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Duct tape will never patch up gaping wounds

By Liam Clarke

Published 22/10/2015

Memo to David Cameron. Dear Prime Minister,

I needn't tell my granny how to suck eggs, but don't believe your own side's propaganda about tremendous strides being made by our political leaders.

Things have moved on since violence was common, but it must be admitted this latest agreement is like a series of gaping wounds patched up with duct tape.

There is little consistency in it and different sides are not speaking the same language. Sinn Fein talks of "no IRA" while the DUP accepts the Government report, and so do the other parties.

There is no trust. You must face the fact that Sinn Fein and the DUP, after eight years in uncomfortable partnership, won't be able to sustain a joint administration for ever. That shouldn't be a big surprise; few coalitions last nearly nine years, as this one has. But we need to plan what comes next.

If this arrangement cannot be sustained - and maybe it shouldn't - then it requires a soft landing. That means planning for a cross-community voluntary coalition, perhaps backed by a Bill of Rights or other protections for minorities, with other parties in opposition.

If it cannot be agreed at Stormont, it still needs to happen; people need to know what will follow if this system collapses. It is the Government's duty to spell it out.

To give the wounds any chance of healing under the duct tape we will need money, and it is in central Government's interests to provide it.

We seem to have reached a point where Sinn Fein has accepted that your Government won't give us more money to run a more expensive welfare system than Britain. That is a face-saver, but not the end of it. It has been drawing up a shopping list of cash demands with the DUP.

It could be a long-term economy to meet most of them. Major capital projects are what we need - that and funds to deal with the legacy of the Troubles. What about a "Northern Ireland Power House" to match the one in the North of England? Let's have a cut of spending on HS2 and other projects.

Impatience with the pace of progress achieved by the DUP and Sinn Fein is understandable, but not the whole story.

These parties are under tremendous pressures, they have both lost face in negotiations and they will be relentlessly attacked by the smaller nationalist and unionist parties.

That is politics, but the fact is you need them to hang together a while longer yet. There is no alternative in sight and there is widespread cynicism, even fatalism, about events on the streets.

To lessen the chances of collapse in a few months you need to create a feelgood factor around this dreary squabble - a real sense that Northern Ireland has a chance to move forward and that people's lives will be improved by agreement.

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