A Letter From Ireland
I once became friends with a novice Buddhist monk in Australia. We would meet at a meditation class and afterward would grab a cup of tea. His family had emigrated from Ireland. He wanted to know about Ireland and I wanted to know about his journey. I was giving off one day about the slowness of progress and Mick said, “You should always thank those who keep you waiting as they teach you patience.”
I was reminded of those words this week. The DUP again blocked government formation in the North. We have been two years without a government or operating North-South Institutions.
Today is Thursday, January 18th. Ireland is freezing, and snow is expected. In the North, the largest 24-hour public-sector strike in the history of the state is underway leaving schools closed and roads ungritted. They are protesting that their promised pay increase has not been paid.
The British government has committed to fund the pay rise, but claims that it cannot be administered because there is no government in the North.
The same British government is legally obligated to call an election if the institutions are not re-established by midnight on January 18th.
Rather than abiding by the law and letting the people have their say, the British Government will change the law to avoid an election. This will be pointless and only continue to enable the DUP blockade unless it is matched by a change in policy. The exclusive process of talks between the British and the DUP has not delivered.
The British appear to have learned nothing over the past two years. A new approach is required.
All of this is frustrating for the majority of parties who want to be in a functioning government. It erodes public confidence in the political process which can give way to cynicism.
The DUP have been given time and space to resolve their internal difficulties. Patience has been afforded to the party. Patience does not mean just sitting back and accepting delay. It means not getting annoyed at those who keep you waiting. It also means to continue to work despite the challenges.
The DUP can stay outside the process, and the British and Irish governments can bring forward a contingency plan to safeguard the agreements and progress.
Previously the two governments reconvened the North-South Ministerial Council and progressed all Ireland working. The same can also happen with British-Irish bodies.
The alternative to the Government is the North is not direct rule from London, but a new partnership between the British and Irish Governments. This is provided for in the Agreements. These are good, common sense, temporary arrangements in the absence of a government in the North.
Ultimately the long-term future of the institutions is in the hands of the people, because the Agreement also provides for unity referendums. While we deal with the immediate issues and look at temporary contingencies, it is the people who will decide on the issue of continued division or Irish Unity. We will continue to patiently work to that end.
Have a great weekend.
Ciarán Quinn is the Sinn Féin Representative to North America. Each week he writes a letter from Ireland with news and analysis. It is featured in the weekly Friends of Sinn Féin USA Newsletter. Be sure you are subscribed to stay up to date.