The latest talks aimed at restoring devolved rule to Northern Ireland have failed. Arlene Foster, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party and first minister of Northern Ireland when the Stormont Assembly collapsed early last year, has urged the Conservative secretary of state, Karen Bradley, who has been in office for a matter of weeks, not only to ‘set a budget but also to take key decisions impacting on our schools, infrastructure and hospitals’. She wants, in other words, that Northern Ireland be returned to direct rule from Westminster, and that Bradley start paying out the £1 billion that Theresa May was forced to pledge last year in exchange for the DUP’s help in propping up her minority government. The DUP’s deputy leader and leader at Westminster, Nigel Dodds, pointed out that this agreement was not contingent on the restoration of the executive at Stormont. The DUP supported devolution, Foster said, ‘but not at any price’.
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Vol. 40 No. 6 · 22 March 2018
Susan McKay makes a few slips in her use of the Irish language (LRB, 8 March). In the noun ‘Uachtarán’, meaning ‘President’, the accent is on the third ‘a’, not the second, and the Provisional IRA’s slogan is ‘Tiocfaidh ár lá’ (‘Our day will come’), where McKay has ‘Tiochaidh’. The greater problem, though, is that she overlooks the cynicism in Sinn Féin’s attitude to Irish. It seems that none of the Sinn Féin leadership in the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland can fashion a thought in the language, let alone legislate in it. At a recent press conference called to address the ‘crisis’, neither Michelle O’Neill nor Mary Lou McDonald could answer a question posed in Irish. Many native Irish speakers actually share some of the DUP’s exasperation: it’s hard to be lectured about a language that none of your interlocutors has bothered to learn.
Middle Temple, London EC4
It is impossible to disagree with Susan McKay’s account of the Democratic Unionist Party’s attempts to sabotage Northern Ireland’s Good Friday Agreement by slamming the door on the Irish language. A further point may be made. Most people in the province (including Unionists) don’t seem to appreciate that they reside and work in Gaelic-named places, among them Belfast (‘Mouth of the Sandy Ford’), Coleraine (‘Fern Recess’), Clogher (‘Stony Place’), Carrickfergus (‘Rock of Fergus’), Derry (‘Oak Grove’), Newry (‘The Yew’), Muckamore (‘Plain of Confluence’), Enniskillen (‘Ceithle’s Island’), Drumbo (‘Cow Ridge’), Donaghmore (‘Big Church’), Trillick (‘Three Flagstones’), Tempo (‘The turn to the right’), Slieve Gullion (‘Holy Mountain’) and Saul (‘Barn’). There are hundreds more, including the names of streets and roads. To a large extent, the Irish language is already well established in Uladh (‘Ulster’).
Vol. 40 No. 7 · 5 April 2018
There have been a few developments since the publication of Susan McKay’s piece on Northern Ireland (LRB, 8 March). She mentions that the DUP had ‘made itself useful to the Conservatives, secretly using a loophole in the Northern Irish law on political donations to channel large sums into a mainland advertising campaign for Brexit in the run-up to the 2016 referendum’. On 5 March the Transparency of Donations & Loans (NI Political Parties) Order 2018 was approved after a vote in the House of Commons. As a result, details of donations and loans of £7500 or more will now be made public. However, the cut-off date was set at July 2017, so donations and loans made during the EU referendum campaign of 2016 will remain concealed. (We do know that these donations included £435,000 given to the DUP – and spent in support of the Leave campaign – by a group of pro-Union business people called the Constitutional Research Council.)
McKay writes that Arlene Foster wanted Northern Ireland to be ‘returned to direct rule from Westminster, and that Karen Bradley start paying out the £1 billion that Theresa May was forced to pledge last year in exchange for the DUP’s help in propping up her minority government’. On 8 March, Bradley announced that a new budget for Northern Ireland will include £410 million of that £1 billion. That will include £80 million for the relief of current pressures on health and education provision, £30 million to address issues of mental health and severe deprivation, and £100 million for the long-term transformation of the health service.
On 7 March, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at Westminster heard evidence from Simon Hamilton, a senior DUP Northern Ireland Assembly member who was involved in the party’s negotiations with Sinn Féin. He is seen as one of the DUP’s moderates and would be very likely to return to Stormont as a minister under devolution; his remarks can be taken as an ‘official’ stance. He told the committee he saw little prospect of Stormont returning this year and hinted that there may have to be changes to the Good Friday Agreement before it could happen at all. He insisted that his party was ideologically committed to devolution but that in the absence of Stormont there was an urgent need for direct-rule decisions since that would be ‘better than having no decisions taken at all’ in such areas as health and education.
Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire