A Letter from Ireland
It is decision time for the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). More than two years ago they blocked the operation of the North-South Ministerial Council, an institution that is an essential element of the Good Friday Agreement. The Council coordinates the work of all-Ireland bodies and cooperation between government departments in Stormont and Dublin. It is one leg of the three-legged stool of institutions that are interdependent, the others being the Assembly and Executive in the North, and the British-Irish Council.
Twenty months ago the DUP collapsed the Assembly and Executive in the North. This forced an election in May 2022. In this election, Sinn Féin became the largest party and the party’s Vice President, Michelle O’Neill, became the First Minister in a new Executive. Michelle would be the first non-unionist to hold this position in the history of the State. The DUP was relegated to second place, and unionism lost its overall majority in the Assembly.
The initial collapse of the institutions by the DUP was in protest of the British Government striking a post-Brexit deal with the European Union (EU). The government in the North has no role in negotiations with the EU. This deal was later refined in the further negotiated Windsor Framework, which was completed in February this year.
In a scorched-earth approach to politics, the DUP blocked the functioning of government over an issue that is not within their control. The people and our economy have suffered. The opportunity for business to prosper under the agreements has been lost to the DUP’s intransigence.
What started as a protest at the EU-British agreement has been sustained by the refusal of the DUP to respect the vote that made Sinn Féin the largest party and Michelle O’Neill the First Minister. Ireland was partitioned on the basis of a sectarian headcount, and this partition was sustained by discrimination and repression, designed to ensure that an Irish Republican would never be elected leader. But times have changed, and Ireland, North and South, has moved on.
This week the British Government hosted all-party talks on a financial settlement that would come into effect if and when the Executive was re-established. All local parties agreed that more money would be required to fund public services. All but the DUP agreed that a government should be established to conclude the talks and to access the finances offered.
The Windsor Framework is now operational, and negotiations on finance will conclude and come into effect when the Executive is re-established. Yet the DUP is still holding out. It would appear that the issue is a refusal to accept the outcome of the May 2023 election and serve alongside a Sinn Féin First Minister in an Executive of equals.
For over 100 years unionism has enjoyed the power of being a majority and holding the top spot in government. I suppose when you are used to that degree of privilege for so long, equality looks like a loss.
It is now decision time for the DUP. Do they accept the outcome of the May 2023 election and equality, or hanker for a time long gone?
If it is the former then let’s get on with the business of government. If it is the latter the Irish and British Governments need to agree on the next steps in the short term and the medium term. As for society, it is moving on and looking to the future. That conversation is focused on Irish Unity.
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.