AS the dust settles on #GFA25, the extravangaza of thought and persuasion in Queen's University last week reflecting on the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, I am left a little exhausted.
The British Government entered the rooms as if it were still a good faith co-guarantor of the Agreement and tried to heap the blame of current failures on the DUP, as though their hands were clean. Of course, this should be a familiar tale for all concerned, as unionism will always be the British Government’s sandbags of disclaim.
The fact that the previous week the British Government had fundamentally fractured governance in this place by announcing a budget which would plunge public services into irreparable damage and disadvantaged people and community into impossible and despairing poverty went largely uncommented on – until the Queen’s affair was over. The link between the despair of poverty and the perpetuation of conflict is of course obvious, unless you are a millionaire from England and don’t give a flying fig. Rishi Sunak promising money if the institutions are set up left a sour taste in the mouth, as his government oversaw cuts to the budgets of education, health, justice and, most of all, communities. Any promises of additional money will likely result in a net loss, going by all previous track records of Tory pretence of fiscal responsibility.
That there is a general acceptance that devolution can wait until after the local elections, when the DUP might get their mandate renewed and spin their reasons for return, is indicative of our political dysfunction. How dare the DUP give the British Government cover as children go to school hungry and end up in creaking hospitals with illnesses usually associated with poverty and hunger? It is morally outrageous and sickening, but somehow there is nothing too morally outrageous in a place where we are asked to accept this as some kind of community reconciliation and calling it out is presented as sectarian.
It is not sectarian to expect the DUP to shoulder the responsibility of shared government, as they are elected to do. And it is not anti-British to point out the continual bad faith of the British Government to our people and our peace. These are challenges for the DUP and the British Government.
It is also not sectarian to point to the role of militant loyalism that has engendered a political atmosphere of threat and fear to facilitate the political nihilism that prevails.
Reconciliation and generosity are essential for the future of our people. But pretending that right now the illegitimate actions of militant loyalism, the DUP and British Government are not harmful and dangerous is not part of the reconciliation we need.
The good people of #GFA25 pointed to much of all of that. They tried to create the space for a push towards better. And are to be heartily commended for it.
But this week the challenges remain. How do we hold on to the spirit of goodwill and courage while simultaneously pointing to the intransigent challenges to progress? It most certainly will not happen by pretending all is rosy in the garden or that harm is not being done. Those suffering deserve honesty and hard talk. And those who could alleviate that suffering but are not going to work deserve the direction that hard talk takes us.