Views on the Irish thing

“I’m writing just after an encounter
With an English journalist in search of ‘views
On the Irish thing’. […]

Expertly civil-tongued with civil neighbours
On the high wires of first wireless reports,
Sucking the fake taste, the stony flavours
Of those sanctioned, old, elaborate retorts:

‘Oh, it’s disgraceful, surely, I agree.’
‘Where’s it going to end?’ ‘It’s getting worse.’
‘They’re murderers.’ ‘Internment, understandably …’
The ‘voice of sanity’ is getting hoarse.

‘Religion’s never mentioned here,’ of course.
‘You know them by their eyes,’ and hold your tongue.
‘One side’s as bad as the other,’ never worse.

[…] the tight gag of place
And times: yes, yes. Of the “wee six” I sing
Where to be saved you only must save face
And whatever you say, you say nothing.”

From ‘Whatever You Say, Say Nothing’, Seamus Heaney, 1975

In two hours’ time, another significant deadline in Northern Irish politics will have passed.

The DUP and Sinn Fein have until 4pm to put forward First and Deputy First ministers to form a power-sharing assembly at Stormont following the 2nd March elections. All reports indicate that both parties will allow this deadline to pass.

One side’s as bad as the other, never worse.

As a Northern Irish person living in England, I’ve watched appalled as the political gulf continues to grow, both within NI and between NI and the rest of the UK. Put simply, Northern Irish politicians are allowing the Northern Irish people to be left behind, whilst Westminster politicians dole out soundbites and platitudes but no actual help or engagement with the issues.

Seamus Heaney’s poem has such resonance because, as I grew up in Northern Ireland through the 90s, talks started to take shape – both speaking and listening was encouraged. Murders and internment began to pass into history; collaboration was the way forward. My parents’ generation voted overwhelmingly in favour of the Good Friday Agreement for the sake of my generation, putting a future together ahead of the all too real hurt of the past and, in some cases, the present.

But now in 2017 talks are stalling and nobody is taking ownership of key decisions. What happens to the border after Brexit? Who takes the economic decisions if Stormont is suspended? How can Northern Ireland move forward if the politicians it has voted in refuse to work together? Where does it leave jobs, education, health?

Northern Ireland deserves to grow and flourish; its people deserve politicians who are prepared to own their decisions. What NI needs now is complete clarity from Westminster: Secretary of State James Brokenshire should be very firm in what will happen once this deadline has passed. His options are:

  1. Call a fresh election
  2. Impose direct rule from Westminster
  3. Allow more time for talks

If he chooses option 3, he needs to be prepared to be bold in order to resolve this stalemate. The seriousness of the situation must be realised. My condition would be that if the DUP’s Arelene Foster and Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill cannot work together then they both need to stand aside in favour of those who can.


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