In Belfast, world leaders beg the DUP to play ball. They won’t … for now

Belfast ̵1; The great and the good came from London, Dublin and Brussels. Also from Washington and Florida, New York and Maine. If his mission was to persuade the Democratic Unionist Party to return to regional government in Northern Ireland, he has failed – for now.

official reason for this week the stars The political gathering in Belfast – concluding Wednesday with the presence of EU royalty such as an ex-US president, several former and current British prime ministers, as well as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen – reflected on the Good Friday Agreement peace deal To do. quarter of a century ago.

But today’s politics means finding a way to restore the original aims of the 1998 peace deal – a stable government in Northern Ireland, uniting the region’s British unionists and Irish nationalists – in the years that follow. quarreling And failure,

The power of veto is currently controlled by the Democratic Unionists, the party that long opposed the 1998 deal and Keeps looking for new reasons post-Brexit To avoid resuming his awkward alliance with Sinn Féin’s Irish republicans.

Those few DUP politicians are braving this week’s Good Friday Agreement love-fest cut single figures Amidst the crowd at Queen’s University Belfast.

Most onlookers instead sought photographs with the political leaders who helped make 1998 a success: Bill and Hillary Clinton, Tony Blair, former Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern and, perhaps most of all, George Mitchell, former US The Senate majority leader now afforded Belfast. Sainthood for his patient leadership of the Good Friday talks.

In turn, each used their platform to take oblique shots at the DUP, while treating it – for diplomatic reasons – as The Party That Must Not Be Named.

Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former US President Bill Clinton shared the stage on the first day of the three-day conference to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. Niall Carson – Pool/Getty Images

Delivering her first public speech in three years, 89-year-old Michelle opened the Queen’s conference on Monday with a humble but eloquent 45-minute speech that outlined everything that 1998 got right – but could still get wrong Is.

Without naming the DUP, Mitchell warned against “100 per cent” across all parties who “want everything their way all the time. To them any compromise is weakness. But I tell you that logical, principled compromise necessary, especially in divided societies.

Britain’s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Chris Heaton-Harris, and Irish Foreign Minister Michael Martin doubled down on that message when they appeared together on stage.

“Real leaders know when to say yes,” said Heaton-Harris, who called the obstruction of the DUP’s power-sharing in Stormont “the biggest threat to Northern Ireland’s place in the union”.

DUP leader Geoffrey Donaldson quickly hit back on social media, accusing Heaton-Harris of sounding like “an clueless Irish-American politician” and saying she “would not” bullied in presenting.

But the messages came thick and fast. Blair sought a solution “that will get the government here working again.” Hillary Clinton said that restoring power to Stormont should be the “first order of business”.

And the pressure on the DUP will continue on Wednesday when UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, von der Leyen and other star guests fly in to kick off the event. Sunak warned in comments released overnight that all sides “have work to do” to deliver the “unified society” promised by the Good Friday Agreement. Sunak will host his own celebration at Hillsborough Castle that evening, along with several of his predecessors, including Blair, Boris Johnson and Theresa May.

look to the future

Over coffee and biscuits at tables dotted around the Queen’s compound, politicians and backroom operatives from Northern Ireland’s other major parties speculated on the future of local politics if the DUP does not ask for power-sharing.

“We cannot let the Good Friday Agreement wither on the vine. It will be death by a thousand cuts,” said Naomi Long, whose cross-community Alliance party came a strong third in last year’s Northern Ireland Assembly vote.

He said that in the national referendum that followed the 1998 peace deal, the DUP and around 29 per cent of Northern Irish voters rejected the hard-fought deal.

“There has never been complete consensus for the Good Friday Agreement and for any agreement since. You should only need substantial consensus,” she told Politico, arguing that Sinn Féin and The current rules giving the DUP a veto should be abandoned.

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Social Democratic and Labor Party leader Colm Eastwood, Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald, Mark Simpson, Alliance Party leader Naomi Long, Emma Little-Pengelly and Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. Niall Carson – Pool/Getty Images

Sinn Féin and its moderate rival for Irish nationalist votes, the Social Democratic and Labor Party, say they are open to the Alliance’s reform calls – but only after the DUP ends its current boycott of Stormont.

Gerry Adams, who led Sinn Féin from 1983 to 2018, said, “We cannot leave the DUP and still cast a long shadow over the thinking of the party.” “In fairness to them, the real problem is in London. This Tory government has no real investment in this process or the Good Friday Agreement. The first step here is to put institutions back in place.”

Former US President Bill Clinton, who dropped by the campus to meet Donaldson and her closest party lieutenants – Emma Little-Pengelly, Gordon Lyons and Gavin Robinson – later said he was more optimistic that the DUP would stick to its plan on power-sharing. Will end the blockade relatively soon.

“I hope that, in the near future, the barriers to bringing government together again will be removed,” said Clinton, who visited Londonderry (also spelled Derry), Northern Ireland’s second largest city. Travelled. to talk in the same city hall where he delivered the most enthusiastically received speech His 1995 visit – the first by any US President to Northern Ireland.

election fever

But the current impasse has already lasted a year and shows no signs of an immediate end, with election posters now heading to Belfast for the May 18 council elections, in which the DUP will continue its hardline stance to regain its core vote. considers necessary.

The DUP’s Little-Pengelly was the lone refugee in a panel discussion between the leaders of Northern Ireland’s five largest political parties. The rest want the government to be formed immediately based on the results of the May 2022 assembly elections.

In that vote, Sinn Féin overtook the DUP for the first time, giving Irish republicans the right to hold the top post of First Minister. Even moderate unionists say it is now their right to lead a new government.

“Sinn Féin became the largest party. If they are not allowed to take their place and if we are not allowed to form and run a government now, then we are really trampling on the whole of democracy here in Northern Ireland,” Ulster unionist leader Doug Beatty said to thunderous applause from the sizable supportive crowd.

Little-Pengelly stood her ground, insisting that her party also wanted lasting peace and power-sharing – but not at the expense of post-Brexit rules that would make Northern Ireland more difficult for the rest of Ireland than for neighboring Britain. Makes it easy to do business with.

his party yet to accept The UK-EU Windsor Framework deal that will reduce, but not eliminate, EU checks on British goods arriving at Northern Irish ports – and is unlikely to do so until at least the May local elections are out of the way.

“The reality is, sometimes, as hard as it may be, saying ‘no’ is the right thing to do,” Little-Pengelly said – to complete silence from the hall.

For a long time a party known for its dogma is not ready to give up the ground.