Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 3 September 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

'Richard Haass, public sector wage packets and the execution of Kim Jong-un's uncle'

Immortalised by pomp-rockers 'Europe' in music form, The Final Countdown has become something of a catchphrase for media pundits across the globe; and now as we stare into the gaping maw of Christmas, it is also one for Northern Ireland politicians today.

The much vaunted arch-diplomat Richard Haass promised to have concluded his talks by Christmas, aimed at solving the issues of flags, parades and the past. The clock is ticking for Haass and his team.

Even should he allow an extra month of ‘injury time’ for the various political threads and shades to play to a final whistle, it may take more than a penalty shoot-out to resolve the deadlock on, well just about everything.

Alliance East Belfast MP and party representative, Naomi Long, was on BBC TV’s The View saying that “we may never get another opportunity to address these issues”.

On the same programme ex-British PM, Sir John Major, said that he believed the fears of Loyalist communities were “phantom”.

What is not a phantasmagorical imagining is the plain and simple fact that the political classes, paraders and protesters feel that this touches at the core of their wishes, aspirations, needs and ‘identity’.

But what of the rest of the populace? Are they hanging on every word and every nuanced statement? Are they poised before making Christmas purchases on the outcome of the Haass talks?

If the viewing and listening figures of political radio and TV shows are anything to gauge by, then the answer is a resounding ‘no’ and Belfast and other towns are seeing Christmas shoppers and party-goers back after last year’s debacle.

That is not to say they don’t care, judging by the inevitable sales of Rangers and Celtic replica football tops each Christmas as pseudo political identity statements. And, given our politics, there is a tendency to hear the headlines and the heresies not the details and the debate.

But, the week past also saw the publication of earnings figures, showing NI’s wage packets fell while the rest of the UK’s salaries increased. Headlines about the public and private sector pay gap blur the lines further as the report compilers note that many in the private sector are working in low-paid service sector jobs such as those in retail and hospitality.

Furthermore, the drop in earnings when compared to the Consumer Price Index show that the buying power of the pound in the pocket has been spiralling downward.

Will the outcome of the Haass talks be a non-event for most people or will it be a rallying call for an increasingly disaffected populace living on the margins?

It seems that most people know instinctively that there will be no right answer and no wrong answers. While some may yearn – and believe in – black and white solutions, there can be no place for such either/or answers.

If a ‘deal’ is to be achieved on the ‘contentious’ issues then it will be focused on compromise or a roadmap for a way forward.

In the meantime, life will go on, people will still queue in shops and count the pennies, while Richard Haass and his team will move on in 2014 to deal with something more straightforward and easy, like relations in the Korean Peninsula. There, things are definitely black and white as the recently executed deputy leader of North Korea, Chang Song-thaek, would have attested to...


 

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