If one last heave after Xmas fails, the people should vote to dismantle the mutual DUP/ Sinn veto

The Newsletter editorial is full of alarm and self pity. Its  vehemence is slightly surprising as the paper has been no critical supporter of the DUP. It has been highlighting  their weaknesses throughout. So it  cannot  be greeted just  by schadenfreude.  It needs a considered answer.   

For three years, no Conservative and Unionist (as they sometimes style themselves) minister or prime minister has uttered a word of criticism of Sinn Fein.

Think about that. The crisis in the NHS is in large part rooted in the fact that there are no ministers to take key decisions, and that in turn is due to the fact that Sinn Fein, and Sinn Fein alone, is allowed to collapse Stormont…

Meanwhile, there has since June 2017 been a myth that the Tories were “in hock to the DUP”. What a joke that notion is!

They have not made a single major policy decision in favour of unionism, and indeed have agreed to divide the UK economically.

Even now, with an overall majority, the government yesterday committed to the Stormont House legacy structures that might well (unintentionally) vindicate terrorism, due to the fact that the security forces are more vulnerable to them.

Now, Julian Smith, having never said anything at all about republican vandalism, is singling out the DUP for not agreeing to a return to devolution last night

What, amid all this, has happened to Dublin’s role and the three strands? Are unionists even trying to insist that they are observed, or is the Tory government observing them, as its manifesto insisted they would?

And what is the Ulster Unionist stance on an Irish language act?

We trust that that party, whose brave and lonely opposition to an act and to the legacy bill scandal has been repeatedly praised by this newspaper, still opposes it.

If so, then Mr Smith is wrong to say that only the DUP opposes a deal.

Now more than ever, after Sinn Fein’s dreadful election result, it would be foolish to pay the ransom demanded in their political blackmail over the return of Stormont.

True, the UK  government have held off direct attacks on Sinn Fein.  Up to recently  they preferred the role of lackadaisical referee to  getting bogged down in an endless cycle of whataboutery with parties they think of as showing some of the symptoms of PTSD.  Now with Julian Smith, the UK government has woken up to its responsibilities.   

How have they treated the DUP? Not a word of criticism against them either! The referee role precluded it but of course there was another, bigger reason.  Forover two years it is the government who have been in the DUP’s pocket.  After one phone call from Arlene Foster, Theresa May was forced to leave a breakfast meeting with the EU Commission President and hurriedly skew her withdrawal agreement to include GB in a customs arrangement for the sake of Northern Ireland. But even this was not enough for the DUP. The final result of their over bidding was the destruction of Theresa May’s premiership and the DUP’s uniquely favoured position in last week’s general election.

A new political era is emerging throughout these islands. As it has only just begun nobody can possibly know what it will be like. We do know however that the general election registered clear votes in favour of an end to political deadlock both at Westminster and Stormont. In the Westminster system the outcome for good or ill was the creation of the first stable majority government for 14 years and a victory for Leave.  But in Northern Ireland the system does not allow for a clear outcome and deadlock persists at least for the moment.

This cannot be allowed to continue.

Either the system or the dissenting party has to change. Which is it to be?

The Newsletter and unionist opinion behind it have to ask themselves the hard  questions: what is there to be gained by a failure to return to Stormont ; and what can they do to facilitate  it for the greater good?

Do they really believe that if the government  were to drop the draft Legacy Bill, all would be well?  This is but one of many complex issues that need to be faced by a functioning Assembly working alongside the governments.

Two key items of agreement should enough to restore the Assembly. One is the confidence test of mutual respect for cultural traditions; the other is safeguards for  the smoother working of the Assembly. With the former there is no symmetrical balance, it has to be a deal. In the latter case, a time limit on petitions of concern and a legal requirement to accept a petition only on specified human rights grounds and subject to judicial review would be a start. Ultimately, the designations of unionist, nationalist and other should be reformed by continued pressure from the voters.

This brings us to the election. If deadlock persists after Christmas, the text of  conclusions reached so far should be published by the agreement of the governments and the majority of the parties. The compliant parties should publish it as their joint manifesto.

If they win a majority and deadlock still persists, the British government with Dublin support should undertake to introduce primary legislation to replace the designation qualifications by a weighted majority and allow the restoration of powers on that basis.  The structural mutual veto would be dismantled and a more flexible balance substituted.  Executive paralysis and a Stormont boycott by a single party bringing the whole place down would no longer be possible. Have the voters got  the confidence to pull it off? It’s certainly worth finding out.

Imagine festival 202

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