Friday, 4 February 2011
Owen Patterson said WHAT?
Politicians are fond of telling reporters they don’t respond to hypothetical questions or deal in hypothetical situations, but you’d never guess it from unionist response to Owen Paterson’s comment on BBC’s ‘Hearts and Minds’ last night. Patterson was asked what he thought of the prospect of Martin McGuinness becoming the First Minister after the May elections. The British Secretary of State’s response was a kind of posh shrug: "How that election turns out is absolutely not for me as Secretary of State to comment on. It is up to local people to go to the polling booths and vote." He then added that if McGuinness did become First Minister, it would show how well the political process here had worked.
Cue fierce indignation from unionism, notably David McNarry. He’s calling on Paterson to step down because his comment shows he’s out of touch with unionist opinion. Eh?
The agreement that the First Minister should be nominated by the largest party in the Assembly was an included section of the St Andrew's Agreement. So now McNarry is saying that for Patterson to even suggest McGuinness’s nomination as First Minister means he should resign? For God and Ulster’s sake, David. Paterson is stating the bleeding obvious that's all. That’s the agreement. There are some things nationalists and republicans don’t like - for example, they weren’t exactly doing handstands when Ian Paisley, the epitome of right-wing unionism for forty years, became First Minister. But they swallowed hard and accepted it as part of the package.
McNarry and other unionist heel-draggers’ objections come down to the tired old unionist cry of ‘We don’t accept your spokesperson!’. For years we had it with the DUP and their refusal to speak to elected Sinn Féin people; then we had it with Orangeism and their refusal to speak to residents’ groups if they were headed by the likes of Breandán Mac Cionnaith or Gerard Rice. To say such a stance is arrogant would be to understate it. It's anti-democratic.
So take a deep breath, guys, and see if you can leave those sad, stupid days behind. And keep in mind two things. One, the positions of First and Deputy First Minister are co-equal in every way - got that? Relax. Two, it's a hypothetical situation. It may never happen - Martin McGuinness may never become First Minister. Why give yourself political ulcers worrying about a hypothetical situation?