Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 23 October 2014

Crass words are fanning flames

Dr Richard Haass must wonder just what he has let himself in for by coming to Northern Ireland. While many Americans, as he once said, thought all the province's main problems were sorted, he now knows that the political atmosphere can turn toxic quickly.

Spats between Sinn Fein and the DUP are not uncommon, but feelings do seem to be running a bit deeper at the moment. Crisis may be too strong a word, but there is definite tension in the relationships between the parties.

The intervention of Gerry Adams, who described the DUP U-turn on the Maze peace centre as a big problem, shows the depth of anger in Sinn Fein over the scrapping of the project. He is not one to comment lightly on the situation here. Of course the party's Gerry Kelly added fuel to the fire by tweeting a happy anniversary message to those who broke out of the Maze jail 30 years ago. It was an insensitive comment given that a prison officer died during the break out and that Mr Kelly shoot and wounded another one. For him then to blame unionists for the breakdown in the peace process was to add insult to injury. Such comments of course are not confined to any one political party at Stormont, but if there is a genuine breakdown in the power sharing surely every responsible politician should think carefully before making any comment. They should certainly avoid being provocative and crass, as in the case of Mr Kelly.

It is little wonder that – as the polls published in this newspaper last week showed – so many people have opted out of local politics, showing their disdain for elected representatives by staying away from the polls.

Instead of real progress they see continual bickering and attempts by all parties to pin the blame on others. Instead of concentration on important issues like the economy, education and health, they posture to their own most hard-line supporters.

If they continue in that vein there definitely will be a crisis in the peace process.

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