Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Crucial that British, Irish and US governments on same page to avoid political vacuum

US President Barack Obama shakes hands with Taoiseach Enda Kenny in Washington last week
US President Barack Obama shakes hands with Taoiseach Enda Kenny in Washington last week

There was a hugely important message delivered in Washington last week to political leaders from here, and that was to end the deepening political impasse, and move the Peace Process forward by implementing the Haass compromises.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise.  Former President Bill Clinton said as much in Derry and Belfast two weeks ago, and prior to the St Patrick’s week engagements Richard Haass made a significant submission to the Congressional Foreign Relations committee.

Both Clinton and Haass will have consulted with the White House on their separate public comments. The White House and US State Department are very tuned into the depth of political difficulties here. 

However, it’s crucial that all three governments, British, Irish and the US, are on the same page.

Left unchecked the potential exists for this impasse to be overtaken by a political vacuum.  With elections in May, followed quickly by another difficult marching season, a new phase of increased political instability and sectarianism becomes a worrying possibility.

That is why intervention by the three governments is so essential.

To avert such a prospect civic society must also remobilise, and speak up against the present bad politics and negativity.

The voices, influence and leadership of civic society should no longer be marginalised from contributing to the transformational work of the Peace Process.

Some sections of political unionism clearly don’t want more change, or to even consider compromising on anything.

Leadership and the ability to compromise are missing from within political unionism, and that’s undermining the political process.

The fact is the greater number in both sections of our community are not represented by the sectarianism of the extremists, and intransigence of influential groups in both the UUP and DUP.  These individuals should not be allowed to hold the political process hostage any longer for narrow, electoral and selfish reasons.

The consequences of an emerging vacuum will adversely affect community relations; policing; social cohesion; economic growth and investment opportunities; and reputation of the political institutions.  That’s not a contribution to developing a positive political environment in which power sharing can work successfully.

The urgent task of reconciliation and healing is being held back by the polarisation orchestrated by those unionists opposed to change.

None of us should let that happen any longer.

Many different voices must now be heard from across civic society in support of power sharing, political change and authentic reconciliation.

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