This is how Arlene Foster could have sold the recent near deal

Did Arlene Foster lose her bottle? The DUP-SF near deal had good selling points for both sides
Did Arlene Foster lose her bottle? The DUP-SF near deal had good selling points for both sides

Dear Arlene, By now, we’ve all seen the leaked proposed agreement between the DUP and Sinn Fein.

And on Saturday two weeks ago we heard about the chaos inside the DUP, with senior figures’ phones being bombarded with calls from unprepared supporters.

Adam McGibbon is a speech writer, campaigner and former Green Party candidate. He is originally from Northern Ireland.

Adam McGibbon is a speech writer, campaigner and former Green Party candidate. He is originally from Northern Ireland.

What happened? Why did you lose your bottle? From reading this deal, it seems what was on offer had good selling points for both sides.

And in fact, perhaps more so for you — you get to stay as first minister and Sinn Fein had to back down on several other demands — including their demand that same-sex marriage is legislated for.

And yes, there would be an Irish language act — but not a ‘stand-alone’ one as you have railed against.

There would be an Ulster Scots act too.

Your retreat, driven by the opposition of some of your grassroots, compares badly with previous deals.

When the DUP went into a power-sharing government with Sinn Fein in 2007, there was little electoral pain for you.

Traditional Unionist Voice, the dissident outfit whose only selling point was opposition to your sharing power with Sinn Fein, gained only one Assembly seat in the election at the end of the first term of SF-DUP government.

And their support has remained level ever since. The DUP lost only 0.1% of their vote compared to the election before.

The pressure in 2007 must have been immense, and yet your predecessors steered it through. You are forgetting your power to sell this deal.

Political leaders have to lead their supporters, as well as be led by their supporters.

I used to be a speechwriter for many politicians. I’m not a unionist, but it’s clear to me that you could have sold this deal as a victory, and appealed to the goodwill towards one of your previous leaders.

Here’s what you could have said, announcing a deal restoring our democracy:

“The DUP’s negotiators have reached a deal to restore our devolved institutions.

“We are hopeful that the devolved institutions can be restored, and we can begin again to take the vital decisions needed for our economy and society.

“These have been tough negotiations. And we maintain that this period of disruption, brought about by Sinn Fein collapsing the institutions, was completely unnecessary.

“But the Democratic Unionist Party have not flinched in standing up for unionism. Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom is more secure than ever.

“Working with the British government, we have secured changes to the operation of the institutions that will ensure they will withstand future disagreements.

“We have secured an additional £1 billion for our health service, on top of the £1 billion that the DUP negotiated last year for investment in Northern Ireland, as part of our Confidence and Supply Agreement with the Conservative Party.

“We have consistently said there will be no stand-alone Irish language act. We have always said that, and that is what we have delivered.

“There will be an Ulster Scots Act to ensure that the culture of the unionist community is respected and legally protected.

“I know some people will find this deal difficult. But the DUP have ensued that an Irish language act will not be the threat to the Britishness of Northern Ireland that it could have been.

“We have ensued that nobody will be forced to learn Irish. We have ensued there will be no mass roll-out of Irish road signs. There will be no civil service quotas. English will remain the working language of the courts.

“The late, great Rev. Ian Paisley, a former leader of my party and a titan of unionism, said when the devolved institutions were restored in 2007: ‘I believe that Northern Ireland had come a time of peace, a time when hate would no longer rule.’ We have a responsibility to live up to that aspiration.

“The DUP have always put Northern Ireland first. And in forging ahead with this agreement, we are doing that.

“We must deliver for the wellbeing of our constituents, for our economy, for our health service. The union stands more secure than ever and we have averted a period of direct rule, which could have led to an uncertain future for unionism, and a potential role for the Republic of Ireland in our affairs.

“This is the right deal for unionism, and that is why we have made it.”

There. Was that so hard?

This is a sellable deal. Get back in there and sell it. You must stand up to the most extreme elements of unionism, who have no future to offer any of us in Northern Ireland — only division and endless stalemate.

Stand up to them and restore our democracy, so we can start to tackle all the other issues.

• Adam McGibbon is a former political speechwriter and campaigner who has written for The Guardian, The Independent, the Irish News and other outlets. He was formerly a Green Party candidate