“Progress has been made, but there are still significant gaps”
Thirteen months since the collapse of the devolved institutions at Stormont, but it would seem that our political gatekeepers (the DUP and Sinn Féin) might actually be nearing a deal. Neither party will allude to what tangible progress has actually been made, nor will they outline what the significant gaps actually look like – though the singular ‘gap’ is widely understood to be the implementation of a stand-alone Irish Language Act.
One could suspect that the campaign for equal marriage will be no further advanced but instead left to the mercy of promises to reform of the Petition of Concern. As expected, issues around the legacy question, such as the definition of a victim, as well as the debate around amnesties and statutes of limitations will remain a no-go area, for now. Thus, it seems likely that Sinn Féin’s demand for a stand-alone Irish Language Act, prior to the formation of any Northern Ireland Executive, will be the casualty of any deal unless the DUP can also walk away with something unprecedented.
One source told the Belfast Telegraph’s Political Editor Suzanne Breen early last week, that in the event of any possible piece-meal between the two parties, that “there would be pain and no celebration”. This should come as no surprise to anyone, that in a society split along different narratives of the past, there can be no winners or no losers. Only compromise can prevail.
Not concession, but compromise, is a tenet so deeply enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement, it has been impossible not to talk about the threat to the Agreement’s longevity and sustainability this past year, as ‘compromise’ became an unfathomable concept to both the DUP and Sinn Féin Yet, should the prospect of a deal become real in coming weeks or even days, ‘compromise’ – the very thing they fear the most – will ironically be the only show in town.
As Sinn Féin backed themselves into a corner thirteen months ago, stating ‘there would be no return to the status quo’ until x, y and z; and the DUP reacted by digging themselves further into their ‘no-surrender’ trench, the future began its’ drafting of two juxtaposed scripts: breakdown or breakthrough.
If we are on the verge of the latter, it’ll be nothing short of a painful blow to all sides; the remains of any unionist hegemony mindset will be checked once more, and certain elements within republicanism will be reminded that shake down politics in Northern Ireland is a tactic wholly incompatible with aspirations for a ‘fully inclusive’ thirty-two county Irish Republic; then it’ll be one more step along the reconciliation path we go.
Despite the negative effect on public services this past year, and the grave dent the impasse has dealt to public trust in our political process, one can only hope that any forthcoming deal will ignite a renewed sense of power-sharing, not only as an institution, but as an attitude.