Belfast Telegraph

Friday 26 December 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: Leaders must rise above division

This has not been a good week for the Stormont Executive and the latest developments beggar belief.

This newspaper revealed two days ago that the former Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde had warned the First and Deputy First Ministers that the failure to publish an important strategy document to combat sectarianism was creating a vacuum.

Following this revelation Sinn Fein issued unilaterally its own proposals which it claimed could become a blueprint for the way forward.

However, the DUP then released the previously unpublished and uncompleted 'Cohesion, Sharing and Integration' document and claimed that internal discussions on the strategy had been blocked by Sinn Fein.

This is a bizarre example of the old cliché that after waiting interminably for a bus to appear, two of them arrive virtually at the same time. Such dark humour would seem inescapable, but this is a deeply serious rift at the top level of government.

The point was well put by Duncan Morrow, the chief executive of the Community Relations Council, who said: "Without a policy led from the top to address division in all aspects of our society we will remain divided and suspicious."

He added, ominously, that "the failure to agree policy to ensure a shared and better future has become embarrassing and potentially dangerous".

Inevitably, the failure to agree has led to recriminations from both sides. The details of these are complex and tiresome and are generally incomprehensible to the general public.

No-one believed that the experiment of power-sharing between former political enemies would be easy, but this newspaper has made a point of praising the achievements of the Executive where relevant, and of encouraging co-operation at the highest level. It must be said, however, that these achievements are relatively limited and the Executive seems to have stumbled from disagreement to virtual crisis by a failure to agree on the future of education and policing and justice, and now on the vital issue of tackling sectarianism.

Divisions in the community are all too obvious but it is the job of our politicians to rise above these divisions and to give a lead on the important issues which affect people from all sides in Northern Ireland.

The current, though flawed, peace process has been hard-won, but the recent activities of paramilitary dissidents have shown that in a vacuum the men and women of violence have even more opportunity to exploit a political atmosphere of recrimination and distrust.

Politics is the art of the possible but for far too long this entire community has been living under the shadow of political stalemate. The majority of ordinary people are interested in everyday but important issues like jobs, health and education.

They do not want to return to the political disagreements and the violence of the past. The achievement of a power-sharing Executive was a major tribute to our politicians and to the political process in the face of violence.

That achievement in itself is not diminished. However, the challenge now facing all sides is to throw off the shackles of the past, to end the stalemate and to get things done.

The politicians need to hear this message loud and clear and to start giving all of us a lead. Nothing less will do.

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