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Negative unionism is eroding public confidence in Stormont

Published 10/10/2013

Only 39% of the Irish electorate turned out to have their say on the Seanad referendum
Only 39% of the Irish electorate turned out to have their say on the Seanad referendum

The result of last Friday’s referendum on the abolition of the Seanad throws up important messages for all political parties.

Politics and political systems must be relevant to people’s lives. Politics without vision and institutions which don’t appear to work will breed apathy.

There is a growing sense of that in the North today. The expectations of 1998 have been replaced by a growing frustration.

The current stasis, driven by a negative unionism, casts doubt on the ability of our political institutions to guarantee equality, a shared future and the peace process.

Our people, republican and unionist, deserve better.

Sixteen months of poor unionist leadership, sectarian street violence, two destabilising marching seasons climaxed in Peter Robinson reneging on the Maze/Long Kesh decision, so undermining the Programme for Government. Add to that the DUP’s refusal to spend the £80 million Social Investment Fund to tackle disadvantage in areas of greatest need.

This undermines partnership and power sharing. It erodes wider unionist and republican confidence.

Both power sharing and partnership need embraced. Unionist leaders have to recognise it’s the correct way forward.

The peace process and equality agenda are the only show in town. There is no alternative. The Assembly and Executive are essential institutions.

We can do more.

For instance, re-establishing the Civic Forum and introducing a Bill of Rights could inject a new urgent momentum to the political and peace processes. Communities, smaller parties, churches, academia, business and unions have a vital role to play.

We need a roadmap towards a new phase of our peace process.

The Haass initiative is important, but that won’t substitute for the required British, Irish and US governments’ strategic interventions.

Our ambition must be new politics in the North, giving citizens renewed hope and confidence in the viability of politics and our political institutions.

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