Northern Ireland deserves better
The failure of the main parties in Northern Ireland to reach agreement to restore the Executive and Assembly is a damning indictment of the outdated form of politics as still practised by the tribal forces of Sinn Fein and the DUP almost a full 20 years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Worse than that, their failure raises the prospect that Northern Ireland is now an entirely dysfunctional political entity incapable of sustained self-governing for the benefit of its long-suffering people.
The secretary of state for Northern Ireland has stated that, because there is no Executive and Assembly operating a full eight months after the last election, he is taking steps that will enable a Budget Bill for Northern Ireland to be introduced at Westminster after the November recess. In the absence of such an initiative, vital public services for the people of Northern Ireland would be seriously affected, and this at a time when Brexit also threatens to wreak even greater havoc.
The outstanding issues between Sinn Fein and the DUP include the future of the Irish language in Northern Ireland, gay rights and "legacy" issues. Both sides must also find a solution to the renewable heating initiative, the issue originally said by Sinn Fein to have triggered the Executive's collapse, a claim which now looks increasingly bogus as many had always suspected it to be. It is evident that the Sinn Fein leader, Gerry Adams, is an obstacle to political progress. The decision to collapse the Assembly in the first place was as much about advancing the Sinn Fein project as anything else, and failure to reach agreement to restore the Assembly may continue to benefit that dubious cause. That said, the DUP has not covered itself in glory either. Far from it. Its leadership has shown a remarkable lack of sensitivity to issues which are of some importance to a sizeable and growing proportion of people in Northern Ireland. Some of the reported comments made by elected members of the DUP reflect a level of ignorance better consigned to a dim and distant past to which nobody wants to return.
Yet while all of the criticism of Sinn Fein and the DUP is valid, the people of Northern Ireland must also share a portion of the blame. Election after election they retreat to a tribal base and continue to vote for a political status quo which offers little but stalemate and scarcely seems to reflect the remarkable social advances made in Northern Ireland since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Therein lies the great contradiction, the unravelling of which tends to point in the direction of a weird dysfunctionality bordering on self-harm. Meanwhile, the political obduracy and brinksmanship which is repeatedly rewarded by the voters of Northern Ireland will go on, at least until the end of November. At that time the Budget Bill will produce enough money to seal some sort of shabby deal to allow the entire construct to continue until the next crisis, manufactured or otherwise. Surely the people of Northern Ireland deserve better than this. If they do, they must vote for it. An entire generation of voters has come of age since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Is it too much to hope that they will eventually drag their political leaders kicking and screaming into the 21st Century? Northern Ireland deserves better than this. But it is up to its people to demand it.