Great damage has been done to unionism in 24 hours

News Letter editorial of Friday June 18 2021:

Friday, 18th June 2021, 11:12 am
Updated Friday, 18th June 2021, 11:14 am
News Letter editorial

It is hard to overstate the damage that has been done to unionism in the last 24 hours.

It was so obvious that the DUP could not accept Westminster stepping in to give special treatment to Sinn Fein over the Irish language.

Even if the party was put under huge pressure and threatened with sanction by Brandon Lewis, it should not have accepted that. It would be the final illustration that Sinn Fein can just do as it pleases. The precedent would be disastrous, worse than almost any other outcome.

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When it became apparent early yesterday morning that Edwin Poots had acquiesced in just such an outcome, it seemed hard to believe. But perhaps, unionists wondered, he had been given a superlative offer by London, such as a timetable to the scrapping of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Or maybe he had for some reason got the bulk of the DUP on board, and the reason for such an alarming decision would soon become apparent. But no.

By late yesterday morning it became clear that the overwhelming majority of DUP MLAs and Westminster representatives were opposed to this Westminster route.

On every level it was an appalling plan. Not just reward for a party that had kept Stormont down for three years over the Irish language, but a party that boycotts Westminster (and is given special dispensation to do so, in the form of expenses). A party that used the re-election of the first and deputy first ministers as a fresh opportunity for blackmail.

And prioritising the Irish language in a health crisis.

Late last evening, as this paper was going to press, Mr Poots resigned. That is sad. A good man, who ended up being a weak leader, not the hardline one of caricature.

But a new leadership will not be able to acquiesce in this special treatment for Sinn Fein the Irish language. That has to now, belatedly, become a core unionist principle, alongside complete rejection of the Boris Johnson Irish Sea border betrayal.

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Alistair Bushe

Editor