Arlene Foster left stranded as world changes around her
Posted By: March 07, 2017
It could, of course, be a temporary thing. The DUP may pull themselves together, replace a damaged Arlene Foster with someone capable of re-thinking unionism, someone flexible and magnanimous.
This would be good, if hard to imagine.
There is another possibility. Sinn Féin might play this all wrong, settle for too little, agree to go back into Stormont with some twitchy new arrangements.
And if they do that, at the next election their new improved vote and their newly demanding voters will melt away. Who thinks Sinn Féin is likely to settle quickly and easily?
Stormont’s unionist majority is gone for good. As unionists will eventually come to see, no doubt painfully slowly as is their wont, the re-shaped playing field will be for the good of all.
In 1921 Stormont was 77 per cent unionist. In 1969 the figure was 75 per cent. Half a century of gerrymandered supremacy over a resentful, powerless minority did unionist politics a disservice, made their politicians as inward-looking and unimaginative as it made nationalists bitter and passive.
Today’s Sinn Féin are over-proud of their competence and far too complimentary about their own ‘strategising.’
Careful decision-making by a centralized command my eye. Whatever the calculation that kept them in so long – proving themselves responsible to voters in the Republic surely wore thin more than a year ago – it could not withstand exposure of the RHI fiasco.
Before Christmas, Republicans behaved like headless chickens. Much anecdotal evidence suggests that their ‘base’ plus fed-up voices in the wider community yelled at them to pull themselves together and get Arlene, and themselves, out.
Last Thursday the voters saved them, and they change tack with their customary, shameless verve.
Cue all-Ireland doughnuts for selfies around assurance-radiating Gerry Adams, a somber Pearse Doherty, winsome Mary-Lou behind smiling, smiling Michelle O’Neill.
The party will face no pressure from their newly energized supporters to hurry back up the hill, which is just as well.
They need to work on negotiating lines, and they need to sell those in Dublin as well as north of the border. Although Arlene the Arrogant is now a southern byword, the Fine Gael-led government and lame duck Taoiseach will only put their back into the next phase with the fickle Dublin media behind them.
Building a relationship with Charlie Flanagan, Fine Gael’s Minister for dealing with whoever London sends to keep a watching brief on Stormont, has not been a priority for Sinn Féin, any more than cultivating them has been for Flanagan. Loathing of Sinn Féin addles Dublin political brains on the north.
Some may even imagine poor Mike Nesbitt has been done in by Colum Eastwood rather than his own ineptitude. There may well be some scrambled Dublin notion that Eastwood failed to measure up to a visionary UUP leader.
So talks launched by James Brokenshire and Flanagan have a muddy outlook, beset by questions. But the toughest at the outset are for the DUP and in particular for Foster.
It happened on her watch, thanks to her almost complete lack of judgment: an electoral majority and assumptions long out-dated have come crashing down on top of her, and her party.
“Concessions” to nationalism, really? Neither leader nor party is good at reflecting, or changing tack. If Foster had an ounce of flexibility, she could have avoided at least a measure of the disaster that now swamps her. But then as a political organism, the DUP has one habit in common with Sinn Féin, as the former executive director of communications and broadcaster Stephen Grimason noted last Friday in an election results program.
Both at crunch moments scurry into closed rooms to huddle in small circles.
The DUP inner circle under Foster looks to have been unduly influenced by un-elected young special advisers, over-paid, over-confident and over-involved in RHI. No useful objectivity there to help guide a stubborn, now overwhelmed leader.
That was a telling glimpse of Foster through the window of her private room in the Omagh polling station, staring-eyed.
Northern Ireland Assembly election 2017, Omagh Leisure center, Co Tyrone. Pictured is First Minister Arlene Foster arriving for the count. Picture by Mark Marlow/Pacemaker Press.
Only last May she was flush with electoral success, dismissing the idea of respecting 1916 commemorations, instead of talking up the coming centenary of Northern Ireland.
Now she tried to lock out the world, as the 96-year-old majority on which the state was founded crumbled away.
What is truly astonishing is that throughout this crisis Foster simply cleaved to unionism’s ancient slogan – not an inch. That kept nationalists at bay for many decades, but the world has changed dramatically, leaving her stranded amid the dreary steeples of her own Fermanagh.