Belfast Telegraph

How MLAs’ guff on Gaza flotilla sank without trace

By Gail Walker

Tel Aviv, Cairo, Damascus, Jerusalem, Washington, New York, Moscow, Beijing, Tehran, BT4 ...

A curious hush descended over capital cities last Friday as the peoples of the world gathered round any available TV or old radio to find out what the Northern Ireland Assembly thought of the crisis in the Middle East.

There was only one question on everyone's lips: what are the views of Carrickfergus, Limavady, Magherafelt and Larne about the Gaza flotilla crisis? Would the concerns of the MLA from Mid-Ulster finally bring the Israelis to heel? Would Hamas take on board the views of the honourable member from North Antrim that they were largely responsible for the crisis?

Heavy-handed irony, yes, but the emergency Gaza debate in our Assembly calls for little but scorn and ridicule.

No, it wasn't enough to have the crisis brought up at Tuesday's Assembly meeting; MLAs had to scurry back from their constituencies to have another crack at it on Friday. And this for a crisis thousands of miles away, over which MLAs have no influence.

Yep, that's all the Middle East needs — the impromptu ‘reckonings' of a bunch of souped up county councillors.

Still, it helps pass the time. And, after all, Friday is generally the day for MLA constituency surgeries. Better to be wafted metaphorically to distant foreign climes than listen to Mrs McCluskey blattering on about the problem with her drains.

Here are some issues that MLAs might like to consider for an emergency debate: their screw up of the education system; their screw up of local government reform; predictions that economic recovery here was slower than forecast; impending public spending cuts; the gangland-style slaying of Billy Moffett and where that leaves paramilitary claims about having ‘decommissioned'.

You know, the stuff they nominally have some responsibility for. But then those issues are too messy and leave little opportunity to channel the spirit of President Jed Bartlett from The West Wing or don the cloak of World Statesman.

Ah, but the Gaza flotilla did concern the Assembly because it had Northern Irish people on board. True, but the rights and safety abroad of those carrying British and Irish passports is the responsibility of David Cameron and Brian Cowen, along with their foreign ministries. You know, sovereign parliaments with a right to decide foreign policy.

Ah yes, but the situation was about (alleged) violations of international law and human rights abuses which is everyone's business.

Yeah right. So now will the Assembly go into perpetual session over (alleged) VOIL&HRA in China, Thailand, Burma and Chechnya? Will the Assembly be urgently considering the plight of the gay couple imprisoned in Malawi? Or censuring various Muslim countries over women's rights?

That's a lot of non-existent NI ambassadors being recalled from a lot of hotspots by the movers and shakers up in the Big House.

But don't hold your breath expecting emergency debates on these issues because, well, frankly, we don't give a flying one. We're largely only concerned about Israel/Palestine because it gives us a chance to carry on our own civil war by proxy — republican/nationalists see themselves as Palestinians because they have been dispossessed and oppressed by Israel (for which read Britain).

Unionists/loyalists cheer on Israel because, like themselves, they're alone, misunderstood, surrounded by enemies who would drive them into the sea, a bastion of democracy, God's chosen people etc.

Of course, a cursory glance reveals the alleged parallels with the Middle East as ludicrous and pathetically self-pitying but we don’t care because it’s a win-win for us. All the thrills of civil war with none of the blood; a Virtual Troubles.

The Assembly wasted last Tuesday, Friday and yesterday (voting on the motion).

Our MLAs preferred to pretend to be Charlie Big Trousers instead of doing the job they're being paid to do — running Northern Ireland.

Still, I suppose all kids goof around near their summer holidays, which in their case is July 3 to September 5 ... if you're interested.

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