From top: A member of the Dublin Senior football team laying a wreath at the Ulster Tower at the Somme, France in May; DUP leader Arlene Foster (standing) and Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill (in black) at the Ulster final between Fermanagh and Donegal in Clones, County Monaghan last Sunday; Derek Mooney
Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc. Though I am tempted to pretend that I recall this dusty old phrase from my days doing inter-cert Latin in Synge St., the truth is that I only know it from watching The West Wing.
It is the title of episode two of season one and its significance is explained by the President Bartlett character when it translates it to his staff saying:
“‘After it, therefore because of it.’ It means one thing follows the other, therefore it was caused by the other. But it’s not always true, in fact it’s hardly ever true.”
Yet another “The West Wing” truism. Nonetheless, the point is well made. It’s a common mistake in politics to so imagine that there is order and logic in events that we manage to project some form of order and sequencing on to them.
In politics, the cock-up theory more often applies than the conspiracy one.
But, just as we should not presume that Event A caused Event B to happen simply because one thing follows another, neither should we assume that there can be no other relationship between the two except causation.
The relationship between actions and events in politics can be far more complex than it may at first seem.
All of this is a somewhat convoluted way of explaining why I think the Dublin Senior Football team was one of the key architects of Arlene Foster’s visit to the Ulster Final in Clones last Sunday, even if is was a bit inadvertent.
Back in May last a group from Dublin GAA, including several players from the senior football team, visited the Ulster Memorial Tower as part of a tour of WWI sites around the Somme.
The Ulster Tower marks the spot near Thiepval in France from where the 36th Ulster Division attacked the German lines on the first day of the Battle of the Somme on July 1, 1916. Though they were one of the few divisions to make significant gains on the day, they came at a very heavy price. During the fifteen or so hours of battle that day the Ulster Division endured over 5,000 casualties and saw 2,069 of their comrades killed.
Though the Dublin GAA visit was low key and done with a minimum of fuss and publicity, news of it quickly spread courtesy of a generous online acknowledgement by the Somme Association of the respect paid by the team.
Am I saying that Arlene Foster’s trip to Clones to watch Fermanagh play in the Ulster Final was the direct and inevitable consequence of Dublin GAA’s Thiepval trip? No, I am not. But I am saying that simple, but sincere, actions, such as those of the Dublin GAA senior team did help set background for Arlene Foster’s visit to Clones.
This does not take anything away from the significance of her action – and action is the right word, because it was an action not merely a gesture.
Though she is not the first DUP leader to attend a GAA match, back in early 2012 then then leader and First Minister, Peter Robinson attended a McKenna cup final alongside the late Martin McGuinness, it was a welcome move in the context of the political entrenchment from both Sinn Féin and the DUP over the past year and a half.
While the rules of political dynamics may tempt some to start listing the gestures or actions that they now want to see Mary Lou McDonald or Michelle O’Neill perform as some form reciprocation, that would be a mistake. Though Sinn Féin are the masters of making demands of others, out-Sinn-Féin-ing the Shinners won’t move us forward.
The kudos in these situations comes not with doing something in response to demands, particularly demands from the other side, but in doing something almost spontaneous. I say “almost” as any such moves are calculated politically with an eye to the reaction, nonetheless the spontaneity comes from your assessment that this is the right time and this is the right move.
Hopefully, this is also what has motivated today’s outreach to the Orange Order by Mary Lou, which should also be welcomed, though it is still at the gesture stage and has not fully matured to an action.
Either way, while there is still a long way to go, seeing the political dynamic in the North change from negative to positive is still progress, by which I mean it is good to see the two main parties potentially begin to up the ante on how far they can reach across to the other, rather that how hard they can poke the other in the eye.
That said, while seeing Arlene and Michelle spend an hour or two attending a game together is positive, it is nowhere near as positive as seeing the two of them in a meeting room together hammering out an agreement that would allow both the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly to get back to work.
Not that this will be an easy task just now. While July has never been an easy political month in the North, it is potentially about to become a little more tricky.
A BBC NI Spotlight investigation to be aired later tonight claims to have new information on how the DUP and the UK Vote Leave campaign worked together in the Brexit referendum, particularly in the area of spending.
The programme raises serious questions about the DUP’s Brexit campaign finances, including a massive £435,000 Brexit spending spree, exploring a money trail which BBC Spotlight says leads to Ukraine and beyond.
If its claims prove accurate – and that is a big “if” right now – it will take a lot more than a visit to a GAA game to restore the institutions.
If I were a DUP MP right now I’d start to go into training, as it may require a few of them joining the Riverdance touring company to get this show back on the road.
Derek Mooney is a communications and public affairs consultant. He previously served as a Ministerial Adviser to the Fianna Fáil-led government 2004 – 2010. His column appears here every Tuesday Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney
Top pic: Belfast Newsletter