This morning’s article in the News Letter by DUP leader Arlene Foster is a clear effort to sell a deal which many within the unionist community, including the Orange Order - the largest grassroots unionist/loyalist organisation- are utterly opposed to in relation to the stand-alone legislative provisions made for the Irish Language.
This is a concession to nationalism that the DUP repeatedly and explicitly promised unionists they would not make.
Arlene Foster continues to talk about fairness and balance. This ignores the fundamental principle at the heart of all of this. Whilst it is accepted nationalism did not get as expansive a concession as they demanded, they received concessions nevertheless. I described this on yesterday’s Nolan Show as paying the ransom demand via direct debit.
The entire ‘process’ is unbalanced because it is designed as a staged transitional process to ease us out of the UK, which requires increased all-Ireland harmonisation and the continued elevation of Irish identity, whilst simultaneously neutralising the British identity. We begin from a position of unbalance, therefore a “balanced deal” at each stage of the process (and I do not even accept this is a balanced deal) is still unbalanced against unionism due to the fact the default starting position is that unionism is locked in a process whereby every concession to nationalism further moves us along towards the only end envisaged by the Northern Ireland Act 1998.
On Friday’s BBC talkback the Irish language lobby stated clearly what is obvious to anyone that looks at the Trojan horse structures created by the stand-alone Irish language Amendment 2 Bill- that they would challenge the standards to be set by the commissioner in order to incrementally expand the obligations placed upon public bodies.
The deal creates an environment which will be ripe for such challenges. The assertions by Arlene Foster in her article that any standards drawn up will, via the process of requiring First and Deputy First Minister approval, provide for a unionist veto is pie in the sky stuff, and well the DUP know it.
The statutory functions of the commissioner in law, outlined at 5.8 in the relevant section of the British-Irish Government’s document, is to “enhance” the Irish language. The approval mechanisms of FM/DFM could not be used to impede the discharge of the commissioner’s statutory functions.
The DUP were not able to block legacy inquests- despite having a veto. The exercise of their purported veto was challenged in the High Court, and Arlene Foster lost. Impeding the statutory functions of the commissioner would lead to similar High Court action, and another humiliating defeat for unionism.
The DUP stated there would be no stand-alone Irish language act. It is telling that absent from Ms Foster’s article is a denial that nationalism has been granted just that. In fact, I would argue it is even worse; the ‘Amendment 2’ stand-alone Irish Language legislation is an amendment to the Northern Ireland Act 1998, which was given the status of a constitutional statute by the House of Lords in the case of Robinson. This legislation will be attached to a constitutional statute which must be interpreted “broadly and purposefully”.
In the efforts to present the Ulster British commissioner as a win Arlene Foster outlines how our culture is “much more than flags, bonfires and parades”. I agree, however this reads to me like a clear admission that such issues- which nevertheless are crucial cultural issues for the unionist/loyalist community- will not benefit from any enhanced protections as a result of what is described as the ‘cultural deal’. It is somewhat absurd to sell a cultural deal as a win, whilst conceding that some of the most prominent areas of PUL cultural expression and identity won’t be enhanced one iota.
To take one example; there is nothing in the deal- or the work of the Ulster British commissioner- that will offer protections to the Orange institution and the parading/marching band tradition. The Parades Commission will continue unreformed.
This sits alongside an Irish Language commissioner whose statutory function is to “enhance” that element of Irish culture. One key element of PUL culture is regulated by a commissioner, whilst a key element of nationalist culture is to be “enhanced” by a commissioner.
I struggle to see the fairness and balance in that.
In closing I remind Arlene of her own words- “If we have an Irish Language Act, maybe we should have a Polish Language Act as well because there are more people in NI that speak Polish than speak Irish”.
Arlene continued: “This characterisation of we should have given something to Sinn Fein to keep them appeased is not the way I do business. If you feed a crocodile, they are going to keep coming back looking for more.”
Is it any wonder a large swathe of the unionist/loyalist community now look on with amazement as the DUP try to sell that which is plainly unacceptable and a capitulation to the politics of ransom.