Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

How we're being failed by our old men of politics

Ian Paisley

Right now, it's former First Minister Ian Paisley, generating a swathe of headlines due to Eamonn Mallie's revealing TV documentary. Last week? The fall-out from Haass, prompting endless debate about dealing with the past. Next week? Who knows? The only certainty is that it will be the same old faces.

My generation of 30 and 40-somethings is one which is going to their graves without ever having known a single day – just one day – free from it all.

It wasn't enough that our childhoods and teenage years were brutalised by the Troubles. Fifteen years after the Belfast Agreement, we're still being fed the drama of it all.

I suspect I'm not alone when I say that I'm tired to my bones by it.

Was there anything more ridiculous than the Haass talks, with our politicians talking round the clock, releasing ridiculous carefully worded communiqués about inching towards agreement and sticking points while the rest of the world – by which I mean we here in Northern Ireland – went about our business?

And when the 'deadlock' was announced, we shrugged our shoulders and continued on our legitimate business of looking for a bargain in M&S or PC World, or wherever the sales had taken us.

We've all had enough of the posing, of the politics of the past. Dire warnings no longer spur us into the old camps. On the contrary, they, by turns, amuse and disgust us.

It may be trite to say that our leaders need these 'crises' to have their vanity flattered by the world's media, to pretend that where a few flags are hung is an issue of vast geopolitical importance like Gaza, Kashmir or Afghanistan. Yet our politics is led by the nutters – outwitting the dissidents on one hand, managing the flag protesters on the other. Hospitals go into meltdown, but there are no late-night sittings at Stormont.

Hands up – the media plays its part, too. The fact we're always hungry for a new story panders to this insane agenda. But, truthfully, who isn't weary of it?

Without any personal disrespect, we've spent decades, lifetimes, with the same issues. Like a game of Russian dolls, every time one doll is opened another is presented – smaller, more ridiculous but apparently ever harder to unscrew.

Dr Paisley (above) was in public life for nigh on 60 years, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness – depending how you're defining 'public' – for 30-plus years. Peter Robinson: 30-odd years. Jeffrey Donaldson: 20-plus years. Even Johnny-come-latelys like David Ford have been with us for over a decade.

Really, that's enough time to get to know them in all their infinite variety.

Yes, I know, we should always respect the wisdom of our elders but isn't it time for a generational shift? For a new polity more concerned about reflecting how life is lived now rather than how it was 20 or 60 years ago?

Let's put it like this: while we can imagine all of the above answering a photocall at Victoria Square, could you imagine any of them buying jeans or trying to find out what a mocha frappuccino is?

What kind of polity is it when Basil McCrea is considered a Young Turk? A polity in grave danger of losing touch with the people, that's what.

Across the water, Eton toff, David Cameron, tries to persuade us that he's one of us, down the pub on Sundays, watching football and playing The Jam on the jukebox. Policy wonk Ed Milliband tries to convince us he's not from the planet Zarg. 'Nick' Clegg does a radio talk show – how ordinary is that.

They may be rogues but they're not fools. They know it's important to represent the voters, not just through policy statements but how they look, dress and sound. How they ARE.

But not here. All you have to do is buy a Sunday best suit, issue a press release and mutter the same mantras quite literally for the rest of your life.

The rest of us, however, have had to move in all sorts of ways. No security in the workplace, no pension and expectations of working every hour God sends.

Meanwhile, not a single job, not a single dinner, not a single school uniform, not a single hospital bed, is going to be provided by a United Ireland or by a strengthened Union.

There was an old story about King Billy returning from the Boyne being asked by a man working the roads who had won the battle. His reply was, "What does it matter to you? You'll still be breaking stones."

Maybe it was Wellington after Waterloo. Or Parnell. Or Carson. You get the point.

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