Sometimes it’s all about the framing. How do we approach something to make it suit an agenda? How do we hear something and begin to engage with the topic if it is framed for us?
So, let’s take Mrs Arlene Foster taking part in the Andrew Marr Show at the weekend. Not once was Mrs Foster challenged about the majority vote in the North against Brexit. Neither was she asked about the end of unionist majoritarianism in the last Assembly election. When asked what “gesture” she might make to Sinn Féin to get the institutions back she said Sinn Féin is trying to impose the Irish language on everyone – again no challenge to this lie. No mention that she is currently the subject of an RHI inquiry, with questions mounting rather than diminishing, and is the subject of a court ruling finding her personally responsible for the denial of victims’ human rights.
A Home Counties viewer might be sitting watching the programme thinking they were listening to a Unionist Prime Minister from the 1950s’ hey day of sectarian domination. Which might have been the very point.
If you switched over (if you could bear it) to the other British Sunday political programme you would have been treated to the spectacle of Jacob Rees Mogg being interviewed by Robert Peston, and with far more focus on the “Irish border” (who was it partitioned the country again?), and Peston, the interviewer stating that “Ireland has undermined British governments for well over 100years”. Mogg agreed, and provided a bit of context by saying, “well for much more than that”.
This is deliberate framing of Ireland, and by extension the EU, as mischief makers. Mogg also, by Peston’s invitation, accused those who negotiated the Good Friday Agreement who have raised security worries in relation to Brexit as being involved in “the worst type of politics”.
So the same Home Counties political anorak was now potentially sitting thinking that Arlene Foster reigns supreme in the North of Ireland with her anti-Brexit pro-Tory stance, and there are stereotypical Paddies in Dublin trying to make life hard for London, in a modern version of Britain’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity fervour. Basically a 21st century version of Punch magazine.
Framing is a deliberate tactic. It narrows the scope for debate and puts it in the territory you want it to be in. No matter how ludicrous or devoid of the realities that exist it might be.
We recognise it when the DUP say that our Assembly is down because Sinn Féin walked away and won’t walk back. Nothing to do with the abuse of powersharing, good will or the refusal to meet obligations of previous agreements. Deliberate framing.
Watch the word “weaponised”. It is introduced to de-legitimise rights-based issues. The point-blank refusal by the DUP to engage with an Gaeilge and its speakers on their own terms becomes framed in a wholly different and disgraceful way when “weaponised” is introduced. The Irish speakers become blamed for the denial of their own rights. The word is rarely, if at all challenged.
Right now, there is a concerted framing of Brexit and even the border to make it Ireland’s and the EU’s responsibility. It looks like the Tories may have appropriated DUP tactics. But they should know – they aren’t very effective.