of life in the North of Ireland, one which has been and continues to be ridiculed and disrespected by senior DUP figures, among others.

The reason we need an Irish Language Act with official recognition and protections is that the Irish language is an indigenous language which has been persecuted and almost obliterated by the British state.

Equality-based 

What has now been brought directly into focus is whether political unionism can accept and co-exist in partnership with the Irish cultural tradition and Irish nationalist and republican identity.

The only way this can be achieved is through the implementation of the equality-based framework of the Good Friday Agreement to guarantee the rights of all citizens and sections of society, regardless of creed, culture, colour, class, political allegiance, or sexual orientation.

That is what the British and Irish governments agreed and the electorate endorsed at the ballot box in 1998.

Nothing less than that minimum standard is acceptable in the 21st century state.

Fifty years on from the Civil Rights campaign, the rights and equality agenda must not be shortchanged. The days of anyone using the political institutions here to show disrespect and contempt for, to sneer at or to deny rights are over.

It’s now ‘make your mind up time’ for political unionism.

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