GETTING down to the business of “government for the people” is always framed by an insinuation of constitutional bias – or maybe more than insinuation. From Day One of discussions about what is “acceptable” from devolved politicians we hear calls about “finding common ground” and working together on “bread and butter issues”.

There is some imagined utopia that is promoted ad nauseam – if those we elect can just put aside wider political analysis and exclusively work on health, education and road sweeping that our land will flow with milk and honey. Of course, it is a myth that serves only those who do not want constitutional change.

Devolution is based on the premise that all parties cooperate on areas of agreement, discuss areas of disagreement and pursue non-change or change in a democratic framework. Last week unionism and the British Government found their sunlit uplands of the promotion of red, white and blue Larne Lanes. They co-produced a document that disparaged and insulted the Irish people who live in these six counties and everyone in the 26.

But such is the confidence of nationalism and republicanism that while it was noted, it did not create a crisis. It is regarded as a paper which reflects the crisis in the British union. While absolutely not taken for granted, or ignored, it is gamed into planning for the months and short years ahead.

The ridiculous attacks on Mary Lou McDonald, delegitimising her assertion that Irish unity is within touching distance, stood in contrast to the lack of attention to London’s defence of their union. There is a de facto media and political legitimisation of British rule that is not only disapplied to the equally legitimate aspiration to Irish unity, but actively promoted. The thing is, the people of this jurisdiction and the South are way ahead of those who try to impose false rules on the constitutional debate. There are no junior partners in this, all have equal standing.

Of course, responsible ministers will prove their mettle in the coming 38 months of this mandate. They will need to make the hard decisions on health together. They will need to deliver on the Irish Language Act. Casement Park needs to be built. Families need to be protected and pulled out of generational poverty. We all need protection from London’s misrule. And despite some people’s cynicism, all of the parties are well able to walk and chew gum.

Effective governance is entirely possible while respectful and democratic constitutional debate is enabled. In fact, it is essential. The truth is that it is unconscionable that the disparity between citizens on this island would continue to widen, that children born today in Dundalk might have healthier and longer lives than those living in Newry.
The DUP might engage in silly games by not getting into a joint photo with Leo Varadkar on the first real day back at work in Stormont, but they are exposed by the contrast with Michelle O’Neill hugging Rishi Sunak and her easy confidence beside the DUP hiding behind faux positioning.

The constitutional debate is here. Britain is cosseting unionism to get a monkey off its back – they absolutely have no intention of returning to direct rule. Britain is out of here in its head and heart, they just haven’t the courage to move the cases out of the spare room.