Belfast Telegraph

Friday 1 August 2014

Even Confucius would be baffled by our politicians

Just a month ago Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness were in China slaving tirelessly on our behalf on yet another "trade mission."

Their timing could have been neater. They arrived just as the Chinese Congress was meeting to select a new leader so no one of any real political importance was available for a chinwag with our own dear leaders.

Inevitably this means they'll just have to put themselves out with another trip back east (Beijing not Ballymacarrett) in the New Year.

The lengths those boys go to for us, eh? Is there no end to the first class international travel and hobnobbing they're prepared to undertake on our behalf?

And them once sworn enemies too - as just about every update on their progress is at pains to put out.

But Peter and Martin, we are constantly reminded (often by Peter and Martin themselves) are big enough to put the past behind them, to set old grievances aside and to work tirelessly together to move forward the process and enhance the stability and prosperity of Northern Ireland.

Which makes you wonder why the co-operation that applies in the first class business lounge and assorted Shanghai receptions couldn't have been extended to amicably resolve flag-flying protocol at Belfast City Hall.

For the buck stops here, doesn't it? With the OFMDFM. With the local administration in general and with the two boys tasked with overseeing the running of this place in particular. They saw this one coming (if they didn't - why not?) and it appears they did nothing whatsoever to head it off.

So how come the diplomatic skills of the figureheads of the two biggest parties at Stormont extend to the Far East - but not to east Belfast?

Short, cynical answer - a bit of sectarian ruckus suits both DUP and Sinn Fein right now. Both parties have been aware their respective voters were viewing them as increasingly pally and to some extent soft on each other. They needed to put a bit of clear - or murky - water between them.

A fight over flags was always going to do the trick. We're always up for a fight over flags and symbolism here.

Are they just playing games with us then, up at Stormont?

It's all Happy Families when it suits them up there. When it doesn't, it's war games on the street.

The parties operate contrasting strategies, granted. Sinn Fein think two moves ahead of their latest wind-up while the DUP traditionally kneejerk. Sinn Fein play chess. The DUP play Snap.

And the UUP and the SDLP? They're best at Simple Simon Says. Repeating the moves of the bigger boys for fear of being put out of the game. What a shower!

They've allowed - encouraged - the genuine fears of decent people. They've fuelled once again a paramilitary rabble who (with supergrass court action looming) have leapt at the chance to ratchet up tensions.

Shockingly some local politicians have been unable to condemn attacks on families - many with young children - without using the word "but." Shamefully other local politicians who talk loudly about cross-community respect have backed the naming of a playground after a sectarian killer.

With a few honourable exceptions they are pathetic and self-serving and between them all they have done is nothing, absolutely nothing, to tackle and deal with the division and bitterness in this place.

Never mind.

In a few weeks' time Peter and Martin will selflessly be off on part two of their trade jolly to China.

How many jobs will that trip ultimately create?

Anything like the number in danger of being lost in the meantime as a direct result of a mess that could and should have been prevented in the first place?

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