Boris Johnson’s election victory might have one positive impact. His 80-seat, five-year majority means the Tories are not dependent on the DUP and can insist, should they be so moved, that the bickering that has silenced Stormont for three years ends.
Patrick Coghlan’s report on the Renewable Heating Incentive scandal will bring further difficulties for Arlene Foster’s party; indeed, it may end her lacklustre leadership.
If that report is used to fuel another round of pointless Punch ’n’ Judy, rather than the change indicated by evolving voting patterns, then this decade will start as grimly as the last one ended. That, hopefully, will not transpire.
Sinn Féin, the DUP’s loyal partners in intractability, face a different challenge. Despite John Finucane’s victory, the party electoral support diminished in once-secure areas. The SDLP win in Foyle was a demand that positive participation replace interminable protest.
That Conradh na Gaeilge had a “productive” meeting with NI secretary Julian Smith on Sunday suggests a positive dynamic is gathering momentum. Mary Lou McDonald’s party knows it must use any opportunity to restate its potency to southern voters — especially as Cork North Central TD Jonathan O’Brien said yesterday that he will not contest the general election.
That his withdrawal echoes the decision by Kerry’s Toiréasa Ferris, the party’s heir apparent to her father Martin’s seat, puts two SF seats in play. The assertion by Labour’s Brendan Howlin that the IRA army council still runs the party is a reminder, too, of relationships that cast a dark shadow.
Those doubts were underlined this weekend, the 44th anniversary of the Kingsmill massacre of ten Protestant workers. The attack took place close to where Catholics John Martin Reavey, 24, and Brian Reavey, 22, were murdered a day earlier by the UVF. A third brother, Anthony, 17), died later.
On the same day, three of the local O’Dowd family were murdered by the same UVF gang. Though it’s nearly half-a-century since that cross-community savagery, the memory remains potent in a society struggling to transcend its past. That society may be frustrated, too, by the sanctimonious south-of-the-border suggestions that it is time to move on.
The hypocrisy of those suggestions was highlighted in recent days by the vitriolic condemnation, especially online, of a Government proposal to remember the Irishmen who enlisted in the RIC or the DMP.
That knee jerk anger was epitomised by Fianna Fáil Mayor of Clare and — unsurprisingly — election candidate Cathal Crowe.
He promised to boycott the service and called on An Garda Síochána to distance itself from the event.
That he suggests the gardaí boycott a Government function brings the candidate’s understanding of actuality into serious question.
How sad, how predictable, and, ultimately, how wrong-headed. No matter what your views on the RIC or DMP, if this island is to be reunited, ceremonies like this will be an important, unavoidable, and occasionally uncomfortable, part of that very difficult process.
Unfortunately, the DUP and SF are not the only people whose understanding of how reconciliation works needs to be reviewed.