Foster in an intolerable position but even so SF mustn’t get reward

Morning View
Morning View

Arlene Foster has been put in an intolerable position in recent months.

The DUP leader has been under huge pressure to buckle to Sinn Fein, and its demands for resumption of Stormont.

Dublin has implied that direct rule is unacceptable, and in its own way so has London.

On Wednesday, the Alliance Party and Greens gave Sinn Fein a further boost, by standing shoulder to shoulder with Gerry Adams in his demand for an Irish language act. The veteran republican leader did not waste the opportunity, and moved to make clear that a standalone act was non negotiable.

But of the various things that have been asked of the DUP, arguably one of the last to concede is an Irish language act.

The DUP has rightly dismissed the ludicrous demand that Mrs Foster step aside. The DUP has never told Sinn Fein who it can have in its senior team, even when they have IRA backgrounds.

But the demand for a standalone act is of a different magnitude, even to the demand that she step aside, for it will have ramifications that last decades.

It is becoming clear that even if a softer act is agreed, SF will use it as a stepping stone to a harder one.

Thus, Mrs Foster is right to try to break the logjam but in the process has said something that is arguable: “ ... we have nothing to fear from the Irish language –nor is it any threat to the Union...”

The latter part of that sentence is literally true, in that Irish, which is a valued part of our shared heritage, is not of itself going to lead to Irish unity. But republicans intend to use it to change Northern Ireland beyond recognition.

Mrs Foster was entirely right to speak in positive tones last night about the language. Some past disrespectful comments about Irish from DUP members have fuelled the republican grievance culture and contributed to the situation we are all now in.

But while Mrs Foster’s generosity now shows up Sinn Fein intransigence, if it merely leads to an Irish language act being conceded in a few months SF will be confirmed in a conclusion it already seems to have reached – that it can hold NI to ransom whenever it wants to push through an unnecessary reform that is fundamentally unpalatable to unionists.

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O’Neill rejects Foster’s overture

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