Jude Collins

Monday, 25 January 2010

D- (for Democracy) Day

Today is decision-day at Stormont, we’re told, and I for one am glad. If I have a fear, it’s that Sinn Fein will do some sort of back-pedal and we’ll be in for more of the same: the DUP failing to play their part on agreed matters like cross-border bodies, an Irish Language Act, and now policing and justice devolution.

The party founded by Paisley, the master-underminer of governments, is doing all in its power to make it look as though, if there is a breakdown, it’s all Sinn Fein’s fault. Sammy Wilson was on BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Radio Four this morning, sounding reasonable and even a little sad that Sinn Fein weren’t playing their part, weren’t turning up for meetings last week, were closing their eyes to the major matter of parading. If you didn’t know the track record of Sammy and his party, you might almost believe some of the things he said.

Despite Sammy’s efforts, though, the British and Irish public have the crux of the matter fixed in their minds: the DUP are playing the Orange card. Except Orangemen are allowed to parade where they wish (like the Garvaghy Road), policing and justice will not be devolved.

Whatever their reasons for this insistence (prominent among which is the hot breath of Jim Allister on their necks), it’s an ill-advised choice as a deal-breaker. Nationalists of all stripes are aware of the role the Orange Order has played down the decades and centuries. The thought that the members of this sectarian and old-fashioned-bigots organization must be allowed to parade where they wish if unionists are to commit themselves to a ‘shared future’ is abhorrent to nationalists generally and, we hope, the Irish and British governments.

Meanwhile, the DUP has been trying to up the voltage on their life-support machine with their projected electoral pact with the UUP and the Conservatives. It’s an odd pact, particularly for the Tories. They’re firmly committed to fielding a candidate in every single constitutency, yet here they are arranging to stand aside so nationalist and republican candidates get defeated. No wonder the three prospective Conservative candidates who’ve withdrawn are said to have felt like vomiting when they heard of the pact moves.

It’s also useful to pause and ask yourself ‘Why this hurried unionist pact talk?’ Simple. If a unionist split were to lead to Sinn Fein emerging as the biggest single party and thus Martin McGuinness entitled to become First Minister, unionists would go into meltdown, would walk away from the Assembly and power-sharing.

It’s like something from Gilbert and Sullivan. The people who for decades denounced republicans for violence, who demanded that they abide solely by the decision of the ballot box, now make it clear they will reject the decision of the ballot box if it produces a face and a figure they don’t like.

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