Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Less talk, more action

The Stormont Executive is a unique coalition. Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness argues that it is preferable to try to make it work, rather than pursue unrealistic party political agendas

During the Assembly debate on the Policing and Justice Bill, I made the point that I was absolutely committed to the success of the Assembly, the north/south institutions and the east-west institutions. I passionately want all of them to work.

However, it has to be acknowledged that the institutions have to work on the basis of the agreements that we made - the Good Friday Agreement and the St Andrews Agreement - and in line with equality and partnership.

I have no interest in being in an institution which does not show and deliver respect to one another. In many public encounters it has been said to me that, if the institutions do not operate on the basis of equality and partnership, then what is the rationale for having them.

There are still some unionist politicians who have not come to terms with the new political dispensation. They have not yet come to terms with the fact that they cannot operate unbridled power; they hanker after what they see as the good old days of unionist majority rule.

Those days are dead and gone - and rightly so. New political arrangements have been put in place to ensure that the days of discrimination and bigotry will never again be visited upon any community.

I am passionate in my belief that unionists should not be discriminated against. I am proud to have been a part of that process, republicans have no interest or desire to visit on the unionist community what they had to suffer when unionism was predominant.

David Trimble's leadership of unionism failed because he failed to grasp, embrace and promote our new politics. He failed to see the importance of the equality agenda and failed to see that equality - far from threatening anyone - enhances all of our lives.

His failure to go out and publicly sell the advantages of the Good Friday Agreement institutions led him into the cul-de-sac of trying to be all things to all unionists. In doing so, all he succeeded in achieving was confusion. I do not want to see the DUP go down the same failed path.

Increasingly, there seems to be a notion within some in the DUP that the unionist electorate want platitudes rather than a functioning Assembly and Executive, delivering for all our communities. I believe this is a serious mistake.

Our task is to face up to the challenges which create difficulties for our people - unemployment, poverty, social exclusion, education, health, rural issues and other matters.

Trying to hoodwink the unionist people into believing that they can do solo runs, arbitrarily change what they do not like and deliver solely on narrow party political interests, is pointless and does a disservice to all in our society.

The simple reality is that the DUP can no more exercise power unilaterally than Sinn Fein or any other party. We are in a unique coalition - whether elements of unionism like it or not. I say better to get on and work it and deliver for citizens rather than waste energy chasing after unrealisable political dreams.

The DUP use the code-word of 'efficiency savings' as a means of attacking what they signed up for: all of the institutions including the north/south bodies.

You would think that, if the DUP were serious, we would have heard them coming forward with ideas about the joint delivery of services in the likes of health and education, but, no, that has not been the case.

What they really do is undermine and, at times, pretend that they didn't sign up to all of the institutions established under the Good Friday and St Andrews Agreements.

Of course, we all have to be interested in efficiency savings, but not simply for party political point-scoring. Even where proposed savings are brought forward, as by the Education Minister in the establishment of the Education and Skills Authority, the DUP, who in the first instance supported the minister's approach, then go on and oppose it. So much for their vaunted commitment to efficiency savings.

Everyone is aware of the difficulties we now face in regards to the devolution of policing and justice powers. The DUP emphasises the need for 'community confidence'. But the nationalist community, which are not included in this definition, see this as a blocking mechanism.

Of course when you ask the DUP just what is this community confidence, and more importantly what community they are talking about, we get down to the real crux of the issue.

Numerous DUP spokespersons have been rolled out to give various and conflicting answers. The only clarity that has been gleaned from them is that the concept is so nebulous that it cannot be measured and that it is the DUP who will decide when it is in place. Only they have the divining powers to understand the community and by that, of course, they mean the unionist community.

Peter Robinson, in a recent statement, sought to portray my party as being in denial about their position on policing and justice and sought to bolster his argument by saying that the British, Irish and American governments all signalled that his party conference remarks were positive and constructive.

It's a pity that Peter, in using the governments to support his argument, has not taken cognisance of the fact that all three governments are on public record as saying that the devolution of policing and justice powers should have taken place already.

We signed up to the Good Friday and St Andrews Agreements knowing what they contained and committed to delivering on them.

As I said in the Assembly debate, when I took the final stage of the enabling legislation for the transfer of powers on the Policing and Justice Bill, Ian Paisley snr is on record as saying that, whatever might be said about Sinn Fein, when it gives its word, it keeps it.

For me, actions speak louder than words. Let the DUP - by word and deed - show that they are of the same political calibre.

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