Talks will go nowhere until Arlene Foster embraces power-sharing

Posted By: May 11, 2017

DUP Party Leader Arlene Foster during the Launch of the DUP’s General 

election campaign launch at the Castlereigh Hills Golf in East Belfast on 
Monday, ahead of the election on the 8th of June. Picture by Hugh Russell

Brian Feeney. Irish News. Belfast. Wednesday, May 10, 2017

On Monday Bertie Ahern told RTÉ he still had confidence in the power-sharing model set out in the Good Friday Agreement. Indeed.

Peter Robinson struck a strikingly different note though the reports of what they both said on Monday claim they said the same. They didn’t, and that’s the crucial point.

Robinson said he believes devolved government remains a better option than direct rule. There’s the rub. Until we have a full-throated endorsement of power-sharing, partnership, call it what you will, from a DUP leader there won’t be a return to Stormont. As Martin McGuinness said last year, Unionists were in the executive because they have to be, Sinn Féin were in it because they wanted to be.

Remember, the DUP didn’t participate in the negotiations leading to the Good Friday Agreement. They opposed the GFA. They urged people to vote against it in the referendum in 1998. They lost. They wouldn’t take their seats in the executive when it was first formed and started the disgraceful hokey-cokey dance Robinson returned to in 2015. It wasn’t until they were provided with the fig leaf of the St Andrews Agreement in 2006 that they finally dragged their baggage up the hill to Stormont in 2007.

That was ten years ago. Never then or since has any senior figure in the DUP extolled the virtues, advantages or desirability of partnership with the Nationalist community in running The North much less advocate the concept at any point. Senior figures in the DUP, including a large number of the party’s MPs, the dirty dozen, though they like to be called the Twelve Apostles, signed up to protest in 2006 to going into an executive with Sinn Féin. Gutless, they caved in when Paisley rejected their plea for a continuation of their narrow-minded thinking.

As a result of poor leadership and rich veins of stupidity, blinkered views and religious fundamentalism Unionists have handed the ownership of the powerful words, partnership, power-sharing, equality, reconciliation to Sinn Féin. No DUP politician uses those words. In fact, they’ve got themselves into the ridiculous position of objecting to equality except when they say stuff like ‘equality for orange kulchur’ not realizing that implies inequality for anything else.

Peter Robinson—a far cannier political operator than his successor will ever be—brought the DUP to its electoral summit in 2011 but had the wit to see despite those results the way the demographic wind was blowing. He started from a position of strength to make speeches about broadening Unionism’s appeal, about the need for inclusiveness and so on. It fell on deaf ears. Some were deaf because they didn’t want to hear, and warned Robinson about the dangers of selling the pass. As Ian Paisley once said, the trouble with a bridge is that it goes over to the other side.

By 2012 Robinson had rolled backward and endorsed the nasty campaign against the Alliance party which quickly got out of hand as DUP campaigns tend to do. It’s been downhill ever since.

When talks resume after the distraction of the British general election, they will go nowhere and adjourn for the summer’s marching season. In the autumn, they will go nowhere until Arlene Foster acknowledges that partnership and power-sharing are desirable and necessary. In that unlikely event, it will mean that she has managed to overcome the prejudice of her backwoodsmen who sit on the green benches at Westminster. So don’t hold your breath.

Her tentative meetings in Catholic girls’ schools and behind closed doors with Irish language groups are reminiscent of Terence O’Neill shaking hands with nuns fifty-three years ago. She knows there’s no alternative but to reach out to Republicans if she ever wants to be the First Minister

again but first she has to gauge the reaction among the party faithful. So far silence. Is that a good sign or is it ominous?

She’s going about it back to front from Robinson who could talk the talk in 2011 outlining his political thinking but then found it impossible to walk the walk. Isn’t it extraordinary that fifty years after Terence O’Neill a Unionist leader still has to worry about reaching out to nationalists? Arlene can walk the walk. Can she talk the talk?