Written for the Andersonstown News 8.30am Tuesday 13 Feb before everything went pear shaped
The film Lincoln is great show. Although the book Team of Rivals on which it is based is fantastic and well worth the effort. But Daniel Day Lewis puts in a great shift as the war time Lincoln facing into a vote on the abolition of slavery. It is hardly a spoiler at this stage to say that the war had started to turn in the Union’s favour and, after tip toeing around it for most of the presidency, Lincoln decided to put through legislation for the abolition of slavery as he faced into an uncertain presidential election.
The scene that steals the show for Day Lewis is the one where he faces down his cabinet who are telling him all the reasons it cannot be done, thumps the table and declares “I am the President of the United States”. His colleagues gulp and go out and do what needs to be done, and the vote is passed.
Apparently that is fairly historically accurate. While he was an expert at building and fostering alliances when it came to the bit Old Abe asserted his authority and position and asked that the right thing ybe done. And history remembers him for as one of the greatest leaders of the 19th and 20th centuries as a result.
Arlene Foster is no Abraham Lincoln. She couldn’t pull off the hat for start. But she has a formidable brooch. Well... it’s a statement piece! She also has a cabinet around her that are happy for her to take responsibility and put her neck on the line while they chirp and tweet. Is she going to realise her own Lincoln moment?
For her choice is clear. It is not an Irish language act alone. It is not dancing around equal marriage alone. It is this. Will she lead her party into treating Irish citizens living in this part of Ireland as equal citizens? Or will she, like the American secessionists (quite of few of them Ulster Scots), put her head in the sand and sing Dixie while history moves on without her?
That means treating the Irish Government as co-equal partners to the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. Not as nuisance neighbours down the road. It means treating every expression of Irishness as legitimate. The Irish flag equal in status to the British flag. Irish language speakers treated as equal citizens.
It means urgent establishment of mechanisms to deal with the past in a fashion that does not criminalise bereaved relatives or try to strip them of their profound dignity as they engage in painful journeys of recovery of truth and justice, just because emerging truths will challenge British war propaganda.
This week is her moment of choice. “Respect”, means recognition of Irish citizens living on this side of their own country as equals. Something denied since partition. And Foster knows what needs to be done. Will she assert her authority? Will she let us see another dimension to her personality. Or will she go the way of the dinosaurs? Because if she does choose the latter then Irish citizens will give up on the northern assembly. They will reimagine a united Ireland and how unionist friends find their place in it without anorthern assembly. And that truth really does go marching on….
Sadly we now know the answer, but her day may yet come!