The Devil Is compromise
In the crucible of a new English nationalism, it is poignant to hear the Irish language spoken in the chamber of the House of Commons after more than a century.
A row over teaching of the language is the salient issue preventing the formation of government in Northern Ireland. This at a time when as a polity it faces existential crisis as it leaves the EU, while remaining heavily invested in the Republic. Shorn of its military controls at the border - a recruiting sergeant for the paramilitary - and of power-sharing, the DUP has neither carrot nor stick.
So, the DUP rely on their control of Theresa May’s government with their merry band at Westminster throwing shadows should compromises need to be made; which they will.
Without Republicans Sinn Féin at Westminster, one assumes there will be no all-island view offered as they do not take their seats when they win them. As parochial as one may think the party, they exist both north and south of the border. Nevertheless it took a Welsh MP to speak Irish in the chamber to raise the delicate issue of language rights in a society which has traditionally denied them that, along with their flag and, for a long time, their church.
The DUP have retreated from their role at Stormont and into the one at Westminster, an arena which makes negotiation with Sinn Féin impossible. With no dialogue, representation or unified voice Northern Ireland could be dragged into a mire of incompetent boobery, and the Republic along with it.
Both parties should be advocating for the province to remain as part of both the EU and the UK, with customs checks that resemble precautions already taken to prevent the spread of BSE into Ireland from Britain.
It took a Welsh MP in London to raise an issue that should have been settled in Northern Ireland. The issue of language and culture which played a role in splitting the union nearly a century ago may do so again. Ireland’s interests within the union do not form part of the debate in which Sinn Féin are bound not to participate, and the DUP twist into a bellicose nationalism.
The Irish “backstop” is the barrier to negotiations progressing; the Stormont impasse and inward-looking Tories may cause us all to blunder into a no-deal Brexit. We need as many adults in the room as we can get right now and we don’t have them. A no-deal Brexit could affect Ireland more than even Great Britain. We need a coherent message from the people of Northern Ireland about what it is they want, and we are not “even in the ha’penny place”.
The prospect of the border’s return should focus minds in Belfast.
Let us hope that it does.