It seems the DUP can’t help but offend
There’s an old proverb about a scorpion that wants to cross a river, so he asks a frog if he will carry him to the other side.
“But you’ll sting me,” says the frog. “No, I won’t,” promises the scorpion. “If I sting you and kill you, then I’ll drown too.’
The frog reluctantly agrees and the scorpion climbs on his back.
Halfway across the river, the scorpion stings the frog. As they both start to drown the frog cries, “Why did you do that?”
The scorpion’s response?
“It’s just in my nature.”
In this parable the scorpion is the DUP.
The party of Ian Paisley and ‘No Surrender!’ knows deep down what it needs to do if it wants to keep Northern Ireland going.
The DUP must persuade a large chunk of the Catholic-nationalist population — that it has spent so long abusing — that their interests are best served by maintaining the constitutional status quo. In other words, it needs to charm them into believing that their Irishness can flourish as part of Northern Ireland.
But the DUP – and many other unionists, to be fair - just can’t bring themselves to do that.
Not in word and certainly never in deed.
Let me give you a recent example.
There was a request made to Belfast City Council on behalf of the Irish language group, Conradh na Gaelige, to tweet out a message in Irish and to light-up the City Hall in green to mark its 130th anniversary.
Now, these sorts of requests are ten a-penny for councils these days and usually meet with immediate acceptance.
Not here, though.
DUP councillors held up the posting of the tweet – the smallest and most meaningless of gestures – because it was in Irish.
DUP Alderman, Frank McCoubrey, was quoted by the local paper grumbling that if a tweet must go out then it should be written in English first “and the other language underneath”.
“The other language.”
The council is now set to publish guidance – that should not even be needed – setting out rules about posting messages in a language other than English in future.
Now, it’s a silly little row and thankfully now sorted – the tweet eventually was published.
And what seditious message did it contain?
“Here is City Hall lit up in green and navy recently to mark the 130th anniversary. We love seeing your pics of City Hall illuminated in various colours. Share your snaps with us using #BelfastLightsAtNight @ForasnaGaeilge.”
Even something so anodyne and fleeting becomes fodder for the unionist culture war.
What this episode tells us is that the DUP simply cannot accept that they need to be nice to Catholic-nationalists – despite the future of the Union now requiring them to be so.
Respecting Irish should be an easy call. It’s the historic language of the island and automatically deserves respect and special treatment.
It’s the kind of overture that a serious party, reviewing its declining position, should be able to concede.
Northern Ireland has changed radically in the past two decades. Catholics now outnumber Protestants and Sinn Fein is now the largest party.
Rather than sensing their changing circumstances and responding accordingly, the DUP remains defiant.
So be it.
They are the ones that need to show, like the scorpion, that anti-Irishness is no longer in their nature.
Every time they fail this test, as in this case, their political position recedes further.
Australian party backs Irish unity
During the long, dark years of unionist misrule in Northern Ireland, it must have felt to ordinary Catholics like the world had abandoned them.
So cut off were they that British Members of Parliament could not even ask questions about the place in the House of Commons.
What went on there was a ‘reserved matter’ for the government of Northern Ireland.
It was only with the advent of the civil rights movement of the late 1960s that a light was shone into the dark crevices and the world learned about the grisly state of affairs in the North.
So, one of the important but often overlooked developments of the past few decades has been the international involvement in the peace process.
The Americans - through various presidencies and with the stalwart support of the Irish American caucus in Congress - have been vital for decades. Facilitators of the Good Friday Agreement and watchful protectors and encouragers of its progress ever since.
The EU, too, has played a blinder, not least with the billions of pounds of investment that have flowed in. (Well, at least until Brexit).
But there have been other international players too.
The former Canadian general, John De Chastalain, who successfully led the decommissioning process, along with Cyril Ramaphosa, the current South African president and the former Finnish president, Martti Ahtisaari, for starters.
Now it is the turn of the Australian Labor Party (ALP).
A resolution passed at their annual conference recently called for the British and Irish governments to “honour the terms of the Good Friday Agreement” by starting to prepare for a referendum on Northern Ireland’s constitutional status.
It further noted that the partition of Ireland had led to a ‘century of division’ and that the agreement provides the basis for a ‘democratic resolution.’
It is worth pointing out that Labor is the current party of government in Australia, not some fringe voice, giving this intervention weight and significance.
The resolution was interesting for two reasons.
First, as mentioned, the more international interest there is towards Ireland, the less space there is for the faint-hearted in Dublin and London to hide in coming years, as the debate about a border poll grows in volume and intensity.
Second, the wording of the resolution was interesting. It recognised that the promise of a vote on unity is not some minor frippery – it is fundamental to the agreement.
If you support the Good Friday Agreement, then you need to accept there is going to be a border poll at some stage – and that moment creeps ever nearer.
Sometimes in politics, it is easier to see things with clarity from afar - and this was just such an occasion