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Kate Carroll is right - what was meant to be a Fresh Start has turned out to be a false one

Absence of goodwill in Executive a betrayal of PSNI officer murdered in the line of duty, says Alban Maginness

The open letter in the Belfast Telegraph to Arlene and Martin by Kate Carroll, the widow of murdered PSNI officer Steve Carroll, reflects eloquently and powerfully the feelings of many people in Northern Ireland with regards to the current crisis over the RHI debacle.

Her letter is not some sentimental, ephemeral appeal, but an insightful and withering analysis that a politics professor could have penned.

The letter is well-written, the language is strong, and the points made with piercing accuracy. Her genuine and selfless widow's pain is apparent throughout this carefully argued plea.

She forthrightly refers to politicians: "Reverting to tribal trenches." She accurately sums up the level of public weariness and despair when she says: "How pathetic and how regressive that this election - the one nobody seems to want - is likely to see you, the people who supposedly run our country, reverting to the lowest common denominator over something that affects us all and has nothing to do with sectarian issues."

Speaking for many people, she poignantly wrote: "Most of us thought the hard work had been done when a devolved power-sharing NI Government was set up a decade ago."

How many people, at home and abroad, would have wrongly assumed that the major issue of governing together through power-sharing had been achieved 10 years ago?

She sharply rebukes politicians by stating: "We were promised a Fresh Start, but instead we have been given a false start."

Finally, she ends with a sharply condemnatory critique: "Empty rooms, empty rhetoric, empty promises."

There is no doubt in Kate Carroll's mind that the election we are about to witness is unnecessary and will not solve any of our current problems.

She is simply exposing the truth and confronting politicians with the raw reality that an election will be divisive and sterile.

Given the iron law of northern politics, that sectarian solidarity trumps all, the election will inevitably descend into a brutal sectarian dogfight.

This, of course, will suit Sinn Fein and the DUP well, as it is in this battleground that they feel most comfortable and will probably bring them tribal supremacy come the election results.

However, whether we like it or not, Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness has pressed the nuclear button and has sadly chosen to abandon years of hard-won political progress and risk the political meltdown of the institutions, rather than carry on trying to negotiate a resolution with his DUP partners in the Executive.

Exercising the nuclear option is an excessive and disproportionate response to the current situation. It is an irresponsible act on the part of McGuinness.

The nuclear option was always there for both parties to use, but it was essentially a form of political deterrent - not something to be detonated.

True, he is right to say that Foster has been arrogant and the DUP doggedly intransigent across a range of sensitive issues, including legacy issues and the Irish language, but that is the nature of politics here, and you have to accept those frustrations and get on with it.

In the short-term these things matter, but in the long-term they will be of little consequence.

The crass DUP decision to axe Liofa bursaries was provocative and hurtful to nationalist sentiment, but was not in itself a sufficiently good reason to press the nuclear button - especially when the decision was quickly reversed, due to rightful widespread criticism and anger in the nationalist community and beyond.

The tit-for-tat decision to remove the Union flag (after seven months) from the Department of Finance HQ was also a crass decision and was undoubtedly taken to appease the anger of the party faithful in the wake of the Felons' Club meeting.

At the very root of the dysfunction of this Executive was the fact that neither party embraced John Hume's vision of achieving a reconciled society based on partnership between our two political traditions.

Hume's vision was of the representatives of unionism and nationalism working together in a Government, not just formally sharing power, but actively co-operating together in a dynamic partnership based on goodwill and mutual forgiveness.

What we have had for the past decade was a crude imitation of the Hume vision. Although this was better than nothing at all, it was essentially a duopoly, where both leading parties coexisted, carved up power and excluded the other parties.

The spirit of reconciliation, as envisaged in the Good Friday Agreement, should have been the very lifeblood of the Executive, but was tragically absent.

If reconciliation had been at the core of the Executive then we would have avoided the political meltdown that is now inevitable.

Kate Carroll is right, and the sacrifice made by her brave husband should be honoured.

Belfast Telegraph

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