Today we await the Brexit negotiation that could well bury the Good Friday Agreement. And we sit knowing the local Assembly is no closer to being re-established than it was on the day Martin McGuinness resigned.
The political environment is, to put it mildly, “uncertain”. There is no answer to the question “what will happen next?” Optimists say, “this is a time of change and everything’s to play for” and pessimists say “this place will never change”.
The DUP shout the institutions are down because of a “Sinn Féin Boycott” (presumably because they broke all their mirrors so cannot look in one) and Sinn Féin point to unfulfilled legal commitments that were vetoed.
You could point to the Tory DUP pact and say that’s where it all went wrong. The Tories are caught reneging on safeguarding their commitments to Irish citizens living here by the Good Friday Agreement, because since last May they have been in hock to the DUP’s ten Westminster votes.
But the Assembly was already down by then, the Brexit negotiations were nowhere, and the British Government were not fulfilling their obligations as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement for years. So rather than being the point, it just made a bad situation sickening.
You could point to the RHI cesspool but even Martin McGuinness’ statement of resignation made clear that RHI was only the deciding moment.
You could see the Assembly elections in 2016 – the “Arlene’s On Fire” election – as the shift after DUP ministers began removing Irish names from boats and lighting 12th July bonfires with big contemptuous grins. But none of that behaviour was new.
2013 was the beginning of the end. Two things happened that year that made it clear the institutions were in fundamental trouble. The DUP backed the Jim Allister’s SPAD Bill. So did others, but when the DUP did it was clear that republicans were in government with a party that did not value the building of restorative relationships in a post conflict setting. The DUP were cockahoop about a Bill which would criminalise republicans. And that was the step change in tone.
Then Peter Robinson sent a letter from America to Martin McGuinness, stepping away from the agreement to develop the Long Kesh/Maze site. Again, that fed the narrative around republicans and criminality and sowed further seeds for destruction.
And disgracefully in the years that followed the British and Irish governments stayed at home and silent as this drift into failure bounced on continuous rocks of crisis.
Goodwill and generosity were truly squandered. They are precious commodities rarely recovered in politics.
Imagine if none of that had happened. Imagine if the DUP and Sinn Féin right now had genuine partnership facing Brexit. I have no doubt that we be sitting very close to an economic golden egg of “Special Status” rather than on the precipice of ruin.
Or maybe not. Because maybe the pessimists are right. Maybe unionism is quite simply incapable of sharing power on an equal basis, so that was never going to happen. If that is the case that leaves the population who voted Remain and especially Irish citizens about to see their rights go up in a post-Brexit festival bonfire with only one question. When will An Taoiseach call on the Prime Minister to call the Border Poll?