Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 23 November 2014

Up to the voter to give childish parties smack

UAS chairman Ray Burrows
UAS chairman Ray Burrows

There is something particularly dispiriting about the blocking of the Ulster Aviation Society's (UAS) event at the Maze. It is the latest example of the "Gotcha!" tactics of the two big parties as they attempt to catch each other unawares with obstructions and blockages.

The unionist parties call their approach a "graduated response". They reacted to an unfavourable (from their point-of-view) decision from the Parades Commission by pulling out of all-party talks on the past. One important cross-border meeting was also pulled as the DUP created time to spend on the parading dispute.

Sinn Fein, for its part, is reacting to the DUP decision last summer to not only halt the construction of the EU-funded peace and reconciliation centre, but halt the existing scheme for guided tours of the preserved prison buildings at the Maze.

The tours had been taken by republican sympathisers, but also by groups of retired prison officers and schools eager to learn the lessons of history.

Since that decision, trust levels between the two parties, whose co-operation is essential for Government to deliver, have plumbed new depths.

Now, instead of trying to make things work, the emphasis is often on wrong-footing each other; they are playing a blame game with more energy than they devote to running the province.

The UAS is an innocent bystander caught in the crossfire. As a tenant at the Maze, it had every right to expect to run events there.

The message to others thinking of setting up shop in our biggest development is that such a move could be more trouble than it's worth. You are likely to end up as collateral damage in a dispute you have no control over.

Other consequences of the stand-off are even more serious. The stasis over welfare reform leaves a black hole in our budget which threatens road maintenance, street lighting and policing budgets. In the absence of agreement, it can only get worse.

Next year's election probably makes agreement less likely, as each party tries to show that it won't roll over for the other.

The underlying assumption from the two big parties is that the voters will interpret intransigence as strength and integrity, but punish compromise as a sell-out.

The parties need a message from the voters that it is effective Government – not grandstanding and tantrums at public expense – which will be rewarded.

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