Shankill and Falls divided on merits of agreement


While most of those willing to talk on the Shankill Road feel let down, there is cautious optimism on the Falls, writes FIONOLA MEREDITH

REACTION ON the streets of Belfast to the devolution agreement has been in some areas cautiously optimistic, in others jaded, disillusioned and downbeat.

“I would support any deal that brings us back to normality,” said Margaret McCrisken on the Falls Road. “I really get the feeling that there’s a desire to move forward. Well, I’d love to think so, anyway.”

Is she prepared to accept the authenticity of this new “spirit of partnership” that has belatedly bloomed between the DUP and Sinn Féin? Is it genuine? “Well, they’re genuine, because they have no other choice.”

Down the road at An Cultúrlann, there’s an almost palpable buzz in the air, and the topic of conversation at every table in the cafe is the Hillsborough deal. “I think there is a celebratory atmosphere around the Falls Road. I’m pleased the deal has been done,” says Rose Devlin, sharing a cappuccino with her friend, Phil McBride.

Devlin thinks it was the reported promises of help for the beleaguered Presbyterian Mutual Society that inched the DUP towards acceptance. “That’s what sealed it for the DUP. If I thought I would get back £20,000 savings I think I would forego a march on the Garvaghy Road.”

Fergus O’Hare, manager of Radio Fáilte, which is booming from the speakers outside An Cultúrlann, is keen that there should be resolution on the issue of an Irish Language Act. But he isn’t surprised that Sinn Féin and the DUP have finally thrashed out a mutually acceptable compromise on policing and justice. “It looks like they have come through okay. Peter Robinson has brought his party with him. It was the only way to go. The alternatives were of no benefit to any of the parties.”

Others are more sceptical. Dónall Mac Giolla Choill thinks it’s a little early for celebrations. “They haven’t got their act together yet. The talking hasn’t finished. There’s a lot of internal stuff for the DUP to deal with. It needs to have a conversation with itself. I mean, they weren’t at all happy, and then suddenly, first thing in the morning, we have this miraculous deal. So we’re by no means out of the woods.”

And Ciaran Benstead says it’s important to realise that the devolution of policing and justice powers is “not a concession to nationalists. That’s been the DUP’s aim all along. I think that nationalists and republicans are actually better served under direct rule. The way things are now, everything is subject to the unionist veto.”

On the Shankill Road, there’s a very different atmosphere. The shops are pulling their shutters down early, and most people seem more concerned with getting home at the end of a long week than discussing the new political deal. The majority of those who do stop feel aggrieved, sidelined and let down.

“We’re just fed up with the whole lot of them, that’s what everyone says on the Shankill,” calls one woman. At Mooney’s butchers, Alexander Brown and Darren Hinds are despondent about the future of the Protestant community. “Our politicians haven’t negotiated hard enough. Now everyone thinks the Prods are too soft,” says Brown. “I don’t think there will be any Orange parades now, and in another five or 10 years, we’ll be seeing a united Ireland.”

“The British government has just given in to Sinn Féin. If I had my chance I’d be out of here and away to Australia,” adds Hinds.

At her greengrocer’s shop across the road, Kathleen Dalton says that unionists have been let down by their representatives. “I won’t vote for the DUP again. I’ll give Jim Allister [the hardline leader of Traditional Unionist Voice] my vote next time. He stands up for his principles.”

But pensioner Malcolm McCalmont says that politicians have got their priorities wrong. “Too much has been made of parading. And they’ll argue about policing and law and order for another 100 years. They’re going on about the Garvaghy Road while hundreds of thousands are unemployed in Northern Ireland. It’s a load of rubbish.”

“Sack the lot of them,” agrees James Pollock, behind the counter of SOS Shoe Repairs. “They’re not worth a bag of onions. You feel you can’t trust them. Where’s the honesty and the integrity?”