It will be a serious error to bypass MLAs to placate republicans

News Letter editorial of Wednesday June 16 2021:

Wednesday, 16th June 2021, 6:30 am
News Letter editorial

Brandon Lewis last evening appeared to hint at the idea that he will use Westminster to implement an Irish language act.

He did not say as much. In fact, when yesterday the News Letter asked the Northern Ireland Office if that was his plan, they did not reply to us.

In a video posted on Twitter, Mr Lewis said he was committed to the sweeping New Decade New Approach deal that the DUP unwisely agreed last year, and to which Edwin Poots has repeatedly reaffirmed his commitment in recent days.

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Mr Lewis talked about the importance of various aspects of last year’s deal, including an Irish language commissioner.

“I want to drive real progress on those issues,” he said in his video. Meanwhile, the DUP has, like the NIO, not given an answer on whether it will accept Westminster stepping in.

If London is indeed planning to do this, and the DUP goes along with it, it will be a very, very serious error. It will be perhaps the clearest signal yet that Sinn Féin can operate by different standards to get satisfaction in its aims.

Neither the Tory government nor the DUP should think that such a solution will all fade away. It will not. It will do lasting damage to Stormont, and will show that SF was not only able to pull down devolution and keep it down for three years until it got its sectarian goal of an Irish language act, but that it was able in a pandemic to force progress on it and get a date.

For years this column has recognised an obvious truth; that the DUP is repeatedly forced into intolerable situations while pressure is never applied to SF, not even when they acted like political vandals post 2017. That is most unfair on the DUP but at the same time cannot be reason to surrender fundamental principles. If SF refuse to nominate a deputy first minister, or Westminster intervenes, then Nigel Dodds is right that it would lead to a collapse of confidence, and Sammy Wilson is right that unionists could cease to participate.

But will they? And what will the UUP do? Such abuse of process will deserve radical political action from unionism.

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Alistair Bushe