Numbers mean no return to Stormont

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"Such an emotionally charged response is politically inept. It means negotiations are bound to fail because there’s no rational response coming from the DUP. Remember Foster’s incredibly ill-judged outburst a couple of years ago when as Acting First Minister she presented herself as gatekeeper to block ‘rogues and renegades’, that is Sinn Féin and SDLP ministers, from getting anything through the executive? Breathtaking. There you had the DUP’s position laid bare: ‘Them uns are getting nothing.' And so it proved.”

Brian Feeney. Irish News. Belfast. Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Seventy is a good number to start with. A LucidTalk poll conducted about ten days ago showed that nearly 70 per cent of Sinn Féin voters supported the party’s position of not entering an executive until there’s agreement on Acht na Gaeilge [Irish Language Act].

Here’s another seventy. In this year’s assembly elections 70 per cent of Nationalist voters voted Sinn Féin. In June’s British general election 71 per cent of Nationalist voters voted Sinn Féin.

Now you can draw a number of conclusions from those figures. First, Gerry Adams is correct. Sinn Féin won’t return to a Stormont executive without Acht na Gaeilge for the simple reason that they can’t. Their voters would be disgusted. Once you get up around the 70 per cent mark in a poll you know there’s no turning back. LucidTalk has a good polling record but even if they hadn’t that size of percentage is conclusive, overwhelming.

Second, let’s look at those other 70 per cent and 71 per cent figures from the elections. To read and listen to a lot of coverage North and South you would think Sinn Féin is a strange disembodied entity separate from society and normal discourse. When 71 per cent of Nationalist voters in The North vote for the party the fact is that the opposite is the case.

Sinn Féin is an integral part of Nationalist society. Get over it. So when people in the Unionist press and media castigate Sinn Féin for their opinions and policies in reality it’s the vast majority of the Nationalist community they’re castigating.

This fact obviously hasn’t penetrated the tiny particle of political brain Arlene Foster demonstrates in interviews. In every interview of a substantial length she gives, she suffers an acute attack of foot in mouth disease and loses the run of herself.

She is apparently unable to accept that Sinn Féin are articulating the views of the vast majority of Northern Nationalists. Instead, she regards the party as a bogeyman, to borrow the words of Wolfe Tone, ‘the never failing source of all our political evils’. Her views are almost as outlandish as Micheál Martin’s who’s just as horrified by the electoral threat Sinn Féin presents him.

That’s evident from her recent car crash interview about Sinn Féin’s motive being to “humiliate Unionists and those who believe in the British way of life.” Apart from the fact that she couldn’t define “the British way of life" ——how’s it different from the Scottish or Welsh way? —that sort of accusation exposes at least two flaws. The more glaring is that she has no rational argument to present to oppose Acht na Gaeilge so she frantically clutches at straws; the second is that she doesn’t take the Sinn Féin demand as genuine and respond politically rather than emotionally or sentimentally. For Foster everything Sinn Féin proposes is part of a fiendishly contrived plot at once devious, impossible to understand and impossible therefore to concede.

Such an emotionally charged response is politically inept. It means negotiations are bound to fail because there’s no rational response coming from the DUP. Remember Foster’s incredibly ill-judged outburst a couple of years ago when as Acting First Minister she presented herself as gatekeeper to block ‘rogues and renegades’, that is Sinn Féin and SDLP ministers, from getting anything through the executive? Breathtaking. There you had the DUP’s position laid bare: “Them uns are getting nothing.” And so it proved.

The consequences of that dismissive and fearful emotional response to Nationalists are now obvious. Foster has been so successful at convincing her own supporters of the malign, ulterior intent of Sinn Féin that 86 per cent of DUP voters say she must not concede Acht na Gaeilge, not because it may or may not have any political merit but because it’s a plot, conspiracy, scheme to humiliate Unionists. How can she go back on that any more than Sinn Féin can withdraw their demand?

In short Foster has blurted out so much emotionally charged language that she has led Unionists into a cul de sac. There’s no way out because she can only offer Sinn Féin less than they’re prepared or able to accept. You’d think she might take the long view that it’s 2022 before another Assembly election is due but no, the evidence is she doesn’t think politically