It has been my intention to apprise you of the political event in Northern Ireland for some time. Unfortunately, every time I have attempted to do so, what I had written was made obsolescent by new events. At least as I write, here is the current political situation.
- The devolved government of Northern Ireland is in collapse.There has been no devolved local government in Northern Ireland since the resignation of Martin McGuinness in January.The key reasons for his resignations were
- DUP First Minister Arlene Foster’s refusal to step down without prejudice to allow a full and transparent investigation of an egregiously botched and tainted Renewable Heating Initiative, nicknamed “Cash for Ash”, that is projected to cost the people of Northern Ireland 450m.Since the Program was created and administered by Ms. Foster when she was Enterprise Minister, no reasonable person would argue that she cannotbe an impartial member of the investigation
- Continuing favoritism to the loyalist community and attacks against those who express an Irish identity by the DUP; specifically as carried out by DUP “Communities” Minister Paul Givan.Under his administration, hundreds of thousands of pounds were distributed to loyalist flute bands while cutting the modest budget for the Irish Language; additional funds were steered to a community halls program that almost exclusively favored the loyalist community and Orange Order and bypassed required “equality of impact” checks.
- An election was held on 2 March.The results were that the DUP remains the largest party, but now by only one seat over Sinn Fein.By law the parties had till 27 March to form a government.No government was formed by the 27 March deadline due to lack of progress in the issues listed in point (1).Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire gave the political parties more time to reach a coalition agreement after the 27 March deadline passed. Brokenshire threatened a new election or direct rule if no agreement could be reached by early May
- Before that deadline was reached, U.K. Conservative Party (AKA the Tories) Prime Minister Theresa May called a “snap election” (this despite several earlier statements that she would not do so).Under U.K. law, an election for the British Parliament was not required until 2020.Ms. May’s government held an outright majority in parliament, but a slight one.However, Ms. May and her advisers calculated that early polls indicated her party would gain a crushing victory and achieve an overwhelming majority if an early election was held.To facilitate the U.K.snap election, the deadline to reach a decision on the Northern Ireland Government was kicked down the road to June 29.
- For reasons tangential to this discussion, Ms. May’s strategy was a catastrophic failure.Not only did she not gain her overwhelming majority, the Tories lost the thin majority they had creating a “hung parliament”. To form a government, two or more of the parties would have to enter into an agreement to form a majority.Ms. May and her party have entered into an agreement with the DUP for the DUP to provide the Tories with the needed seats to form a government.
- The Tory/DUP alliance is a direct threat to the Good Friday Agreement which calls for the governments of Britain and Ireland to act with scrupulous impartiality as guarantors of the agreement. How can the British government be impartial when its very existence is dependent on the good will of the DUP; one of the opposing parties?
- The June 29th deadline un Northern Ireland has passed again, an extension has been made to July 3rd
Brothers, as you can see the situation in the North of Ireland is a mess and the conditions are ripe for a crisis. The government at Westminster at the best of times has shown a callous indifference to Northern Ireland (as in calling a snap election in the UK while the government of Northern Ireland is in collapsed); now that you have a hobbled U.K. government, beholding to the DUP for its existence we can hardly expect fair and thoughtful leadership in the North. There are reasons for legitimate concern that we are now entering into the “Marching Season” in this current environment.
There is only one remedy: we need the U.S., whose leadership brokered the Good Friday Agreement, to reengage in Northern Ireland before events further deteriorate and perhaps the peace process is irretrievably damaged. I ask you today to exercise that special right as Americans to contact your Senate and House representative and ask that a Special Envoy to Northern Ireland be reappointed immediately. If your State Convention are still before you pass a resolution of the assembled brothers and send it to your representatives. Peace in Ireland has only advanced when we, her exiled children in America, have taken an active interest and held are elected officials accountable to do the same.
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”
Neil F, Cosgrove
National Political Education Chair