Is the Good Friday Agreement dead? It has certainly been successfully nullified by the DUP at Westminster.
When the Agreement was signed 20 years ago there were two unionist responses to it. The then majority of unionists represented by the Ulster Unionist Party of David Trimble reluctantly signed up to it and attempted to obstruct its operation from within. The then minority of unionists represented by the Rev. Ian Paisley did not sign up to it and attempted to destroy it from within. An element of the first group of unionists who were not happy with the terms of the Agreement acted as a kind of hand break on it within the majority group before deciding the game was up and joining the second group in outright hostility. Chief amongst them was the current leader of the DUP, Arlene Foster.
Over the course of the operation of the Agreement the minority unionist group replaced the majority group and decided to operate the agreement with the element in nationalism that they detested most, who had been the minority but which had become the majority after the original majority had bungled the Paradise of their own making.
The DUP did a deal with the devil despite the devil’s refusal to repent or wear sack cloth and ashes in repentance for his past sins. And the pact with the devil proved much more fruitful for all than the effort of the fallen Angels.
The Rev. Ian Paisley then conceived a masterly strategy to draw the devil away from his wicked ways and his carnal desires so that he might even embrace Heaven. The devil was to be brought into God’s House and be treated with an element of respect so that he would forget his yearnings for another place.
Although Paisley was got rid of by his former acolytes after conceiving such a radical plan his successor, Peter Robinson, initially embraced it and gave it its fullest expression in his famous/infamous Castlereagh speech of 2013.
But by then unionism had become unsettled by some mortal blows in the communal battle. The 2011 Census result revealed an impending Catholic majority and the Union flag restriction struck at unionist symbolism in the former citadel, which had become overrun by Fenians as the Protestants retreated to its hinterlands.
And so Robinson sounded the retreat from the Paisley strategy and things began gathering momentum in the other direction. Not feeding the crocodiles became the mantra of unionism instead of fattening them for contentment, as Robinson gave way to the UUP deserter, Foster.
However, another blow was in store for unionism. At the start of 2017 the political majority that it had held over the nationalists in the territory of its choosing was smashed by a resurgent Sinn Fein, buoyed up by Catholic discontent at no being fed. This made the Agreement very problematic for the DUP. The historic, inbuilt majority that unionism had used to frustrate nationalist advance could no longer be relied upon to do the job in the future. The goal posts needed moving.
At this point came the Brexit Opportunity. Brexit unfroze the stalemate in the communal grind by introducing an element of flux. It was all to play for again after the last offensive had become bogged down in the mud.
The new British Prime Minister, flattered at being portrayed as Iron Lady II, and believing she could enhance her predecessor’s small majority, decided on a snap election, whilst the Labour Party was tearing itself asunder. This was despite an Act of Parliament recently passed by her party establishing 5 year set terms. The fundamentals of British politics proved too strong for mere constitutional reform. The Constitution was restored by the Government and May exercised her Prerogative Power in going to the country.
But the election proved a disaster for Prime Minister May. Labour, who were to be humiliated, were made more cohesive in the election campaign and Its leader’s position was enhanced both in his party and in the country. And May found herself with no majority and dependent on the DUP to obtain the required parliamentary arithmetic to govern. She negotiated a confidence and supply agreement with the DUP to support her Government during the Brexit negotiations, which have proved to be negotiations within the Conservative Party rather than with the EU.
The new enhanced position of the DUP M.P.s has had an effect within the DUP. Foster, who was wounded by her incompetent handling of the RHI scheme, has joined the British Prime Minister, as a leader who remains on sufferance.
When Foster became leader it was an unexpected turn of events. It was generally thought that Nigel Dodds would follow Robinson. But once Foster threw her hat in the ring and availed of the current fashion for having leaders without testicles, Dodds decided the game was not worth the candle. He held fire and laid low for another time.
Dodds as leader of the phalanx of DUP M.P.s found himself at the axis of the new power. It was already in the interest of the DUP that power moved away from Stormont, where the unionist majority had been nullified, to Westminster, where they were omnipotent. The parliamentary arithmetic made them feel as powerful as John Redmond had felt a century ago as a result of May’s miscalculation. They went to bed with Theresa while Arlene, not being an M.P., froze in the outhouse.
Speaking of the outhouse – In the negotiations to restore Stormont it appears that Sinn Fein gave most of the ground and seemed the most desiring of the two parties for a new accommodation. Foster, herself, seems to have been at least favourable to an accommodation with some allowance for an Irish Language measure and gave reason to believe a deal was done. But the new axis of power – the strong DUP presence in the House of Commons – seem to have decided that the frolics around the outhouse were now inconsequential, compared with the walking of the corridors of power during the Nation’s moment of destiny. The power lies in Westminster and even a little bit of it was not to be given back to Sinn Fein.
The success of the McGuinness/Paisley period of government at Stormont unfortunately had the effect of enabling London, and Dublin, to withdraw from the tending of the Six Counties. But the Six Counties is a garden that quickly gets overgrown with weeds if it does not receive careful tending.
Brexit has made the Good Friday accommodation problematic in a number of ways. As usual instability in England has had detrimental effects in Ireland.
Surprisingly, after all the dissident republican criticism of the Agreement and Adams over the years they have had little to say at their moment of destiny. But surely if Good Friday is dead they were right all along and they are suddenly back in business? Perhaps they were not all they seemed to be?
We shall see. We live in interesting times.