ANALYSIS: Arlene Foster gives Theresa May a Valentine's Day to forget

Posted On: 
14th February 2018

It was fitting, in its painfully ironic way, that the "will they won't they" drama between the DUP and Sinn Fein collapsed on Valentines Day. 

Arlene Foster has said the power-sharing talks at Stormont are dead in the water.
PA Images

Arlene Foster delivered the political equivalent of "it's not me, it's you" regarding the nationalists' demands, particularly due to the issue of a standalone Irish Language Act. 

The attritional culture war between the Orange and Green has had many fronts; the issue of parading being the most longstanding and intricate. Yet in recent years, the shift towards language has been building up to this crunch moment.

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On the unionist side it has been a subject of scorn; in the days before the DUP struck any resonance on the national political consciousness and had to bring out the dusty crystal and best silver for the travelling mainland press and politicians, the Irish language was mocked by DUP representatives channeling their inner Bernard Manning. 

For the nationalists, a language which is spoken by comparatively few of them, including among Sinn Fein supporters, the issue has been cast as a barometer of unionism's commitment towards parity of esteem. In this febrile times of polarisation, catalysed particularly by Brexit, it has been elevated in the nationalist pantheon alongside "one man one vote" and policing reform. 

At the recent Westminster election, the DUP and Sinn Fein won historic results on respectively intransigent platforms. Today's events work for the internal dynamic of unionism and nationalism. Arlene Foster can stand as Britannia renewed having taken her chance of saying "no surrender" to the demands of nationalism. Naturally, the fawning reaction of DUP apparatchiks and assorted hangers-on ignores that Foster's botched ministerial handling of the Renewable Heat Initiative created the circumstances which led to this situation and the historic first of unionism losing its Stormont majority in March 2017. For all that the British press laud her acumen, Foster's approach may have serious consequences for the cause to which she has dedicated her life and career. 

The situation simply reinforces old truths for nationalism; that as long as Northern Ireland as a political unit persists their access to true equality will be denied. 

Any Stormont election - which an undoubtedly deflated Karen Bradley is surely obliged to call - will simply return the same people with the same views. Direct rule, garnished with Brexit, will serve up another complication to the Prime Minister who deigned to visit Belfast earlier this week.

The optimism of the Good Friday Agreement - a well-meaning agreement but one that has proven to be flawed - stands in stark contrast with today's stalemate. 20 years on, it seems unlikely that today's voters and politicians will be willing to make such a compromise.