With the media hysteria that has accompanied the restoration of Stormont, it would be easy from a distance to misconstrue the reaction of the Northern Irish population as being one of heady optimism, rather than the indifferent scepticism which is closer to the truth.
Unless my circle of family, friends and workmates are chronically unrepresentative, the “fresh new start” heralded around the world, went by remarked on by people here only with a few cynical asides and weary expressions of overwhelming apathy.
The new dispensation, if it can be described as such, succeeds only in forging an understanding between two competing nationalisms, neither of which carries any commitment to the idea of the United Kingdom as a multi-national, multi-cultural political entity based on shared citizenship, values and responsibilities. Whilst Irish nationalists can interpret the assumption of power by these twin nationalisms as a diminution of Britishness in Ireland, there is little for those unionists for whom a belief in the Union is still a principle to adhere to.
Paisley’s DUP have always been unionists in name only. Their commitment to Britain extends only to an amorphous concept of loyalty to the crown, otherwise their true instincts lie with advancing the interests of the Ulster protestant “Volk”. Any lip-service to the political union between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, is already being dissipated as Paisley courts the SNP and propounds the notion of a federal UK of “states”. Paisley’s hypocrisy is as total as it is jarring. Given the trappings of power he has abandoned thirty years of wrecking in a sickening tempest of smiles, gut laughs, platitudes and brazen about-facery. The trail of devastation he has contributed to and his “deputy” participated in has been utterly forgotten by the fawning sycophants who queue to heap laurels at the feet of these “peace-makers”.
The chief political casualties of recent years have been the UUP and the SDLP, who can only rightly protest from the sidelines that they have been vindicated, and that power-sharing ideas dating as far back as Sunningdale have been implemented in the form of the Good Friday Agreement which both parties were pivotal in bringing about. The fact that St Andrews was merely an aesthetic exercise designed to spare DUP blushes is a blatant fact, but one largely ignored by the electorate.
As supporters of the agreement since 1998, it may be churlish of those of us with true unionist beliefs to disapprove of the goings on at Stormont too vehemently, but having been destroyed by Paisley’s invective, only for him to follow the exact path we’d been setting, the scenes from up on the hill cannot help but stick in the gullet. As proponents of devolution and the de facto architects of the current political dispensation, we can only argue that the institutions are correct, even if the electorate’s choice of who to work them is not.
The DUP went to the country in March with a disingenuous mandate, refusing to state whether or not they would go into government. With their deviousness now exposed, with their ministers making a hash of government, with their lack of commitment to the rest of the UK manifest, with the reality of an unholy nationalist alliance with SF becoming apparent – there is fertile ground for proper unionism, unionism focusing on a liberal, secular and inclusive United Kingdom, to re-emerge and become a vital force within the Assembly and within the United Kingdom as a whole.