IT was a tale of two Saturdays.
The first Saturday saw 5,000 people from across the island go to a conference in Dublin and hear thoughts on the constitutional future of the island. Thoughts that were honest and that proffered challenges to all of us in the room. How do we make it really inclusive? How do we make it respectful? How do we ensure we do not repeat the mistakes of partition or Brexit? Hard and necessary questions, universally framed in the confidence of our collective people to make a future which is better than our pasts. While framed by the present political challenges, the discussion was not restricted by them. All were welcome, even if not everyone thought this was the conference they wanted to attend.
The following Saturday the DUP gathered for their annual conference. This conference, although held in a hotel, could have been that memed bunker scene when the Soviets have surrounded Berlin. Only the bunker was better craic.
Just like the bunker scene when Hitler pulls off his glasses and runs riot, the DUP had an utter meltdown and their conference was set on fire when journalist Amanda Ferguson was barred from the conference. It was the gift that kept on giving as, not content with that act of self-harm, some DUP genius then decided to release a statement as to why they did what they did. An accredited journalist was barred because not only did she accept a paid professional gig at the Ireland’s Future conference, but she has also – wait for it – written about abortion rights. And there it was – the bunker was sealed from the inside. And Ireland’s Future got a second Saturday of social media attention.
In what should have been the real news of the day, however, Jeffrey Donaldson’s speech gave little hope for us to think that there is anything other than sadness and despair inside the DUP at the minute. And less hope that they want to seriously engage in real politik. At different stages they appear content for others – unelected big-mouthed others – to speak instead of them and to follow ultra-right lemmings over whatever cliff they choose, rather than take their mandate or their position seriously. Their willingness to burn their own tent on Saturday is a symptom of their malaise.
Under the current arrangements, demanded by the DUP at the St Andrews negotiations which restored Stormont, power-sharing relies on the DUP showing up and taking part. Good governance and good government rely on power-sharing being effective and genuine. Few of us have little faith that this is possible with the current state of unionism and the DUP as its largest party. Without leadership within political unionism, the unelected nihilist voices make progress increasingly unlikely. Postponing an election would only indulge this state of affairs.
The only hope for unionism is to make power-sharing work and to build societal confidence in Stormont. The DUP current actions are burning that tent too. As much as we desperately need Stormont restored, who can genuinely say they have confidence it can be or, if restored, that it will function successfully, no matter when another election is held? If this farce is not to become a tragedy new tactics will be required, tactics that reject unionism’s current scorch and burn.