The proposals currently on the table include a convoluted ransom payment on the Irish Language. To all intents and purposes it is the February 18 deal, but re-worked in order to present what in practical terms is stand-alone Irish Language legislation so that it appears as if it is not stand-alone, and instead sits in conjunction with other legislative provision on Ulster Scots and ‘British rights’, with potentially minor provision for other minority languages thrown in as a fig leaf in order to- in theory- allow unionism to argue that Irish is not being elevated above other minority languages.
In relation to the Petition of Concern the dispute centered on oversight mechanisms and the numbers required to trigger the PoC. It was broadly agreed by all parties but the DUP that the number could increase to 32 and that the oversight mechanism would be external- a body such as the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. The DUP objected to the NIHRC having an oversight role given their partisan approach on social issues of conscience, instead arguing that the oversight mechanism should be internal within the Executive Office.
There has yet to be a single round-table session with all the parties in which the Irish Language has been discussed. No text has been put before the smaller parties. They have been briefed on the financial package, which is broadly deemed to be workably by all parties.
There is a wing of the DUP, led by Arlene Foster and Jeffrey Donaldson, who are desperate to get a deal. This section of the DUP has also failed to brief wider political unionism on the proposals, instead working with the British and Irish Governments (why is the Irish Government even meddling in the internal affairs of Northern Ireland?) and Sinn Fein to try and cobble together a fudge that will allow the ‘process’ to trundle on.
The section of the DUP desperate for a deal wanted it signed off before Christmas, advising the Secretary of State they didn’t want to give hardline unionism the chance to unpick it. However senior DUP sources claim that in the week before Christmas two senior DUP MLAs- acting with the support of senior MPs and grassroots unionism- stepped in to put the brakes on this attempt to push it over the line, stalling the progress until such times as the MPs returned and were able to take a more direct involvement in the talks process. As part of this intervention the intervening DUP faction injected the issue of abortion into the talks.
It is understand the majority of MPs are opposed to concessions on the Irish Language, and are due back late on Thursday at which point they expect to receive a full briefing on the draft text put before the negotiating teams on Wednesday evening.
In the most recent Friday meeting of the DUP Assembly group, Arlene Foster was openly challenged on her stewardship of the talks. A number of DUP MLAs expressed opposition to any concessions on the Irish Language, and privately many are making clear that they will not agree to Irish Language legislative provision in any shape or form.
There is much spin going on in the background, with desperate efforts to present the convoluted Irish Language proposal in a manner that can be all things to all people. In true ‘peace process’ style, it allows both sides to pretend they have won. That, of course, is not the case.
Here is why; nationalism has collapsed the institutions for three years by pulling the ‘process’ levers which necessitates that the ‘process’ can only work so long as nationalism consents, and in order to obtain their consent, unionism must be ‘process-enablers’ and as such give concession after concession. There will eventually be a dawning of this absurd reality when unionism collectively asks itself the salient question; where does the process end?
These talks are another staging post in the ‘process’, which is viewed by nationalists as transitional. And in order for the transition to keep moving along its logical trajectory Northern Ireland has to be incrementally stripped of British identity and linkage and harmonised with Irish identity and all-Ireland structures.
Therefore any gain for nationalism in these talks is a reward for pulling the levers of the ‘process’; it is to pay the latest ransom demand. The British and Irish Governments are conspiring with a litany of peace processors to spin and conceal this latest ransom payment to nationalism. The fact that they are seeking to hide the ransom payment as a piece by peace direct debit rather than an up-front surrender does not change the reality that the politics of hostage is to be rewarded.
While all this is going on, Westminster is legislating for a Betrayal Act to drive us into an economic United Ireland and onto the window ledge of the union. That Betrayal Act removes the cross community consent mechanism enshrined within Strand 1 (5) (d) of the Belfast Agreement. The very first time there is deemed to be a Assembly majority to deliver a key nationalist demand, the previously holy writ of the Belfast Agreement- which we have been consistently told must be protected ‘in all its parts’- is cast aside.
That raises a very important point for unionism; how could any unionist, in all conscience, continue to operate within the structures of the Belfast Agreement following this act of bad faith and nationalist supremacy?
Surely the most important issue which must be injected into the talks is the operation of section (42) of the NI Act 1998 and whether this will apply to the Betrayal Act consent mechanisms for the Northern Ireland arrangements?
If the DUP do a deal which not only pays nationalism’s ransom demand, but further than that fails to secure the consent mechanism protections in relation to the Betrayal Act then it would be a failure so catastrophic that it would condemn unionism to a purgatory of a hybrid British-Irish status, locked within the confines of the ‘process’ which has only one end point; a United Ireland.
Therefore not only must grassroots unionism/loyalism ensure that our elected representatives understand that the Irish Language issue is actually about the wider principle of once again paying nationalism’s ransom demands, but further than that unionism has a ransom demand of our own; no cross community consent mechanism for the Betrayal Act, then unionist withdrawal of support for the Belfast Agreement. That means no Stormont.