Talks to restart a devolved executive at Stormont broke down this week, leaving Northern Ireland without government for 13 months running — and in urgent need of a budget. The Democratic Unionist Party leader, Arlene Foster, walked away from negotiations over reported problems with carrying her party and its grassroots on an agreement she had made with their power-sharing partners, Sinn Féin, on the issue of Irish-language rights.
Foster and the DUP leadership were surprised to find a fierce backlash from the unionist rank and file over proposals to give Irish Gaelic legal status in Northern Ireland. Animosity toward any perceived concessions to republican interests — following many years of fomenting fear of an eroded British identity and a creeping progressive agenda — have scuppered Foster’s plans to return as First Minister. The DUP’s reaction has been to immediately appeal to Westminster to reintroduce direct rule.
But a return to direct rule from Westminster would be reactionary at best and dangerous at worst. Such a move is anathema to almost every other political party in Northern Ireland and sector of Northern Irish society. It risks increasing sectarian tensions and places the 1998 Good Friday Agreement itself in jeopardy. It places enormous strain on the UK government and its ongoing Brexit negotiations.
Indeed, the call for direct rule wilfully stokes acrimony in the middle of discussions towards a solution to the Irish border question brought on by Brexit. In essence, the DUP’s actions are an abrogation of responsibility and an unwillingness to make the hard decisions necessary to govern in the interests of all its fellow citizens. It is politics as ideological grandstanding and myopic self-interest.
DiEM25 are championing a different sort of politics: one that seeks to take the long and broad view, that seeks to address the pressing questions of our time, and one that is radically democratic and open to all. If you think it’s time for that kind of politics, then it’s time to join us and work for a progressive agenda for Europe.
Owen is a member of the DiEM25 movement, currently based in Beirut.
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