Minority coalition better than DUP and Tories in charge

Posted By: September 04, 2017

Tom Kelly. Irish News. Belfast. Monday, September 4, 2017 

BOTH Sinn Féin and the DUP were given whopping endorsements at the assembly elections last May.

Those mandates are being woefully wasted by a lack of generosity. Unionism, as usual, has no graciousness in any of the concessions it makes.

Each one is given begrudgingly or enforced upon them by law. The recent boost that the DUP got due to the misfortunes of Theresa May at Westminster greatly over-inflates their significance.

It also offers little security for the future of unionism. Time and demographics are against Unionism but that doesn’t mean, as Sinn Féin claim, that a united Ireland is imminent.

Actually, the Sinn Féin united Ireland mantra is like one of those 19th-century ads for Beecham’s powder which claimed it could cure all evils from stomach pains to gout and everything in between.

The principle of consent cannot be set aside. Nearly one million hearts and minds within the unionist community are not convinced about the benefits of a United Ireland.

If opinion polls are to be believed that’s a view shared by a large slice of the Catholic community in Northern Ireland too.

The only way Sinn Féin can persuade those people to think differently is by showing competence in government within Northern Ireland.

It was Adams who said that going to Stormont was a transitionary process for Sinn Féin.

A functioning executive with efficient and competent Sinn Féin ministers helps to allay fears created by mistrust, ignorance, and legacy.

No functioning Executive—and northern politics retreats to the trenches of tribalism. If it is to be believed, politics, that once was divided by rows of each other’s dead,  is now separated by a cúpla focail gaeilge.

It’s nothing short of Rasputin-style madness. And it’s one not supported by the general public.

The Irish language is an important issue and the details of any proposed act are unknown.

Against a backdrop of competing priorities in health, education, Brexit, a crumbling roads network and under-investment in infrastructure such as water, an Irish language act is not the most immediate concern facing people in Northern Ireland.

Faced with a hostile Brexit-loving British government, we need devolution.

The overtures from the DUP leader about restoring Stormont and addressing other issues in parallel have some merit but she should also commit to introducing an Irish language act albeit without spelling out the details.

There’s a clear Unionist majority in Stormont and any act that passes will be so diluted the public will be perplexed as to why this was ever a sticking point.

Sinn Féin has also made same-sex marriage a red line issue – so why not have a referendum on the matter?

Polls suggest that any such referendum would pass. If not, at least the public in Northern Ireland will have been asked their opinion.

The DUP cannot be berated for having a different perspective on same-sex marriage given a sizeable proportion of their electoral base supports their position.

Sinn Féin claims their abstentionism from Westminster – absurd to this writer against the backdrop of other Republican shibboleth U-turns – is based on their claim that their electorate overwhelmingly endorsed abstentionism at the polls.

If that’s true, why then is the Sinn Féin leadership running a ruler over the backs of the DUP that they won’t apply to themselves?

As usual, Sinn Féin has one eye on their position in the Republic of Ireland where they may or may not be minority government partners following the next election.

The reality is that without Stormont it is unlikely they will find a willing Dáil mainstream partner and,  more importantly, without Stormont they can’t be in government on both parts of the island – a Sinn Féin consolation prize short of a united Ireland.

Some Unionists, ranging from the antediluvian John Taylor to the Barnum of the DUP, Sammy Wilson, appear not to understand or care much about equality issues.

That’s fine, but like Canute, they can’t ignore the direction of the tide. The longer the current paralysis lasts, the prospects of devolved government recede.

With so much of the Good Friday Agreement in shreds, the British and Irish governments should explore possibilities of a minority coalition between the SDLP, UUP, Alliance, and Greens.

Such an administration would likely be liberal and cross-community in outlook, and the DUP and Sinn Féin – unable to agree to be in government together – are unlikely to agree on a joint approach in opposition.

It is an option worth considering before putting the DUP/Tories in charge.