That inter-governmental conference last week was a disgrace.
The first calls for the conference to be held were in the context of the collapse of the devolved government and the stubborn failure of the DUP or the British government to understand that implementation of previous agreements was at the core of any hope of local government’s resurrection. Indeed the demand for it to be held was the clear and unambiguous answer to the notion that British direct-rule might be re-introduced and that any such nonsense was incompatible with the Good Friday Agreement and the St Andrews Agreement, and the reminder that should the Good Friday Agreement face difficulties the two governments had clear obligations and should work together to ensure the peace treaty’s success.
Even getting the meeting to happen took too long. Two British Secretaries of State just swerved the question as to whether it should meet, despite Dublin supporting local nationalists’ parties demands that this element of the Agreement be realised and the inter-government conference convened. It was almost like the British government didn’t care!
So in that context surely expectations should have been high that the eventual holding of the meeting last week would be a moment where clear coordinated direction was at last given by both governments and a timetable for implementation of previous agreements would be outlined and cross party talks established, instead of the current policy of disinterested drift.
Instead, we bore witness to Simon Coveney, bend backwards assuring Unionism that no devolved matter would be discussed. Which meant that extraordinarily, the meeting was presented and perceived as a matter of confidence building for unionism. Which ensured the meeting was never going to address core issues.
The British government not implementing an Irish language act, as they had agreed to do under the St Andrews Agreement? Devolved.
The British government refusing to hold the public inquiry into Pat Finucane, despite agreeing to it at Weston Park? Legacy inquests, still not being funded, despite every possible legal body demanding it? Legacy is devolved.
A veto on equal marriage despite the clear inequality for LGBT citizens living here. Definitely devolved.
Except we all know that current British government policy is underscored by DUP policy and the demarcation of devolution vs British policy is a matter of sound-bite expediency.
Equality legislation is supposed to be the foundation of the Good Friday Agreement. What that meant in practice for local citizens was meant to be progressed through local institutions that fell because of the DUP veto approach to rights. Giving the DUP a further veto over the discussion of rights at the Inter-Governmental Conference, designed to rescue the GFA is absurd, and another abdication of responsibility by the Irish government to its obligations to Irish citizens.
Furthermore it contributes to the undermining of any confidence that political resolution can be found. No one I speak to believes that the institutions should be put up again. They have been too heavily compromised by scandal, partiality and the DUP’s Orange card.
Irish citizens have not gone through the past 18 months of turmoil for the DUP or Britain to emerge as having ridden out a storm. The days of our rights playing second fiddle to DUP notions of themselves are done. Dublin needs to catch up.