“Life is Change”
A Letter from Ireland
Over the last ten days, leaders from the US, Canada, and around the world came to Ireland to celebrate the Good Friday Agreement. At a time of global conflict and threat, our peace agreement has stood the test of time. It has not been without trials and challenges but it has endured.
In 1998 Senator George Mitchell saw the potential for change and patiently waited for others to travel the journey with him. His soft voice masks the challenge for us all to do better. While others came to celebrate the signing of the Agreement, the Senator reminded us that “life is change” and nothing stays the same. The success of the Good Friday Agreement transformed society. Twenty-five years on, and Ireland, North and South, are unrecognizable.
Change brings new challenges.
All who spoke at the events agreed that there was no going back to conflict. There are competing visions of the future constitutional position. Gerry Adams reminded us that these are political differences that will be resolved democratically in referendums.
There was consensus amongst the governments, international speakers, and local parties that the results of the election last May should be respected, and the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement should be up and running.
One party, the DUP, set itself outside of this consensus. This is no surprise. The party left the Good Friday Agreement talks and campaigned against it. Their current leader, then a member of the rival Ulster Unionist Party negotiating team, walked out of the talks and eventually left that party to join the DUP.
The DUP is blocking the formation of a government and the operation of the All Ireland and Irish/British institutions. Having stepped away from the consensus of the parties and governments, they now claim that consensus is the only way forward! They define consensus as unanimity and veto. It is their way or no way.
The people, public services, the economy, and the agreements cannot be left in limbo. The DUP has opted out of power sharing and consensus-building politics in favor of unilateral lines in the sand and the exercising of a veto on forming a government.
That is their choice. The fallback position to the DUP’s refusal to join the consensus cannot be a stasis and direct rule from London. The question now is how to safeguard agreements, realize opportunities, and meet the needs of all the people. Doing nothing is not an option.
In 1998 the DUP walked out of the talks but later walked into the institutions. “Life is change,” so the rest of us can move on, and if the DUP want to rejoin the consensus of all others at a later date, they will be welcome.
Have a great weekend,
Ciarán Quinn is the Sinn Féin Representative to North America. Each week he writes a letter from Ireland with news and analysis. It is featured in the weekly Friends of Sinn Féin USA Newsletter. Be sure you are subscribed to stay up to date.