AP front Issue 2 - 2021 - 200dpi

17 September 2009 Edition

Resize: A A A Print

The Mitchel McLaughlin Column

Mitchel McLaughlin

Mitchel McLaughlin

Leadership test for the DUP

COMING towards the close of the last Assembly session there were tentative signs that Peter Robinson was intent on making partnership government work. It seemed that he was recognising the folly of permitting Jim Allister to set the DUP agenda.
But after a five-week holiday in Florida it would appear that Peter has succumbed to the David Trimble syndrome of looking over his shoulder. Instead of being reinvigorated and showing positive leadership, Peter Robinson has clearly lost his nerve and delivered a speech that can only encourage Jim Allister to believe that he can eventually force the DUP to retreat from the power-sharing Executive.
It is probable that Robinson knows what he has to do but is unwilling to face down the anti-power-sharing sentiment within unionism. Indeed, he has capitulated to those within the DUP who have already begun fighting the Westminster election on a rejectionist platform.
Every unionist leader since Terence O’Neill has fallen victim to the politics of fear: fear of those who fear change, fear that change will lead to constitutional change, and fear of being the leader who presides over the demise of unionism.
I would encourage the DUP leader to face political reality.
There are equality and power-sharing safeguards in the Good Friday Agreement precisely because of the abuse of power as exercised by unionism over many generations. The DUP, following St Andrew’s, have formally signed up to these safeguards. And, whatever the fantasies harboured by rejectionist unionists, there is no going back.
Therefore it would be advisable for unionists to face up to the fact that they can no longer stop the natural progression towards political, economic and social integration.
However, unionists do not do democracy, equality or power-sharing unless confronted by an inescapable requirement to do so.
The dependency of unionism on the British Government to defend their interests has always been naive and misplaced. Republicans have not shirked from pointing this out to the unionist community. We do so to encourage unionism to consider the benefits and opportunities of identifying with the people of Ireland as the basis of a secure and democratic future.
The weakness in Peter Robinson’s argument for change to the power-sharing fundamentals of the Good Friday Agreement is a hankering for a unionist dominance of the political agenda. But this is a proposed return to the failure of politics that led inexorably to discrimination, division and conflict in past years.
The protections of the Good Friday Agreement will endure because that is the will of the people of Ireland and also because such provisions will guarantee that the process of resolving our differences, including the different opinions on Irish unity, will be resolved solely by peaceful and democratic persuasion.
The Good Friday Agreement contains the formula for peaceful and democratic transition to a new and fair constitutional dispensation.
If the DUP are genuinely confident in their pronouncements that the Union is safe, I challenge them to enter into the spirit and letter of both the Good Friday Agreement and St Andrew’s by demonstrating their willingness to work the institutions on the basis of equality while entering into an open and public debate on the constitutional question.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1