McGuinness could have avoided North’s political stalemate, Poots says

DUP opposes Irish-language law that is ‘more about developing a sense of national identity’

Martin McGuinness: his personal willingness to seek agreement “played a very positive role on many occasions”, according to the former DUP minister Edwin Poots. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty

Martin McGuinness: his personal willingness to seek agreement “played a very positive role on many occasions”, according to the former DUP minister Edwin Poots. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty

 

It was difficult to disagree with the argument that were Martin McGuinness still alive Northern Ireland would not be locked in political stalemate, the former DUP minister Edwin Poots has said of the late Sinn Féin deputy first minister.

He told the MacGill Summer School, in Glenties in Co Donegal, on Wednesday night that he sat at the Northern Ireland Executive table for five years and witnessed many of the issues where agreement was sometimes extremely hard to find.

“There is little doubt that the personal willingness of someone like Martin McGuinness to seek that agreement played a very positive role on many occasions,” he said.

“The theory that we may not be in the political difficulties that are currently being experienced had Martin McGuinness still been present is one that has been put forward by a number of people, including my former party leader Peter Robinson, ” Mr Poots added. “It is not a theory that I find myself able to disagree very substantially with.”

Restoring devolution

The British and Irish governments and the North’s five main parties are to resume talks to restore devolution in September. Mr Poots said the issues at dispute were small when compared with the issues facing the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin in May 2007, ahead of the formation of the Executive that survived for a decade.

“Indeed, the issues holding up the restoration of devolution do not even compare to some of the massive challenges that were faced, and overcome, around the Executive table during the last 10 years,” said Mr Poots. “Such issues can be resolved when there is respect present, on both sides, and there is a willingness there, on both sides, to find a way forward.”

Mr Poots said that he was “personally fed up” at hearing the DUP parodied as being opposed to other cultures just because it says that its priorities at this time should be health, education, jobs and Brexit.

“Such criticism is especially irritating when it emanates from the mouths of members of a political party which means ‘Ourselves Alone’ and is utterly lacking in any understanding of what is at the ideological core of Protestants and unionists in Northern Ireland.”

Politicised Irish language

On the Irish language, the main issue holding up agreement between the DUP and Sinn Féin, Mr Poots said that in Co Donegal, unlike in Northern Ireland, the language was not politicised.

“Donegal is a county where the Irish language is very much alive. In this part of the world the Irish language is everything it ought to be. It isn’t threatening. It isn’t politicised. It isn’t used to exclude others. And it isn’t used as a weapon in a cultural war. It’s just a natural, normal part of everyday life.”

Mr Poots said that “anyone who speaks and loves the Irish language is as much a part of Northern Ireland life as a collaret-wearing Orangeman”.

“I want them to feel at home and feel respected and part of society,” he added. “What my party opposes is the introduction of Irish-language legislation that is more about developing a sense of national identity than it is about supporting the language itself.”

Concluding his speech, Mr Poots quoted an Irish proverb, “Maireann an chraobh ar an bhfál ach ní mhaireann an lámh do chuir,” or “the branch lives on the hedge though the hand that planted it be dead”.

“It’s an old Irish saying reminding us of our mortality and that our actions today will live long after we are gone. May we work together both north-south and east-west to ensure the best for all these British Isles,” he said.