What’s Next? – by Colum Eastwood

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The writing is on the wall for any hope of an agreement between the DUP and Sinn Féin.

Until now the 14 month long process had seen the insertion of soft commas following previous breakdowns – this process has now witnessed a hard full stop.

Even the casual observer knows that deals are rarely done when all available energy is being invested in a political blame game.

As politicians we not alone have a responsibility to be honest with the public, we also have a responsibility to be honest with ourselves. An honest look now tells us that our politics is not simply in another new phase – we are in a new place.

That being the case, we need to get on with thejob of shifting the focus from the deal that wasn’t to the reality that now is.

If our politics has witnessed a hard full stop, the question naturally arises as to what sort of postscript will follow.

That postscript can be dictated to fuelling the blame game or it can be focused on coming to a solution. It can be a postscript that endlessly goes over the same ground and around the same circles or it can instead seek to move us all on.

What is absolutely certain is that the only people with the power to write that postscript are the two governments. When our politics runs into the ground, they are the ones tasked with pulling us all out.

In the absence of ongoing negotiations to restore devolution, I have said that the first step must be the formation of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference.

That is the first step outlined in the Good Friday Agreement – there is no logic or reason why that should be resisted. The alternative is to hand full power to a Tory/DUP Direct Rule Government – leaving northern nationalism and everyone here who doesn’t support the DUP – powerless.

However, convening that intergovernmental conference won’t in itself be enough. That is why Ihave set out a proposal on behalf of the SDLPwhich we believe may be the only way to finally break the deadlock of the past year.

For two weeks now I have been calling on the Irish and British Governments, as part of the Intergovernmental Conference, to agree a package of legislation and implement it. I believe that package should include much of the draft accommodation that was agreed between the DUP and Sinn Fein.

This package would include legislation for an Irish language Act and an Ulster Scots Act. It should include the establishment of legacy bodies and the release of inquest monies. I have also proposedthat it should also include the reform of the Petition of Concern in order that marriage equality can finally be brought to the North. The reform of the petition of concern will also help to resolve future difficulties in a new assembly, particularly in the context of Brexit.

If these two parties couldn’t bring the deal over the line – then the two governments should do it for them.

That positive intervention forms part of their governmental duty as guardians and guarantors of the Agreement. The role of guarantor means different things at different times. There is a time for a watching brief and there is a time for facilitation. This is a time for the guarantors to actively and positively intervene.

This need not take long – people in the North have waited long enough for a government.

I am therefore urging the two governments to act jointly and to act with speed. In doing so, they will be acting in the interests of all our people.

I’ll hazard the guess that far more people in the North will thank them for that kind of decisive leadership than those that will oppose them. It’s about time they showed that courage and got on with it.

Clear the decks of disagreement and challenge us all to get back to work. Challenge us all to get back to job of governing and challenge us all to get back to the Good Friday Agreement.

It is the only postscript that has any hope of returning us to a better place.

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  1. Jake Mac Siacais on

    Does anyone in unionism really want an Ulster Scots Act? Does it seem honest to legislate for what is a bogus and manufactured demand of Party political unionism? I treasure the dialect misnamed Ulster Scots. My grandfather spoke it. I wrote an article in it in the Irish Language Paper Lá for three years but let us get real about this. I do agree that the calling the BIIGC is a must but let them legislate soberly. The putative deal was a mess of pottage that even Esau would have choked on.
    We deserve better. Much better.

    • Aye – but if that’s what it takes to get a Gaelic Language Act through then fine. And even if it’s not needed for an ILA, it is still a good thing to promote all forms of minority language, including Scots, both Ulster and related dialects.

  2. Stormont it seems is finished. Certainly in the here and now. The hard full stop referenced by Colum Eastwood above is his description of the abrupt end to this phase of negotiation – after it had achieved a draft agreement text. There is no point in pretending that another DUP/Sinn Fein negotiation would change things. That draft agreement of February 9th could not be delivered by the DUP and will not be diluted by Sinn Fein. It’s up to London and Dublin now. If they haven’t got a plan, they’ll need one soon.

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