And so it was that on the centenary of the day on which George V came to Belfast to open the first parliament in Northern Ireland, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson became the leader of the DUP, pledging to return from Westminster to reveal his “vision to lead unionism into its second century”. に 1921, the King urged that the new regime should usher in “a new era of peace, contentment and good will”. Donaldson won’t be thinking in eras. He knows he will be doing well if he manages to achieve a brief ceasefire within his own warring party. When he spoke on Tuesday about the need to “heal the divisions of the past”, we knew he wasn’t just talking about the country.
“What a fool I was. I was only a puppet.” The words used by unionism’s founding father, Lord Edward Carson, to describe his realisation that he had been used by the British Conservative party in its own bid for power were widely quoted when Boris Johnson exploited the DUP’s gullibility to get through his Brexit deal. Edwin Poots must have felt yesterday as Carson did 100 数年前, as he reflected on the “support” he got for his hapless bid to lead the DUP. On his night of glory in May, when he defeated Donaldson by the narrowest of margins, it was not him but Ian Paisley Jr MP who went on television and spoke lugubriously about “Dad’s party”. His father was, もちろん, the party’s founder, the Rev Ian Paisley.
最近, but not for the first time, Paisley made a holy show of himself いつ, at the bidding of Van Morrison (「ねえ, Junior – want to join me?」), he clambered on stage at a Belfast hotel to chant with the singer that the health minister was “very dangerous”, in protest at the country’s pandemic lockdown rules. Paisley also said that night that the “crowd” at Stormont “couldn’t run a bath”. Poots then had to apologise for him, which was embarrassing. Poots lasted just 21 日々. His regime perished, ostensibly over his agreement to nominate his protege, Paul Givan, as first minister on the basis of a deal with Sinn Féin that would see the secretary of state bypass the executive at Stormont by introducing an Irish language act through Westminster.
今, with the Paisleyites temporarily subdued by their defeat, Donaldson mentioned the need for “respect” and a focus on “what unites us”. For the purposes of getting shot of his rival, the Irish language had been a suitable proxy. Sinn Féin had insisted that the DUP must commit to implementing the cultural provisions laid out in the New Decade, New Approach deal that got Stormont back after a three-year stalemate. These included legislation that would give the use of Irish formal recognition and support. The DUP has been signing up to such deals on the language since 2007 but once again stalled when it came to their implementation. The British government offered Poots a way out, and he took it. His opponents seized the opportunity to accuse him of weakness. He had bent the knee to Sinn Féin. Poots, whose inaugural speech had plodded out the old line that when “unionism’s back is against the wall, it comes out fighting”, had been found to have no backbone.
Donaldson did not even mention Irish in his leadership address. Instead he returned t0 unionist opposition to the border in the Irish Sea as the paramount issue. It was unrealistic, 彼は言った, for the government to expect stability when all of unionism opposed the 北アイルランド protocol. The disingenuousness was startling – a majority in 北アイルランド opposed Brexit. The DUP ignored them, fought desperately for the hardest Brexit possible, ended up with the protocol, and now blames everyone else.
But the language issue is at the core of Northern Ireland’s current unrest. Sinn Féin’s insistence over Acht na Gaeilge is seen, well beyond that party and its supporters, as a test of whether unionism is really willing to honour the Good Friday agreement’s commitments to respect and equality. Although many Protestants are now learning Irish, which was described by the Presbyterian church in 1833 as “our sweet and memorable mother tongue”, others fear it, and speak of how it will be rammed down their throats.
The fear is the old sectarian one, of Catholics, with whom the language is identified. The founding fathers drummed it into Protestants that these “others” were “disloyal” and “enemies of the state”. Contemporary unionist politicians have exploited this. One DUP MP said if an act was passed he would use it as toilet paper. Another called it “leprechaun language”. Even the now milder mannered Ulster Unionist party holds out against it. This is translated by the exceedingly basic Loyalist Communities Council, which represents disgruntled former paramilitaries, into the absurd claim that the Irish language act is “about removing British symbolism and Britishness in Northern Ireland”. Rejection of the language act has become the equivalent of the Orange Order’s militantly asserted right to walk the Queen’s highway that caused such strife in the late 1990s. It is about showing who is master.