Tuesday 19 November 2019

Faux crisis just another tantrum

The mollycoddling of the North's political version of spoiled toddlers has to stop, writes Eilis O'Hanlon

LOSING SLEEP: Gordon Brown and Brian Cowen have
more pressing problems to be dealing with than spending
their days and nights trying to cajole the Sinn Fein and DUP delegations into agreement on policing.
LOSING SLEEP: Gordon Brown and Brian Cowen have more pressing problems to be dealing with than spending their days and nights trying to cajole the Sinn Fein and DUP delegations into agreement on policing.

Eilis O'Hanlon

Crisis, what crisis? Former British Prime Minister James Callaghan was pilloried for supposedly uttering those words when he arrived home in the late Seventies in the midst of industrial chaos.

Actually he never said them, but the current holder of the post, together with the Taoiseach, could have done worse last week than repeat the infamous dictum as Sinn Fein and the DUP summoned them to Northern Ireland for the latest round of -- yawn -- crisis talks.

What's happening in the North right now isn't a crisis, it's simply the latest in a series of opportunistic tantrums from people trying to divert attention from their own internal problems by manufacturing a phoney political debacle. Even if you take Sinn Fein's version of events entirely on trust -- namely that the institutions of the power-sharing government at Stormont cannot be allowed to stand a moment longer unless policing is devolved -- the tactic makes no sense. So policing hasn't been devolved yet. So what?

Everybody knows that it will be sooner rather than later. In the meantime, local politicians in Belfast already have control over everything else, from finance and agriculture, through rural development, education, employment and learning, social development, enterprise, trade and investment, arts and culture, regional development, to health, social services and public safety. Suddenly we're supposed to join in the melodramatic hand-wringing and start whining that devolution has failed because republicans can't get their hands on the police force for a few months or years more? Well, diddums.

Health matters more to most ordinary people's lives than policing. The economy matters more than policing. When winter took a stranglehold on the island recently, finding a way to tackle the snow mattered more to most ordinary people than who gets to tell the police what to do. The only people it matters to so much that they would prefer to pull the whole kit and caboodle down around their ears rather than stand their frustration a moment longer are the very same people who, up until a few short years ago, were running a private army.

That's their business. If the Provos want to pull the plug on the Stormont executive, go ahead. But they shouldn't expect the rest of us to share their pathetic fetishisation of a quasi-militarist mindset which places every issue involving men in uniform above every other consideration. If anything, it exposes what really mattered to them all along, which wasn't the health or education or employment prospects of their communities, but the pursuit of paramilitary ends by other means. And to think that these are the same high-minded peacemakers who piously preached at Unionists for threatening to tear down power-sharing over the issue of decommissioning. Pray tell, what exactly is the difference?

It would be naive to believe that Sinn Fein's current belligerence over policing is unrelated to Gerry Adams's personal difficulties as he tries to explain away his party's mishandling of an astonishing series of sexual abuse cases going back decades, some involving members of Adams's own family. The hypocrisy of the republican movement has been exposed at the very top, and, as the allegations mount, they have still found no satisfactory answer to the critics except to threaten them with legal action. So instead Adams and his colleagues have retreated to their comfort zone, recycling the old rhetoric about an Orange state and Protestants not wanting a Catholic about the place, because that's where republicanism feels safe right now. It brings them all back to a time and place where they could wrap themselves up in the cosy mantle of righteous victimhood.

The mystery is why the Taoiseach and British PM allowed themselves to get dragged into it. Brian Cowen and Gordon Brown have far more pressing problems to be getting on with at the moment than to be wasting long, frustrating nights around a negotiating table in Hillsborough Castle, losing sleep and putting their domestic decisions on the back burner, as they hold the hands of one-time terrorists who are struggling, like spoiled toddlers, to deal with disappointment. And all because finance, agriculture, rural development, education, employment and learning, social development, enterprise, trade and investment, arts and culture, regional development, and health, social services and public safety are apparently not sexy enough in their own right to keep Sinn Fein bonded to the process.

No, they need to get their hands on a few chaps in uniform to spice things up for them as well. It's as kinky as it is childish.

Even if this mess is sorted out, everybody knows they'll be back on the phone to Dublin and London again when the next faux crisis hits the proverbial fan. It can't keep happening repeatedly.

The mollycoddling has to end some time. Why not right now?

Sunday Independent

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