Courage and leadership only gateway to political agreement – By John Kyle



The past eighteen months have been a slowly evolving tragedy.  The power-sharing executive supported by the vast majority of the population and lauded around the world as a model for conflict transformation lies on the verge of indefinite suspension. The ostensible cause – disagreement around a standalone Irish Language Act.

Interestingly until recently there has not been much hostility towards the Irish language within the broader unionist community. Many in East Belfast are rightly proud of the work of Linda Ervine in the Turas Irish Language Centre on the Newtownards Road and respect the aspiration of Irish speakers for a Language Act. Yet it has now become a deeply divisive issue.

The Irish language, an historical and cultural treasure, has become a political cudgel in the hands of Sinn Fein. The Irish language community have been ill-served by their political representatives who have lashed the demand for a standalone Irish Language Act to the masthead of their re-invigorated campaign for a United Ireland.

The broader context has been a hardening in the rhetoric from Sinn Fein over the past couple of years. Their condemnation of all things British is a constant refrain. They have shown little willingness to act collaboratively.  Many who have cooperated with them have felt used rather than genuine partners. The Loyalist community see no evidence of Sinn Fein’s ‘respect for all’ mantra, indeed relationships between Loyalists and Republicans are at the lowest ebb I have witnessed in the past decade.  Senator Niall O’Donnghaile’s tweet describing the 11th night bonfires as ‘hate filled rubbish piles’ pretty much summarises the message coming from Republicanism.

Sinn Fein insists it wants to see the institutions restored but there is little evidence to substantiate it.

Not that Unionism is blameless.

Gregory Campbell’s ‘curry my yoghurt’ comments were gratuitously offensive and unworthy of any serious politician. The decision to withdraw the Liofa funding was mean, petty and sectarian. The DUP have failed to grasp the fact that once trust is lost it can take a very long time to rebuild, and their words and actions have undermined this necessity for good coalition government.

Under the flood of Sinn Fein’s anti-Unionist, anti-British rhetoric any willingness to consider a standalone ILA has evaporated from within the Unionist community, despite the fact that previously many were willing to consider the arguments.  In short it has now become politically impossible for the DUP to accede to Sinn Fein’s demands which have been framed in such uncompromising language.

We seem to have missed the point that we live in a contested space. Two cultural traditions share this country and both have historical roots and vested interests here. Possibly the main lesson from our recent history is that compromise is essential. Northern Ireland (or whichever name we choose to use) will only flourish and prosper if both traditions are prepared to compromise and collaborate.

This is not one of several options, it is the only option. If Sinn Fein insists on continuing their hard line anti-unionist strategy it will end in disruption, turbulence and economic upheaval posing a greater threat than Brexit. If the DUP do not learn to treat the Nationalist tradition and community with respect they will do irreparable damage to Northern Ireland.

Political debate by its nature is robust and adversarial but needs to be respectful.

When the political institutions fail, when political accountability and scrutiny cease, the economic and social fabric of the country is eroded and in that scenario the people who suffer mostly are the poor, the disadvantaged, the young, the ill and the most vulnerable. The crises in our Health Service and in our schools will inevitably become worse. If our politicians, camped on the moral high ground, continue to insist on their demands, their claims to be acting in the interests of the poor and disadvantaged will ring hollow.

In the past courageous leadership and agreements based on compromise led to transformational change. That opportunity is there for our politicians once again.

6 thoughts on “Courage and leadership only gateway to political agreement – By John Kyle

  1. Hi John,

    Interesting piece. I was drawn to this in particular :

    ‘The Irish language, an historical and cultural treasure, has become a political cudgel in the hands of Sinn Fein. The Irish language community have been ill-served by their political representatives who have lashed the demand for a standalone Irish Language Act to the masthead of their re-invigorated campaign for a United Ireland.’

    Are either of these things a bad thing? I mean, is it news to anyone that SF are campaigning for a UI?

    What appears to be the problems are the following:

    1. continued unionist inability to accept that the North is changing. This means that it will inevitably mean it will look a little greener and greener.
    2. unionist inability to fully accept the mandate of SF. It does not matter to whom the Irish language community provide their representation to, it would appear that unionism in general is unwilling to treat it with respect.
    3. The continued unionist inability to countenance that perhaps they had a major role to play in making the language a political cudgel. Curry My yoghurt? Liofa? Leprechaun Language? It is merely viewed as a political cudgel now that unionist representatives are going to be made to look foolish in a culture war all of their own making.

    Unionism’s fixation on not allowing SF a win or to carry through with any of its agenda is its undoing everytime. Honestly, the assembly on the hill is not going to get back up and running until you agree to an ILA. Now ask yourself, how did unionism get itself into this mess where it got cornered and couldn’t find a way out? You also know that the content of that act will be way more than SF could have ever hoped for owing to unionist desperation.



  2. John,
    It’s time British Unionists grasped, they either timetable full implementation of our past agreements or they are confirming, trust is dead and there is no point in maintaining a shambolic Stormont regime.

    The Irish nation members who inhabit this north-east corner of our island of Ireland native homeland have had enough of the British community here empowering perpetually hateful anti-Irish bigots to speak for them.

    The British in Ireland condemning the Irish in Ireland for supposedly politicising our own indigenous language is utterly offensive and enraging.

    “Linguistic Shenanigans – who politicised the Irish language in Ireland?”

  3. We have no Assembly because Stormont (all parties) failed to deliver sustainable, good Governance in a fiscally responsible way for the population here. All failed in the last term (possibly before) to recognise the wonderful opportunity to create great Governance for this small part of these Isles.

    Not withstanding this is a very valid & worthy perception presented on the Mallie platform, this anniversary of Ulster Day, when 105 years ago Irish Unionists signed the Solemn League & Covenant against the 3rd Home Rule Bill.

    An incident that some historians see as the birth of the Volunteer movements, Rebellion, Insurrection (and / or the threat of it) then Partition.

    Edward Carson, that wonderful Irish patriot, who was a Gaeilgeoir, post Partition would lament in 1923 “I fought to keep Ulster part of the United Kingdom, but Stormont is turning her into a second-class Dominion.”

    2 years post it’s establishment the leading Unionist who’d fought Home Rule was criticising Northern Ireland, and those in power because of their supremacist & domineering mindsets towards sections of their fellow Countrymen here.

    Carson was targeting that cabal, who where using political office, to vent personal prejudice & sectarianism in the State.

    That was then; This is now.

    Today in 2017, all of us, all 1.811 milllion of us who share this small place need to ask ourselves why do some small minded sections of Politicians & their followers believe it is in their gift to offer Rights to others when those Rights should have been in place years ago?

    The Welsh Language Act first existed in 1967 & was updated in 1993 & 2011 to come in line with the protect & promote formulae for ancient, indigenous languages. The Gaelic Language Act (Scotland) came in 2005. The Manx Revival Legislation of 2001. The Cornish Language Strategy of 2015. Stand alone Language Acts, Legislated Rivivals or Strategy all in place throughout these Islands.

    Yet some believe it is their supreme right to deny Language Rights that fellow English, Welsh, Scots & Irish citizens (in the southern jurisdiction) here.


    What mindset insults, fears or hates a Language?

    As the great grandson of a UVF Volunteer who was a Presbyterian & a Gaeilgeoir I want the Irish Language protected & promoted. I want equal rights as a U.K. & Irish Citizen legislated for here.

    Bill of Rights Now!

    Please somebody Clear The Way!

  4. Hi John,

    I can’t say you’re wrong about the DUP now being unable to concede a stand alone ILA or SF accepting anything less. What I can say is that, if true, is an enormous indictment of our two main parties and their members.
    My feeling is that you have possibly overstated the case against SF but there can be no doubt they also have painted themselves into an intransigent corner.
    But, if I try to see things from their side, I do perceive that, over the last decade or so, the DUP, in particular, has demonstrated many times a sneering, supercilious attitude towards nationalism that has contributed mightily towards the current impasse. Indeed, speaking as an Alliance supporter, I suppose I believe it’s not just nationalists who have been the victims of their arrogance and spite – I couldn’t think of a milder word here.
    I do acknowledge that This has not been a one way street and SF have undoubtedly done and said things that could only have been seen as offensive by unionists. But I do believe the DUP have been considerably worse in their use of language.
    Recently, their renewed friendship ( can’t put it any other way) with Protestant thugs and racketeers can only have further offended nationalists and has culminated in today’s disgusting threats towards ordinary people and their children. Until the DUP utterly disown their “friends” and the loyalist community does more to refuse them comfort, it is very hard to see any way out.


  5. John I sincerely don’t know where you have been living for the past ten years. Ever since Peter Robinson dispatched his scuppering letter from the US the whole edifice was on life-support. Both big parties clearly didn’t want to bring the thing down but DUP behaviour pushed the nationalist base beyond endurance and SF had no option but to respond. The status quo ante is gone. It is not coming back and until real courage and real leadership emerges this place ‘whatever you want to call it’ is just not sustainable even on a transitional basis.

  6. ” If Sinn Fein insists on continuing their hard line anti-unionist strategy”

    Or with equal or perhaps more justice, you might say:

    “If the DUP insists on continuing their hard line anti-nationalist strategy”

    This sort of “I’ll bite you before you bite me” sort of name calling gets no-one any further, and is completely counter-productive. So stop it.

    Fortunately, “Change is gonna come” as the Neville Brothers sang.

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