Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Crisis in Washington... and lessons for Stormont 

Janette Dunder of Virgina demonstrates against Congress and lawmakers' inability to pass a budget outside the U.S. Capitol September 30, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Janette Dunder of Virgina demonstrates against Congress and lawmakers' inability to pass a budget outside the U.S. Capitol September 30, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Debt-ceiling. If you haven't yet heard the phrase you will be hearing a lot about it very soon.

The debt-ceiling is the limit placed by the US Congress on how much the Federal Government can borrow. If the debt-ceiling is not raised by the end of this month, the US government's money begins to run out. And that is bad new for the US economy - and for the world economy.

The prospects for compromise between Democratic President Obama and the Republican Congress are not good. That is why the US Federal Government is now in 'shut-down' mode, with no Budget agreement between White House and Congress.

All of which - perhaps ironically - makes experienced US diplomat Richard Haass well-placed to chair the talks between the Northern Ireland Executive parties on flags, parades and the Past.

Haas knows only too well what happens to government when ideological intransigence takes the place of honourable and decent compromise for the common good.

People of good-will can disagree about all three issues addressed by the Haass talks. But for us to move forward as a shared and reconciled society, surely the outlines of honourable and decent compromise can be seen.

Designated days for flags. An open and transparent body to adjudicate on controversial parades (whether in Ardoyne or Strabane). And generous support for those most wounded by our troubled past, but no constant raking over of a conflict which started in 1969.

The politics of 21st century Northern Ireland cannot be a re-run of the debates of the 1970s and 1980s.

If such an honourable and decent compromise is not reached, the impact will - of course - not be the same as the US government shut-down or debt-ceiling crisis.

But it will condemn us in Northern Ireland to a politics defined by ideological intransigence.

Our political institutions will continue but they will not really govern, spending their time indulging in the debates of the past generation. 21st century Northern Ireland deserves better than this.

Let's hope the Executive parties in the Haass talks realise it.

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