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5 February 2018

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No Return to the Status Quo

"The idea that the DUP have blocked an Acht na Gaeilge from being implemented for so long is difficult to comprehend. But Sinn Féin’s decision to hold strong, and hold the DUP to account gives me hope we will soon see an Acht na Gaeilge implemented."

It’s been over one year since the Stormont power sharing executive was collapsed by then deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness when he resigned. Martin at the time said there can be ‘no return to the status quo’. These words have since been on the minds of republicans and other progressives when Sinn Féin is challenged on maintaining our position.

But what is the status quo and why must there be no return to it? This refers to the long period in which the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) backed up by the British state systemically denied rights to communities right across the North.

Acht na Gaeilge would enshrine the rights of Gaeilgeoirí and the place of the Irish language community within society. To contextualise how little respect Unionism holds for the Irish language, an Irish language act included in the St Andrew's Agreement in 2006 but has yet to be implemented. 

The idea that the DUP have blocked an Acht na Gaeilge from being implemented for so long is difficult to comprehend. But Sinn Féin’s decision to hold strong, and hold the DUP to account gives me hope we will soon see an Acht na Gaeilge implemented.

Marriage equality on the other hand was passed by a vote in Stormont but the DUP blocked it using the petition of concern. This mechanism was originally set up under the Good Friday Agreement as a method of protecting minorities, but instead the DUP has used it as a means of blocking civil rights for the LGB&T community.

When Stormont collapsed many within mainstream media and political groups claimed the ‘centre ground’ have perpetuated the simplistic narrative that the collapse is due to sectarian bickering from Sinn Féin and the DUP followed by a call for a return to Stormont.

This lazy narrative ignores the fact the DUP are refusing to implement agreements previously agreed. The centre ground pushes this narrative because their politics is a politics that lacks principle and backbone. They fail to grasp that returning to Stormont without implementation previous agreements and a Bill of Rights means the continued discrimination of the nationalist and LGBT community. In the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, "if you stay neutral in cases of injustice you have taken the side of the oppressor".

A Stormont without these agreements implemented also brings the entire good Friday Agreement itself into question. The Good Friday Agreement cannot become a pick and choose arrangement for Unionists.

However, the good news from the current impasse is that progressive elements of the public have also rallied behind the idea of no return to the status quo. Organisations like ‘An Dream Dearg’ have mobilized thousands for demonstrations in Belfast and drawn large crowds from right across the island. The annual pride marches have seen drastic increases in recent years as the demand for marriage equality across the 6 counties grows too. 

This combination of social movement, street protest and political support in the form of Sinn Féin is a winning tactic as shown by Brazil’s ‘Landless Workers Movement’ and the left leaning political group ‘The Workers Party’

So, where do you stand, do you stand with the DUP in denying basic rights? Do you stand with the ‘centre ground’ in labelling it all as sectarian? Or do you stand with the LGBT community, Gaelige speakers, progressives and Sinn Féin in saying no return to the status quo?

Matthew McLaughlin-Widaw is a 19 year old Sinn Féin member from Donegal. He's the youth officer for Donegal Sinn Féin comhairle ceantar, and regularly writes on Republicanism, Internationalism and Socialism on his blog: https://redrepublicansite.wordpress.com

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