Belfast Telegraph

Arlene Foster must waken up and recognise the need to bind wounds of our broken society

It will take a lot to convince nationalists that Arlene Foster respects their tradition, says Alban Maginness

Despite Arlene Foster's softer words and more conciliatory tone at the weekend, she has previously designated this election as being "brutal" and has ensured that it will be just that with her harsh language and appalling disrespect for Irish nationalism through her contemptuous dismissal of an Irish Language Act.

While most nationalists do not speak Irish, they value it and see it as part of their cultural inheritance and as part of their Irishness. While an Irish language Act is not regarded as a top priority by many nationalists, Arlene's dismissive and belittling attitude towards the language caused great hurt and offence. It was seen as an attack on nationalism itself.

Arlene has admitted: "A perception has grown that I am hostile to the interests of nationalist and republican people living in Northern Ireland. I take my share of responsibility for some people having cause to believe that, but nothing could be further from the truth."

At least she has wakened up to the fact that she is now perceived as being hostile, and accepts some responsibility for that perception. One is thankful for that realisation, belated though it may be.

But Arlene Foster has to do a lot more to restore her credibility among the nationalist community. She has to show some friendship, generosity and respect for nationalist people and their political tradition.

Arlene now protests that she is not against the Irish language, or, indeed, nationalism itself. She explained that her opposition to an Irish Language Act is not based on a hostility to the Irish language, but the excessive cost it would create.

If that is her true position, why couldn't she have said that before now, avoiding the widespread hurt and insult that she has created?

Given her offensive utterances over the past few weeks, it will take a lot of convincing for nationalists to accept that she is not inherently anti-nationalist and that she truly accepts and respects the Irish nationalist tradition.

This, of course, goes to the nub of the problem with the DUP, which is that, although they were in a power-sharing government, they did not recognise it as a partnership between the two main political traditions, Irish nationalism and Ulster Unionism.

They saw it as an enforced co-existence between two parties, in which the DUP sought, where they could, to re-establish unionist political superiority. Their approach to the Good Friday Agreement was an a la carte one, where they cherry-picked what suited and ignored what didn't serve their interests.

Partnership between north and south was seen as a series of formal meetings between the two governments, without any substance and without any real attempt to bring both governments closer together in a really vibrant friendship.

They also resented the British Government's close and friendly working relationship with the south within the EU. With Brexit, they saw that process being damaged and, hopefully, killed off.

They enjoyed the power and perks of office, but did little to build any sort of reconciliation. The fact is, they did not accept the Good Friday Agreement as a conflict-resolution process, but rather saw it as a conflict-conservation process, where no attempt was to be made to address the causes of the conflict.

Old hurts and wrongs were nurtured and kept alive in a non-violent, but noxious, form. They nursed their wrath to keep it warm and occasionally let it spill over into the public square. Sadly, for all of us, they did not see the Executive, nor the Assembly, as a healing process.

For them, the wounds of the past could be picked over and revisited without being allowed to heal.

This can no longer be tolerated. Even the DUP must waken up and see the need to bind the wounds of our broken society. They also have a duty to heal our historically divided people and to transform broken relationships. The DUP must do that, or perish like the dinosaurs.

John Hume had a notice in his office that read: "Good people elect bad politicians by not voting."

If good people do not come out to vote in strength, we will see a lot of bad politicians elected on March 2 and bad politics will continue.

Despite the prevailing mood of despair about politics among the electorate, if people want change, they must come out and vote for that change.

Turnout is crucial and abstaining simply means more of the same.

That is, of course, a counsel of despair and is a natural, but wrong, response, to our present political crisis.

So, if you really want to make a difference, vote for change.

That means voting for those parties that will work together in friendship to deliver real change.

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