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.