Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

To say Northern Ireland is good example of peacemaking is beyond parody

Stormont enjoys the luxury of political incompetence only because someone else is picking up the tab

Our politicians aren't fit to teach enemies across the world how to get on after the mess they have made up at Stormont

At the core of the peace process is one simple idea; that both communities in Northern Ireland would be represented at the heart of the Executive and that the interests of both would be preserved. So how have we come to such a mess as is revealed in Paul Nolan's report for the Community Relations Council?

"A culture of endless negotiation has become embedded and, without a vision of a shared society to sustain it, the peace process has lost the power to inspire," says the report.

In other words, our politics is now addicted to the process. Just being seen working together is taken as proof of historic achievement, while nothing actually gets done.

There should now be a moratorium on politicians saying things like: "Who could have believed we'd be sitting here together, instead of killing each other?" For there is no point in their sitting together at all if they can't actually function.

The report highlights the failure on education of Protestant boys. It warns that their future exclusion and alienation will lead to trouble and threaten reconciliation. Yet who has stood forward from the unionist community to insist that something be done about this?

I, a bit facetiously, challenged Willie Frazer (right) on Facebook last year, saying it would make more sense for him to be demanding a quota of places for Protestants in Catholic grammar schools than to be yapping in the streets about the Union flag.

The political leadership of unionism has only one education idea – to preserve the 11-plus, which most Protestants fail, or don't sit.

The report says we have peace without reconciliation. We have no plan for ending, or easing, sectarianism, just the perpetuation of conflict and division, expressed more through politics and culture than through violence. So far.

And yet the same parties which snarl and bristle round each other in Stormont want to go abroad and be revered as examples to the whole world of how well old enemies can get on.

That we have any example to offer Kashmir, or the Middle East, by way of peace-making and progress is a joke. Because "failure in Northern Ireland comes cost-free".

In other countries, the parties to a peace process would have to get an economy working and would have to provide services for the population from their own resources.

If they made the hash of it our lot have, the bills wouldn't get paid and they'd be back at war. They would actually have to run the place properly.

The CRC report calls our situation a "disconnect between taxation and spending". That's something the other trouble-spots can't afford.

You only get to enjoy the luxury of political incompetence in the real world when you're a devolved region; that is, when someone else pays the bills.

The Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring Report says that vetoes at Stormont have held up progress in health, welfare and education.

And we are approaching the mother of all deadlocks, over welfare reform, because Sinn Fein wants to rally the Executive to challenge George Osborne, while their "partners", the DUP, see no practical value in throwing money back in his face.

On the streets, we see "a culture war being talked into existence". The report says: "Educational under-achievement of socially disadvantaged Protestant youths is a seedbed for trouble."

Which is fine in a nicely printed report, but is bloody obvious, too. We didn't need to wait to be told by reflective, mild-mannered academics what the problem is.

A society which splits everything on sectarian lines seems to have decided that education is something Catholics go in for.

But what are we to make of a society, which is supposed to be at peace, in which a tenth of all police officers have been injured in the past year? And in which politicians bemoan this, but make excuses for it, too, blaming the Parades Commission and then going into a charade of talks on an alternative just to prove they are incapable of coming up with something better themselves; and never confronting their own communities with the harsh reality of the need to create a law-abiding and peaceful society above all else?

It wasn't supposed to be like this. We were supposed to have politicians who would understand the needs of the communities they came out of, who would direct resources to essential services, who would be answerable locally, who wouldn't be platitudinous blow-ins appointed at Westminster.

Oh, they talked the talk. We were going to have a big stadium, we were going to have a light rail rapid transit system, we were going to have a north-south electricity interconnector, we were going to have a peace centre at the Maze, a big new training college for the police and the fire service, transformed care for the elderly and a glittering, modern A&E service.

What we got was obduracy and veto, garnished with self-congratulation, because they weren't shooting each other. Some of us would prefer just not having to wait overnight on a trolley in a corridor when we need medical treatment.

The report says: "Devolution, which was supposed to bring responsibility closer to local level, has failed to do so in Northern Ireland."

The worst of it all is that it is these same parties which would have to agree on an alternative, a system of government that would actually work. And we know they wouldn't.

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