6 June 2021
A last throw of the dice for the DUP to make the right decisions? - Declan Kearney
"More bad decisions by the DUP will further diminish public confidence in the effectiveness of power sharing and the political process in the north. Citizens will no longer tolerate political institutions which do not realise their social, economic and political expectations or aspirations" - Declan Kearney
The DUP has been at the centre of much media and political comment in recent weeks, both north and south.
Within it all there’s a widely held view the DUP is not serious about living and working in partnership and mutual respect, with a substantial section of this society.
Huge questions exist about its future commitment to implementing proper power-sharing.
If the DUP is to be assessed by its record to date, within the political institutions, and particularly in the period from August 2013 onwards, then there is cause for concern.
The last ten years of politics in the north has been associated with DUP bad decisions, broken commitments, and its overall political brand, which is the anathema to a modern democratic society.
As a party it has lost the confidence of the vast majority in this society, and among wider public opinion nationally, and in Britain.
That reality has been strongly reinforced by the inflammatory language from senior DUP politicians, and disproportionate influence of unionist extremists, which have once again whipped up tensions and provoked renewed political instability.
By extension, in an attempt to outflank other unionist rivals, the DUP has brought a chaos plan into the midst of the political institutions.
The Irish Protocol has been seized on as a pseudo justification for these actions.
With the next scheduled Assembly election in May 2022, it is obvious that the DUP’s only priority is to stay dominant within unionism. Hence, for example, the renewed emphasis by the party’s senior figures on outreach to unionist paramilitary organisations.
Political unionism, and the DUP particularly, is in a state of disarray, due mainly to the self inflicted consequences of their reckless support for Brexit, and the inevitable, calamitous consequences which have been created. The coup against the DUP leader five weeks ago is a direct result.
Brexit, the fallout from the Protocol, and impacts of the pandemic, have fundamentally realigned politics in the north.
In the centenary year of Ireland's partition, the political discourse is now dominated by a momentum for Irish unity.
The prospect of an eventual unity referendum provides a choice for citizens - between a union with an increasingly unstable, inward looking, Tory dominated, Brexit Britain - or the opportunity to be part of a new, outward looking, modern, pluralist Ireland.
Many have decided that their interests will be better served in a new Irish constitutional democracy; others are now giving such a scenario very serious consideration, as an alternative to the current status quo.
The DUP's record of bad decisions, flawed leadership, and lack of progressive vision has also alienated many within civic unionism.
Unionism is in flux.
A new leader who speaks liberal language has been selected to lead the smaller Ulster Unionist Party. But he opposes an Irish language act. Such a position is incompatible with equality, and the fresh approach to politics he claims to represent on behalf of his party.
And, the DUP will also have a new leadership line up.
The intentions of this group towards power sharing are uncertain. We will know soon enough.
But this much is crystal clear: Good government; effective public services; urgent improvements to our beleaguered health service; and, meeting other key priorities, will not be sustainable in the absence of a commitment to proper power sharing, and adherence to, and implementation of, the Good Friday and all successor agreements.
The appointment of a new DUP First Minister is not a zero sum decision.
There are wider issues at stake.
Democrats and progressives in the north have clear expectations which must be met; including, an Irish language act; functioning north/south ministerial bodies and processes; commitment to rights-based public policy priorities; development of the GAA Casement stadium; delivery of the Maze/Long Kesh project; and resolution of outstanding legacy issues through the Stormont House Agreement.
The DUP has to stop stalling, frustrating and blocking delivery on these obligations.
Sinn Féin wants this power sharing Executive to deliver on housing, economic growth, and new capacity in the health service.
- Sinn Féin's historic housing plan set out in October 2021 by then Communities Minister Carál Ní Chuilín
Our party has brought forward a strategy for the most ambitious expansion of public housing in the six counties since 1970, which will guarantee investment to build new stock, and create an associated economic stimulus.
We have called for a ‘health summit’, including all stakeholders, to strategically address hospital waiting lists.
We believe this all-party Executive should prioritise development of an economic and industrial growth plan, through structured partnership with our employers‘ organisations and the trade union movement.
Sinn Féin wants ambitious strategies to target inward investment across the north, and to provide increased support for our local manufacturing, and small/medium enterprises sectors.
So, this new DUP leadership should take a little time - but not much - to make the right decisions.
The new party leadership needs to understand that it's no longer tenable for the DUP to continue vandalising the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) and trying to undermine the North/South Ministerial Council; or to frustrate the process of good government; or indeed to refuse meetings with important sections of civic society, such as the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.
Sinn Féin wants power sharing to work properly.
We have demonstrated that consistently.
Sinn Féin ministers are unambiguously committed to ensuring all forms of intergovernmental relations work effectively, both north/south, and east/west and, between the north, England, Scotland and Wales.
But our good will should not be taken for granted.
Power sharing is a two-way street. Rights are not negotiable. Discrimination against any citizen, or section of society is unacceptable. Everyone is entitled to equality.
All the negotiations are concluded. The new DUP leadership should not make the mistake of overplaying its hand again.
More bad decisions by the DUP will further diminish public confidence in the effectiveness of power sharing and the political process in the north.
Citizens will no longer tolerate political institutions which do not realise their social, economic and political expectations or aspirations.
They know there are alternative options to political groundhog day in the Stormont institutions.
Constitutional change is in the air.
There is a tangible sense of popular political, economic and social ambition which can no longer be limited by the northern state.
That dynamic is not confined to the island of Ireland. Many Scots, and a growing number of Welsh people are also energised by the big idea of constitutional change and political independence.
And therein lies the challenge for the new DUP leadership.
This could be a last throw of the dice for the DUP, to start making the right decisions about power sharing, and ensuring the northern state exists as a warm place for everyone.