Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 20 August 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

If we want to see what 21st century politics in Northern Ireland should be like, we should look to the Monarchy

Queen Elizabeth II walks with President of Ireland Michael D Higgins and Sabrina Higgins at Windsor Castle
Queen Elizabeth II walks with President of Ireland Michael D Higgins and Sabrina Higgins at Windsor Castle

Strange, isn't it, but if we want to see what 21st century politics in Northern Ireland should be like, we should look to one of the most ancient institutions in these Islands - the Monarchy.

During the State visit of the President of Ireland, Her Majesty gave a speech which should be required reading for all in politics in Northern Ireland:

"We, the Irish and British, are becoming good and dependable neighbours and better friends; finally shedding our inhibitions about seeing the best in each other.

Our two governments have responded to the change in mood. We now cooperate across the full range of public business; indeed, there is today no closer working relationship for my Government than that with Ireland ...

The goal of modern British-Irish relations can be simply stated. It is that we, who inhabit these islands, should live together as neighbours and friends."

While the crafting of any public statement by the Monarch will have heavy political input by Her Government, it is difficult to deny that this speech - and her speech last year in Dublin Castle - represent Her Majesty's very personal commitment to peace and reconciliation in these Islands.

We talk a lot in Northern Ireland about a 'shared future'. It is one of the phrases that those of us in politics use but tend not to define. Its value has been decreased by the usage and by the failure to give real meaning to the words.

Her Majesty has given us a definition that humanises the phrase - she has grounded it in the reality of relationships:

"good and dependable neighbours ... seeing the best in each other".

Those are words which we could use to judge all political words and actions in Northern Ireland. They are not mere 'nice thoughts'. They reflect the fact that, as the Queen says, there is "today no closer working relationship for my Government than that with Ireland".

The quarrels of the 20th century - quarrels which are still used to shape tribal politics in Northern Ireland - no longer have relevance. They are settled. Northern Ireland's constitutional position is settled. Fighting the political battles of yesteryear now holds us back from building the future Northern Ireland needs, a future in which we in this part of the these Islands are "good and dependable neighbours" rather than two distinct, hostile tribes.

As Her Majesty put it:

"We will remember our past, but we shall no longer allow our past to ensnare our future. This is the greatest gift we can give to succeeding generations."

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