This Op-Ed piece was originally carried in the Belfast Newsletter on 26 July 2017.
There is rarely a week goes by when we do not hear Nationalist politicians reminding us how we must “protect the peace process”. Crucially, and this is a point regularly missed, there is no distinction in this phraseology between peace and ‘the process’.
The two are cleverly joined together in order to drive the sub conscious political narrative that if you are for peace then you must be for the process. Conversely if you are against the process, then you must be against peace. And so the emotional blackmail at the heart of the Belfast Agreement takes root.
Peace should not be dependent upon the Belfast Agreement designed ‘process’, but rather it should be a fundamental principle from all sides. Sinn Fein have for too long extracted concession after concession by simply tapping into the public sub consciousness and reminding everyone that we must ‘protect the peace process’. Why must we protect the Belfast Agreement process? What happens if the majority of people in Northern Ireland want real democracy in the form of voluntary coalition? Should they be denied that right in order to ‘protect the process’?
And therein lies the trick. Every process, by its very definition, has a beginning and an end. The Belfast Agreement has its well documented beginning, but let us look at the end envisaged by the ‘process’.
The Belfast Agreement allows for only one referendum, and that is on the question of Irish unity. And then a referendum every seven years until such times as the answer is the one that Nationalism wants. That is where the process ends.
Is it any wonder that Sinn Fein decrees at every possible opportunity that we must ‘protect the peace process’? The process is not designed to allow Nationalism to play a full and meaningful role in a stable and settled Northern Ireland, but rather to provide a vehicle to gradually undermine the legitimacy of the State under the false pretence of ‘parity of esteem’ and ‘equality’.
All of the above provides a context to the manipulated framework in which our political system operates. However, Unionism has a unique opportunity to right the wrongs of 1998, St Andrews and Hillsborough.
Now is the time to use Unionism’s increased influence at Westminster to do what the DUP always promised they would do- bring down the Belfast Agreement. Put an end to the ‘process’. And why not?
Sinn Fein will kick and scream and shout from the rooftops that it is an attack on the ‘process’. And yes, it would be, but why shouldn’t Unionism politically attack the process that has only one envisaged ending?
If Sinn Fein are now democrats, if they are genuine supporters of peace, then they must be supporters of peace whether democracy goes for them or against them. How perverse a situation do we live in whereby democracy must be stood on its head- in the form of mandatory coalition- in order that we can have peace. Surely it is the complete antithesis of democracy when peace is kept by holding metaphorical gun to its head?
The ‘peace process’ phraseology should be made linguistically redundant. It is an illusion. Peace and the process are two separate entities that have been uneasily welded together for the purpose of using a veto of fear to say that if the process doesn’t trundle on- and remember where it ends- then we can’t have peace.
We must always have an absence of violence and Sinn Fein must not be further rewarded for stopping killing people. We have had over 20 years of concessions to Sinn Fein as a ‘reward’ for an end to their repugnant campaign of terrorism, let us now put an end to the pretence that the ‘process’ concession meter must be fed in order to keep the peace.
It is time to call Sinn Fein out and for Unionism to go on the offensive politically. If Sinn Fein are now democrats, then they must be for peace no matter what. It can not be peace so long as they get what they want, because that would be a perversion of democracy and natural justice. That would be what we have had to stomach for over 20 years. Enough is enough.
We all want peace, and that should be the bedrock of our society, but let us separate peace from the process. When that happens it will unlock the potential for Unionism to fight back politically, rather than being confined to the straightjacket of the ‘process’.