Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Big kahunas of Northern Ireland parties gear up for Haass talks

Richard Haass
Richard Haass

This week, when the Assembly returned from its summer holidays, there were rancorous exchanges, name-calling and ill-tempered plenary debates and a general air of stifled sectarianism.

With all that out of their system, MLAs are getting down to work next week like schoolchildren who have been set their first homework for the term; debates on free school meals entitlement, a regional library and a special day for emergency services. Meanwhile the big kahunas of the parties are gearing up for the Haass Talks.

Yes, such is the perceived import of these discussions about the “flegs, paradin’ and da past” that both words can be capitalised to ensure news readers give them an appropriate sonorous resonance. The ‘Haass Talks’ sound much more serious than just ‘talks about a way forward’.

Like high stakes poker players at a late night session in a Las Vegas casino, the big rollers of the parties are counting their chips and inspecting their hands carefully, before Richard ‘The Dealer’ Haass prods them to act and start discussions.

With the ever important decision as to whether to raise, see, or fold on the hand they hold, each party will be anxious to wipe the sweat from their palms and maintain a neutral face in front of ‘The Dealer’ and the other players around the table.

Do they have a strong enough hand to force compromise from others? Or, is it a strategic bluff to see if the others will quit on their hands while the pot of political chips in the middle gets too big.

While the ‘game’ continues, the party leaders, representatives, spokespeople, political advisers and other assorted associates could do well to remember that life will continue to go on outside the bubble of the talks.

Like a poker game on satellite TV the rest of Northern Ireland will be watching the other channels. And, the population will be getting on with that weird thing called ‘real life’.

Because, ultimately, despite the disputes, the civil disorder, the panic and the condemnation, most people  - no matter their circumstances – get on with getting on: and fewer and fewer turn out to cast their votes each year.

 

Born in the SDLP...

Born down in a dead man’s town; the first kick I took was when I hit the ground; you end up like a dog that’s been kicked too much; ‘til you spend half your life just covering up, cuz I was born in the SDLP; I was born in the SDLP.

Paraphrasing the ‘Boss’ Bruce Springsteen’s infamous words of no-name, post-conflict town life in the US of A, must have a certain resonance amongst SDLP members in south Belfast.

With the tattered remnants of Conall McDevitt’s political career staining the party’s saintly persona, an all-too-public spat and debate over his successor was undertaken in the harsh world of the media and bloggers.

Like the anti-hero of the Springsteen song, Claire Hanna must hear the words of the song resonating in her ear, in particular the line ‘Hiring man says "Son if it was up to me"’.

Losing out 113 votes to 69, Ms Hanna must feel like her hometown/constituency has turned into that epitome of small town USA. After all, the victor, Fearghal McKinney, has the demographic credentials for the constituency as he was born in the Foyle constituency, worked for a time in Belfast, then Fermanagh and stood in the Fermanagh and South Tyrone election...

However, as vice chair of the party, all concerned must hope that that Mr McKinney can bring his media credentials and persona to bear in the chamber and ensure that this all-too-public debate ends the airing of the party’s dirty linen in public.

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