In an interview on the BBC programme Sunday Politics yesterday, Mary Lou McDonald mentioned four issues.
The Sinn Fein president cited ‘mariage equality’, as she calls it, ie same-sex marriage, legacy inquests, a Bill of Rights, and Irish language legislation.
There was no mention of Arlene Foster stepping aside as first minister. The interview gave weight to the notion that the parties are on the verge of a deal in which Mrs Foster heads an executive.
The DUP was right to reject any hint of the notion that Sinn Fein could dictate the leader of unionism. Unionists would not even contemplate trying to dicate who leads nationalism.
But while this point is sacrosanct, ultimately the leader of unionism is a secondary issue. Even if a politician emerged who was exceptionally gifted as a leader of unionism, the crucial consideration is what a deal means for Northern Ireland.
This is why, in reverse, within republicanism all considerations are secondary to the ultimate goal of Irish unity. Thus the two contested matters in which unionism should not make core concessions are on Gaelic and to the IRA on legacy.
Other obstacles are secondary to this crucial principle. Most opponents of same-sex marriage realise that public opinion in favour of it has swept the western world, and that Northern Ireland is not immune to that big shift in opinion.
That a Bill of Rights might be conceded is alarming, given that we already have clear evidence of how republicans intend to use existing ‘rights’ (let alone more) in the courts to enact far-reaching change in NI. But legacy and language are more pressing even than such a bill, and are a more immediate manipulation of ‘rights’ to fuel republican goals.
The DUP swept the board within unionism because the average voter sees the gist of what is going on, and has put trust in the DUP to deal with resisting the details.
The DUP can this week repay that trust by doing so: resisting the Sinn Fein intransigence that lies behind the emollient words of Ms McDonald.