Even by Northern Ireland standards, the past week has been a political car crash.
The DUP all but imploded, Sinn Fein went to the Westminster Parliament – which it boycotts on ‘principle’ – asking the British government to introduce an Irish Language Act, the Assembly teetered on the verge of being collapsed and all the while the living and working conditions and the quality of life of the people of Northern Ireland improved not one iota.
Precipice politics is the hall mark of nationalism, and for the past fifty years at least we have had to endure the consequences of that: on the streets, at election time, in council chambers and in the Assembly.
Never is pushing others close to the edge more exciting, for all forms of nationalism, than when the push is against their mirror image.
British nationalism in the form of the DUP and Irish nationalism as embodied by Sinn Fein are both negative and reactionary forces.
Predictability and pointed sticks
Unionism consistently reacts with an alarming predictability to provocation from Sinn Fein’s Irish nationalism. Its default position appears be to reverse up the nearest political cul-de-sac leaving its back against the wall and with nowhere to go.
Sinn Fein for its part runs around with a pointed stick prodding every sleeping unionist dog it can find until one awakens and reacts. This week has been no different. Ironically, the alleged DUP hard man Edwin Poots agreed to the Secretary of State’s plan to introduce the cultural component of the ‘New Decade – New Approach’ deal, but once again the DUP juggernaut was predictably thrown into reverse.
And what has it all been for? Tribal precipice politics pushes one side to the edge. Blink first and the other one wins – but everyone else loses.
While the Assembly was being pushed nearer to the cliff edge not one single patient came off the waiting list as a result. Not one single job was created. Not a single new childcare place was funded. Not a single brick was laid for a new house and not an inch of progress was made towards creating a healthier environment.
Sinn Fein’s week was not about the Irish language or any cultural package. That just happened to be the current sleeping dog that they’ve poked. Previously Sinn Fein threatened the Assembly’s future over a lack of rights for the LGBT+ community. What ever happened to that principled stand?
The DUP’s opposition was less to do with a dislike of the Irish language and more to do with the fact that Sinn Fein are campaigning for it.
These forms of toxic nationalism are not part of the solution – they are the problem.
It amounts to a Northern Ireland version of ‘The Old Razzle Dazzle’. Only a united working class can progress this society, but when we are continually forced to stare into the abyss it’s very hard to look up and imagine a different future.
A different future is possible, but it can only be achieved through a transformational shift to secular, socialist, anti-sectarian class politics.