The current hassle at Stormont is so much par for the course. We have been here before. So many times. The two parties in dispute are supposed to be sharing government.
In fact they seem prepared to share very little. The DUP knows its consent to domestic control of the police and the courts is the last bauble left in its bag. After that, it will have nothing left to sell. So it is determined to drive a hard bargain.
So it goes to the heart of the matter: parades.
It knows Sinn Fein will not agree to its demand that the Parades Commission be replaced, but that the Shinners will stick to their consistent credo that local marches should be settled locally — between the Orange Order and the communities past whose homes its members wish to march. This is a serviceable issue. It has served well before. With luck, the DUP has calculated, there might be no devolving of police and justice this side of the general election.
But the parades thing is interesting as well as being important.
If we had a normally dispersed community in the suburbs of our towns and in the centres of our cities, parades would not be |a problem.
People would turn out to watch each others' parades — as they used to do until the later 1960s, remember. Or they would ignore them and go fishing or to the football, as very many used to do. Remember?
It was not until Drumcree that parades were elevated into an endemic problem. The Garvaghy Road in Portadown used to be a well-mixed community of families.
But that was changed. The supporters of the Orange, one by one, disappeared. The Orange say they were chased out in an operation planned over years by Sinn |Fein, so that the stage could be |set for objection to the annual Orange march.
But I do not intend to pursue the old argument over how the confrontation was set up.
Enough to say that Drumcree was produced from the flaming lips of the ghetto culture. The dragon breathing fire and hate had to be let loose.
For that to happen it had to |be a matter of Us and Them. But a ghetto culture does not grow unless a society is already deeply divided.
We all know there were difficulties here. The way we insist upon segregating our children has seen to that. Us and Them is the first lesson toddlers learn. Each new generation must be taught its duty of segregation: and the younger, the better. The social snag is that it is so easy to suspect the stranger. And it does not take much to turn suspicion into resentment and resentment into hate. So our segregated society has teetered, from its inception, |on the edge of violence, tipping over at regular intervals into that bleeding cauldron.
The 1970s in Ulster should have been a dreadful warning to our neighbours in English cities. |But they do not seem to have got the message.
Enoch Powell warned them in a speech in Birmingham in 1968 (“Like the Roman, I seem to see the River Tiber foaming with much blood’’).
Perhaps Ted Heath did not read Virgil; but he threw Powell out of his shadow cabinet.
Powell came to Northern Ireland six years later. I gave him a lift one day to a political meeting in Co Antrim. His ideas had not changed. Now, regrettably, the English fear they are on course to prove him right; for they may have left it too late to do anything about it. In their midst they have an unassimilated Islamic community, the militant sections of which display all the malevolent attributes of the ghetto culture we know so well. Bombs in London are only the worst.
It is tough on the law-abiding. But if you live in a ghetto, you learn to keep your head down. So Islamic sharia law now operates freely alongside the English legal system. There are twelve councils or courts operating in the big cities, bypassing the police and the UK court system.
A few hardline leaders urge that sharia punishments — stoning and the chopping off of hands — should be adopted in Britain. So this is the fruit of Blair's much-vaunted ‘multicultural' society.
A prominent Muslim businessman, Iqbal Wahhab, said at the weekend that the UK would remain a target for home-grown suicide bombers (“there could be another 7/7 next week’’) because “people are living parallel lives . . respect for each others' culture doesn't happen because we don't come across one another.’’
I know, Mr Wahhab. We know only too well.
We have been there and the greatest failure of Government in Britain in this generation is, gratuitously, to have sent your people along the same baleful path.