I’ve been wondering how the national conversation was going to develop around the Papal visit. Would this visit be where dead babies in septic tanks, Magdalene Laundries, systemic child abuse and gross violations of every kind got formal attention? Proper attention, not meaningless apologia. Go to Google and type in Catholic Church and Apology and you will see what I mean. It was certainly emerging as a main focus of the conversation regarding the visit.
Then Arlene Foster snubbed the invitation to attend the Papal event at Dublin Castle. So, a different conversation emerged. I get that she’s on holiday. Time with the kids is precious for those in political leadership. But no DUP replacement told its own story. They didn’t want to go.
Not going to Seamus Heaney’s funeral. Not going to Maurice Hayes’ funeral. Making a dance of eventually going to Martin McGuinness’ funeral. A clear picture of ritual snub. And it’s not like they don’t know the impact it has. They, and particularly Arlene Foster, are more than aware that this is another pathetic act of failed leadership that adds to all of the others, and tells us that fundamentally she does not want to share power, she wants to take power. Something it seems she and the DUP have not realised is no longer an option.
The declining of the invitation was not contextualised by abhorrence at the violence, abuse and intolerable treatment of women and children by the Church since partition, which may have at least contributed to the national conversation. Maybe they didn’t do that because that may have raised the meeting between Martin McGuinness and the head the Church of England and sovereign of Britain, to which many could equally provide 800 years of violations as good reasons Martin McGuinness might not have participated in the meeting? But no, sadly we all know that the DUP didn’t raise the Church’s violations simply because the DUP don’t care one jot what the Catholic Church did, or how the victims of their abuses fare. We see firm evidence of that with the treatment of survivors of institutional abuse.
So those of us who have critical concern that the Papal visit might compound the crimes committed by the Catholic Church, are now left frustratingly annoyed that Foster and the DUP are not attending a meeting that is itself deeply problematic. And we are obliged to be annoyed because we know their non-attendance is another critical problem. A fundamental problem that led to the institutions falling and a problem that is making it look impossible for them ever to be resurrected. Their rejection of the invitation is a sectarian snub to the head of the Catholic church, because he is the head of the Catholic Church.
Many Irish republican, nationalist, and Catholic (not to be conflated with each other) voters are saying the DUP will never and can never recognise their rights as equal citizens in the devolved context, and therefore have long given up on devolution. If those voters are to be proven wrong Unionism needs to prove it is not anti-Irish, anti-republican or anti-Catholic. That evidence would need to go way past mood-affecting gestures. The road for that unlikely development is running out.
A new Ireland free from Union with Britain or the Vatican looks far more likely.