Talks to re-establish the Northern Ireland Executive after more than a year’s stalemate have collapsed. The Guardian editorial put the blame unequivocally on Sinn Fein: “The darker truth here is that Sinn Fein has chosen to weaponise the language question for political ends, less to protect minority rights than to antagonise unionists.”
This assessment could not be further from the truth. An agreement had been reached by all parties which included a proposed Irish Language Act.
This was supported by the three cross-community parties, the Alliance Party, the Green Party and People Before Profit, so it wasn’t simply a Sinn Fein initiative. It was also enshrined in the 2006 St Andrew’s agreement which required the British government to ensure such an act was passed.
The Human Rights Commission confirmed that this agreement required the Executive to “enhance and protect the development of the Irish Language” as well as the Ulster Scots language.
Theresa May and the Irish Taoiseach, Leo Vardakar, went to Belfast expecting to rubber stamp the agreement. Under pressure from their grassroots and consistent with their historical bigotry the DUP pulled the plug on the deal and demanded that the Tories implement Direct Rule.
And why wouldn’t they since the Tories are dependent on the DUP votes to keep in office? It is not being too cynical to argue that it is more like DUP rule than rule from Westminster.
This triumph for bigotry also affects the crucial issues of marriage equality and abortion rights. For those in the North who want to progress the equalities agenda it would be right and fitting to use the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights movement, as Gerry Carroll of People Before Profit has argued, to take to the streets again.