Opinion

Tom Collins: The waiting is over - Godot isn’t coming

Tom Collins

Tom Collins

Tom Collins is an Irish News columnist and former editor of the newspaper.

Co Dublin-born Nobel Laureate Samuel Beckett wrote Waiting for Godot
Co Dublin-born Nobel Laureate Samuel Beckett wrote Waiting for Godot Co Dublin-born Nobel Laureate Samuel Beckett wrote Waiting for Godot

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Samuel Beckett’s infamous absurdist play Waiting for Godot was a prescient warning of the intransigence of unionism.

Beckett, an alumnus of Portora Royal School, transcended his Irishness. Unlike James Joyce, who also turned his back on Ireland, but whose work was deeply influenced by his nationality, Beckett’s art was more closely aligned with European existentialists.

There are five main characters in Waiting for Godot: Vladimir and Estragon who are waiting under a tree filling in the time chatting; Pozzo and his slave Lucky, who stop with them for a while; and the elusive Godot who famously never turns up.

Literary critics look away now for I am about to go on a journey outside the world of Beckett studies.

For most of the past 25 years, Vladimir and Estragon have represented those of us hopeful that something positive will come of the Good Friday Agreement. We have been waiting at the base of this tree, putting in our time with idle chat - hopeful that Godot – in the guise of a Trimble, a Paisley, a Robinson, a Foster, a Poots or a Donaldson – will turn up.

In the words of Vladimir: “We are waiting for Godot to come. We are not saints, but we have kept our appointment.”

We have, indeed, kept our appointment.

There have been a couple of moments when Godot might have turned up. The referendum on the agreement itself was one such moment. But Trimble refused to risk using its mandate.

And then there was the briefest of episodes when the Chuckle Brothers threatened to up-end the bitter legacy of partition and the Troubles.

But Paisley was dispatched by his Praetorian Guard, and then McGuinness succumbed to human frailty and illness.

It’s been downhill since then.

Nationalists have been conditioned to hope for the best and expect the worst. Over the course of the past 100 years, their expectations have rarely, if ever, been confounded.

Donaldson offers no more hope that nationalist rights and culture will be respected than the notorious Northern Ireland Prime Minister Basil Brooke who famously said he would not have Catholics about the place.

As I write this column, I do not know whether the reappointed Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will carry out his threat to call another assembly election. (No matter what we might try to make you believe, journalists do not have the power the see into the future).

But I do know that whatever he decides, it will make little difference.

It is about time we faced up to the fact that Godot does not give a damn; and Godot isn’t coming.

This time around it is the protocol. Solve that and unionist leaders will find another problem, and another, and another.

Such has been the history of Northern Ireland: one step forward, two steps back.

Unionist politicians will always play the long game – teasing governments, their political opponents and the electorate.

In the meantime, working people suffer; communities are denied a chance to thrive; public services grind to a halt; cultures are demeaned.

The only people who do not suffer are obdurate politicians who pocket their salaries; who go off on free foreign trips; and who charge everything they can to expenses.

At one point in the play, Vladimir tells Estragon: “...Let us not waste our time in idle discourse! Let us do something, while we have the chance.”

But they don’t ‘do something’. They sit and wait, as we have been sitting and waiting.

I know of no-one who believes that sending the electorate back to the polling stations in December will advance politics here one centimetre. What is the point of shelling out £5 million on an election campaign which will take us back to where we are now.

It’s well past time to try another course.

Donaldson and his cronies have been placed on a pedestal in the hope that they will do what is right for their own electorate and the wider community. DUP politicians have been wooed with titles – sir this, lord and lady that,- and they have been made privy councillors and given the honorific right honourable. To no avail.

If they won’t help govern Northern Ireland, then others need to step up to the plate – the Irish and British governments jointly might provide the shock to the system needed to persuade Donaldson and his crew that time is being called on their antics.

If Godot won’t show, “well, we shall go”. No more waiting.