Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 12 July 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Blame game is still Stormont's favourite sport

Stormont: The Assembly comes back next week after its summer recess
Stormont: The Assembly comes back next week after its summer recess

"This new Assembly term offers the opportunity to find ways of solving problems, rather than apportioning blame," Peter Robinson wrote in the Belfast Telegraph.

You wouldn't have guessed it yesterday when the Assembly devoted much of its first day to the blame game, its eyes focused firmly on the past. It was, according to Basil McCrea of NI21, "a drab, dreary depressing debate".

It focused on a speech by Gerry Kelly of Sinn Fein who told a controversial IRA commemoration at Castlederg that two IRA men killed by their own bomb "gave their lives so that we could be free".

"It is, of course, open to question whether those men engaged in terrorism so that Gerry Kelly could be part of the administration of British rule in Northern Ireland from the Stormont Parliament," flashed DUP's Tom Buchanan.

That must have hurt and Mr Buchanan might have done well to leave his barb to rankle.

Instead the slanging match continued between parties who must, like it or not, co-operate or else lose power.

The past was mined for verbal ammunition to defend entrenched positions. It wasn't just that this was a self-indulgent raking over the coals of arguments. It was also conducted at taxpayers' expense by politicians who have just pocketed a pay rise.

In the lavish surroundings of Stormont, with their friends and advisers to encourage them, it must have been easy for some to forget they were elected to solve problems, not make the most of them.

I was reminded of the words of Maurice Goldring, a French historian of Irish nationalism.

"A people whose sole justification for the present situation is probing the wounds of the past hastens its own downfall, even if it experiences intense pleasure in doing so," he wrote.

As the Haass process opens, these are cautionary words.

Unfortunately we are set for another session picking at old and recent wounds today when the house debates a reciprocal motion. This time it is sponsored by Sinn Fein and condemns this summer's, mainly loyalist, street violence.

Some of the speeches will have helped fill space in local papers as MLAs flew the flag for their respective causes. That, and a marginal souring of relations as we go into the Haass talks, will be the only legacy of a motion which was supposed to uphold the MLAs Code of Conduct.

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