Friday 17 January 2020

Editorial: 'Democracy too important to be switched on and off'

'With Brexit hanging in the air so long, and with Stormont in cold storage, a palpable sense of anxiety was shamelessly ignored' (stock photo)
'With Brexit hanging in the air so long, and with Stormont in cold storage, a palpable sense of anxiety was shamelessly ignored' (stock photo)
Editorial

Editorial

For three years there has been a crippling weariness with political paralysis in the North.

Those with the capabilities to do better found themselves consistently thwarted by those who seemed like they couldn't care less. Stormont became the world's most elegant and record-breaking white elephant.

So while news the inertia is finally ending is welcome, it would be inappropriate to celebrate an end to something that ought never have happened.

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Historically, the Good Friday Agreement trusted the levers of power to the hands of the people. No party had a right, therefore, to undermine what was a singular achievement ending decades of bloodshed.

Yet we became so used to pictures and no sound from the North, the political vacuum was almost accepted as normal.

The descent into political sloth deepened dangerously. Dissidents stepped in to exploit it to their advantage. Indeed it probably took the censure of the people in the last elections for key players to snap to their senses.

Last year senator George Mitchell - so instrumental in putting the Good Friday Agreement together in 1998 - warned after the death of Lyra McKee: "We have to encourage the political leaders of Northern Ireland, in a realistic way, to deal with their problems, but not to create the impression that Northern Ireland is unique."

All societies have social problems and political difficulties that must be dealt with, he added. But a sense of entitlement and indulgence had become endemic in the North.

Both the DUP and Sinn Féin became overly used to insisting on doing things their way.

The bigger picture hardly merited consideration, the art of compromise lost as an 'I win, you lose' attitude took hold.

A terrible sense of helplessness at the intractability developed. Frustration at the refusal of leaders to face responsibilities was best captured in the comments of Fr Martin Magill at the funeral of Ms McKee.

He earned a standing ovation after calling out politicians in the congregation, asking: "Why in the name of God did it take the death of a brilliant 29-year-old woman to bring them all together under one roof?"

Why indeed. Living in peace must now be a given. With Brexit hanging in the air so long, and with Stormont in cold storage, a palpable sense of anxiety was shamelessly ignored.

But the North's Assembly and Executive were created to serve the people. They were not brought into existence for political parties to play power games. Recognition of Irish and British identities is important. But it is also critical the chronic lack of political representation which left so many communities feeling left out must never be repeated.

If power-sharing is to have real meaning, then democracy cannot be switched on and off, nor the plug pulled on Government based on partisan political self-interest.

Irish Independent

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