Political Unionism in Denial
"Unionism claims that no one is listening. Everyone is listening. We just don’t agree that breaking agreements and breaching laws are the way forward."
Ciarán Quinn writing in Irish Voice February 2022
Political Unionism is living in denial about the past. present and future. The institutions of the Good Friday Agreement are paying the price.
Two weeks ago, Jeffery Donaldson, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), after months of threats, withdrew Paul Givan as First Minister in the government of the North. This has put the institutions of Good Friday into a slow collapse.
An election is due in the North in the first week of May. The DUP is failing in the polls and lagging behind Sinn Féin. All unionist parties refuse to countenance serving alongside a Sinn Féin First Minister.
The DUP move to collapse the government is claimed to be in protest at the operation of the Irish Protocol that places limited checks on goods at ports of entry from Britain.
The Protocol is the outworking of the Brexit promoted by the DUP. It is an internationally binding agreement between the British government and the European Union. The majority of voters and parties opposed Brexit and a majority in the Government and Assembly in the North supported the Protocol. The Protocol was initially welcomed by the DUP.
In a desperate act of self-delusion and even greater self-harm, the DUP believes that the EU and the British government will rush to save them from themselves and reverse an international trade deal.
The British government has encouraged them in this strategy, believing that it will add leverage to their negotiations with the EU and shore up support for Boris Johnson with the right-wing Brexiteers. This British government believes that it is not bound by its own agreements or laws.
Collapsing the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement will have no impact on the operation of an international trade deal, but it has and will place additional hardship on businesses, communities, and public services.
The chaos playing out in political unionism is a symptom of a greater issue. The Assembly that meets in Stormont is the first since the foundation of the state that does not have an absolute unionist majority.
The loss of power has left unionism convulsing. The DUP has had three leaders in the past year.
At the core of these actions is the loss of power. Unionists have lost vote after vote in the Assembly.
They can no longer dictate the terms. They are one among equals.
Rejecting this democratic norm, they are seeking to define consent to be a permanent unionist veto over constitutional change and the rights of others. Opposing women’s health matters, marriage equality, Irish language rights, and a bill of rights.
Calling for a unionist veto over an international Brexit agreement, while simultaneously denying the same right to the majority in the North who voted to remain in the EU.
Reverting to “Ulster says NO” when "Ulster" is telling the parties to get on with the job of government.
Unionism claims that no one is listening. Everyone is listening. We just don’t agree that breaking agreements and breaching international laws are the way forward.
History tells us that change can be chaotic or planned. Clinging to narratives of the past in the belief that you can deny the future is a recipe for chaos in the present.
The narratives of the past are no longer fit for purpose as the discussion on a new and united Ireland develops. This is a time of great opportunity to break with the past and define a new nation-state.
The Good Friday Agreement at its core is about the primacy of politics, free from threat and respect for the rights of citizens. The agreement is just as relevant today as it was in 1998.
The only way forward is through asserting the primacy of politics over threats, respecting democratic norms, implementing agreements, and respecting the rights of all.
Politics must prevail. Rights respected. There can be no going back to the past. There is no veto on the future.
This is the second part of a larger article published in the Irish Voice and Irish Central