Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein jumped through DUP’s hoops and fell short

The long-awaited Hillsborough Agreement is a sham with grave consequences for the nationalist community, says Chris Donnelly

Two weeks ago, the DUP stood isolated, cornered by circumstances and by the party’s failure to abide by its obligations in the eyes of the governing consensus throughout these islands and beyond.

The cracks in the one-time solid DUP edifice weren’t long in appearing as the leadership stood poised to pay the price for its enduring failure to educate its membership and community base about the pains of compromise at Stormont.

Alas, agreement was reached and the elbow-worn podiums wheeled out to prop up the by now very weary prime ministers.

Amid the smiles and laughter, there was even the promise of a new beginning; a hint that, this time, the deal would survive.

I’m afraid I don’t buy it. This deal’s a pup, a sham which would more appropriately have been agreed at Scarva.

Within minutes of publicly endorsing the ‘deal’, DUP leader Peter Robinson was boasting of his clever device to pull the shutters down if he didn’t get what he wanted over parading. How’s that for a new commitment to partnership?

As each of the firmly-set deadlines approaches, we can expect sabre-rattling and late night negotiation.

The Hillsborough deal has ensured that the DUP can effect the downfall of the Stormont administration on more favourable terms if republicans do not concede critical ground on the parading dispute.

The decision by Sinn Fein to agree to a rigid timeline over parading has elevated the issue in a manner which has unnerved many within the nationalist community.

It is discussed in terms which ask plenty of nationalists, but nothing of unionists regarding developing an equal society based on trust, tolerance and diversity.

Nationalist communities continue to suffer due to the inability of the leaders of nationalism/republicanism to alter the parameters within which the parades issue is discussed.

Those parameters decisively favour the Loyal Orders — and, by extension, the unionist political leadership — as the ideal compromise becomes one in which the unionist ‘quid’ of entering into negotiations with residents is deserving of a reciprocal ‘quo’ in the form of an unhindered parade.

Sinn Fein repeatedly jumped through DUP hoops in the vain hope of obtaining the elusive prize of the devolved policing and justice ministry it failed to nail down at St Andrews — a shortcoming which itself illustrated that republicans need some fresh, legally literate pairs of eyes around the top table.

Imagine were republicans to insist that discussions on parading only take place in the context of dealing with how either community embraces political and cultural expressions of the ‘other’ side.

Think what republicans could bring to that table regarding the display of the Irish tricolour — not to mention localised solutions involving reciprocal parading through loyalist communities.

Once DUP representatives realised that the price for pursuing a parade through the Crumlin Road interface would be having to sell a republican parade through Ballysillan, the present ‘parades-or-bust’ strategy would be shelved.

The republican mantra of seeking dialogue as the panacea for all parading ills is idealistic claptrap exposing a failure to adapt tactics which has seen nationalist communities outmaneouvred in areas like Ardoyne, Rasharkin and Springfield, provoking considerable local discontent, something which people living on the Garvaghy and Ormeau Roads are acutely aware of.

For the sake of the entire community, republicans need to jettison the tired rhetoric of talking and walking as it merely plays into the hands of the Loyal Orders and a Parades Commission, which has shown itself to be sympathetic to the walk for talk solution.

A resolution to parading is predicated on the acceptance that mutual respect entails being prepared to do precisely what we ask of others. Posing that challenge to the political leaders of unionism is the key to moving the discussion out of unionism’s comfort zone.

Chris Donnelly is a blogger and a former Sinn Fein council candidate

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