There I was on Saturday saying “the DUP are playing this election well. Saying nothing. Keeping a low profile. Learning from the last election. Not riling the republican vote so it doesn’t come out in numbers again.”
The Sunday Independent was already being printed down in the outskirts of Dublin, containing an interview with Arlene Foster that would hit the social media headlines in minutes and the newspaper headlines the next day.
Arlene called the woman she keeps saying she wants to share devolved power with “blonde” when asked for what word she associates with the northern leader of Sinn Féin. This was after saying she thinks of the word “Weird” for Gerry Adams and “Standoffish” for MaryLou McDonald.
What was the connotation of the word “blonde”? Well it was no blonde joke. It was of course interpreted by many, including me, as a euphemism for dumb. It was gender specific and disparaging. There really was no argument. But it is much more politically significant.
The DUP have had a ten year strategy to undermine republicans and republicanism. This pretty sorry interview was a continuation of that strategy.
The truth is Sinn Féin tolerated that strategy for a long time for the sake of political stability, progress and the peace process. They were right to do that. And it was to Martin McGuinness’ credit that they did. But it is worth recalling some of it.
The SPAD Bill, initiated by Jim Allister, denying former political prisoners employment rights to positions as political advisors in Stormont. In one move criminalising republicans and the republican struggle. The language and tone of superiority at the time took a huge toll on republicans.
The Maze Long Kesh site, the letter from America from Peter Robinson which tore up all of the co-operative work done to develop a peace centre and sports ground on that site. Again asserting one narrative of the conflict and ignoring any UN recognition of the site as a place of significant historical interest. It was a significant snub to Martin McGuinness.
The comment “rogues and renegades” by Arlene Foster, following the suspension of the Executive by the DUP in 2015, seen as an outrageous and sectarian comment designed to elevate her superiority over republicans. Despite this, Sinn Féin went into negotiations and emerged with Fresh Start as a measure of trying to make the institutions work as part of the Good Friday Agreement.
Every day casual hatred such as “curry my yogurt” by Gregory Campbell or Sammy Wilson calling Catríona Ruane and Caral Ní Chuilín names at the DUP party conference. And doesn’t even touch the matters of NAMA, Red Sky or racism or homophobia.
Patience is truly finite and when the RHI scandal broke there was no generosity or space left for Sinn Féin. And Sinn Féin have made that really clear. Except the DUP is not listening and has chosen not to understand.
The denigration of Michelle O’Neill’s capacity began within minutes of her appointment, with a DUP produced image of her in Gerry Adams’ jacket pocket, telling us she had no mind or gravitas of her own. That approach was and remains strategic.
Political standards require temperate language. At the best of times, they require respect and cooperation. In these worst of times unionism clearly needs a new leader who can acknowledge a new approach based on good manners and commitment to cooperation.. After Sunday it is clearer than ever Arlene needs to be replaced if we have any hope of reinstating the institutions or saving the Good Friday Agreement.