Thursday 17 October 2019

Editorial: 'Assembly impasse an insult to spirit of Good Friday deal'

Nancy Pelosi with President Michael D Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin, Dublin. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Nancy Pelosi with President Michael D Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin, Dublin. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire


Today one of the most powerful women in the world will visit Stormont to honour the Good Friday Agreement.

But the compliment will not be returned. Some 21 years after the hand of history turned a page on the darkness of the Troubles, the custodians of the historic accord could not summon the will to get the machinery of self-government running again, even with the dire threat of Brexit in the air.

Locked in a stand-off that has found them a place in the 'Guinness Book of Records' for the length of time they have been out of office, the parties within the North make for a sorry sight.

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Their apathy is an affront to an accord that ended decades of violence.

They no longer take each other seriously, but demand reverence from all others for their recalcitrance.

Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi had reason to expect more.

The absence of a sitting Assembly at Stormont detracts from the meaning of her visit.

She had come this far as part of a fact-finding mission, but also, as she put it, out of respect for "those who participated in the Good Friday accords".

"We believe that Brexit should be just an aberration in this discussion as we continue to build and strengthen our peace," she said.

With the Good Friday Agreement under such threat from Brexit, the solidarity shown by Ms Pelosi and the Democratic delegation resonated internationally.

The peace we enjoy today would not have been achieved without US input. Indeed, reflecting on the frustration and the reservoirs of patience drained to produce the Good Friday Agreement, Senator George Mitchell recalled his nerves being frayed by the relentless squabbling.

He was thus driven to jot down a note proposing a two-week timetable with strict targets. His ultimate goal was agreement.

An entire month of intense talking with each of the 10 parties ensued.

There was buy-in from Dublin and London to meet the rigid timetable. Chipping the ice away appeared self-defeating, but he hung in there.

"Any one of the parties could have prevented the establishment of an unbreakable deadline, any one of them, and the fact that they were willing, albeit some of them very reluctantly, to accept the deadline meant in my mind they are open to an agreement." So a deal was won when the spirit was willing.

Perhaps those responsible for the padlock remaining on the gates to power-sharing should remember the super-human compassion of Gordon Wilson, who held his 20-year-old daughter Marie's hand as she died in the rubble at Enniskillen: "Compromise is not giving in, it is maturity. I appeal to the political leaders to sit down, all of them, to listen to their electors, to present their policies, to reach out to love their neighbours and common God."

Not a bad message from across the decades on another Good Friday.

Irish Independent

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