Belfast Telegraph

After 'Blondegate', is it any wonder that people are sick of politicians?

By Alf McCreary

The author of the Old Testament Book of Proverbs offered good advice when he wrote, "A soft answer turns away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger".

However, it appears that such wisdom is totally lost on our present generation of politicians, who immediately take offence at the slightest provocation.

Take, for example, the nonsensical reaction of Sinn Fein and the feminist sisterhood inside and outside politics after DUP leader Arlene Foster described her republican counterpart, Michelle O'Neill, as a blonde who was always well-groomed.

Shock, horror, how dare she say that?

Mrs Foster is not a good performer on television, and some of her words are clumsy, but as a man not directly involved in politics, I would have taken her comments about Mrs O'Neill to be a compliment.

But, oh no, the Shinners took it as an insult, and Michelle O'Neill, who should have known better, allowed herself to become involved in this episode of sound and fury, which signified very little.

Sadly, this sorry episode showed once again the mediocrity of our parish pump politics.

This was also well symbolised by the BBC Newsnight roundtable discussion this week, which showed our politicians sitting, literally and perhaps metaphorically, in the dark.

The RHI scandal burns away our money, our hospitals are in crisis, and our mostly well-paid teachers are moaning about their average salary of only £40,000 a year, but the most important issue earlier this week was the colour of the Sinn Fein northern leader's hair.

Is it any wonder we are sick and tired of politics, especially as we continue to witness the lack of empathy between affluent politicians who are supposed to work together and actually do something for us?

This current General Election, which called by Prime Minister Theresa May to hammer the hapless Jeremy Corbyn and the hard-left Labour Party into the ground, is no less edifying than our recent and unwanted Assembly elections, which showed that sectarianism here is increasing, rather than decreasing.

Some well-meaning people are asking for power-sharing to be restored at Stormont once the General Election is over, but I doubt this will happen.

The Shinners will accept power-sharing only if it suits them, and they are likely to spin out direct rule to see whether Brexit will further their ultimate target of Irish unity, or at second best a joint authority within a special status for Northern Ireland.

Renewed power-sharing, at the moment, is very much third best.

This is the harsh reality facing anyone who wants to give advice to the voters, including church leaders who habitually ask us all to think of the common good at a time like this.

We can't blame them for doing this, because they are in the business of goodwill and reconciliation. Yet how many of the electorate will listen to them?

The results of the previous election were not encouraging, despite a better showing for Alliance.

A voter may wish to choose a candidate because of his or her views on abortion or same-sex marriage, but once people get to the ballot box, the issue becomes the border.

Despite all this, the churches have a duty to speak out in the public square.

This was pointed out recently in an important speech by the Roman Catholic Primate, Archbishop Eamon Martin.

Delivering a prestigious Newman Lecture at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, he pointed out that the churches were greatly impacted by secularisation and that "the pressure on believers to conform, and to become just like everyone else, is often immense and overpowering."

He emphasised, however, that the "voice of faith should remain engaged in the public square. "The Gospel is meant for mission, and it is not to be cloistered away from the cut and thrust of public discourse," he said.

The pity is, however, that Gospel values seem to have very little leverage in election manifestos, either here or in the rest of the United Kingdom.

Tory blue, Labour red, and our own Orange and Green still reign supreme.

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