Viewpoint: Hard work follows a momentous day
Published 09/05/2007 | 10:07
The ceremonials are over and now it's down to business. Without further delay, the Assembly must prove that it is more than just a talking shop, for opposing parties, but a new power in the land for progress.
It has an enormous task to fulfil, after 30 years of violence and almost 10 years of negotiating a lasting deal. The mistakes and omissions of the past, which have dogged the peace process, must be put firmly aside and the new executive ministers will be expected to combine their talents in the interests of all.
Many of the difficulties experienced in the last Assembly were attributed to the lack of empathy between the members of the executive, but the relaxed atmosphere yesterday was greatly encouraging. There were generous tributes, from both sides, to the late George Dawson, MLA, and the various appointments were agreed, in advance, with a minimum of fuss.
This demonstration of professionalism, at the top, shows that the unlikely pairing of Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness may yet bring about a fundamental transformation in the political scene. Both will fight their respective corners, but if they do it with courtesy and respect - and keep their ideological differences to a minimum _ their relationship could become a model for the entire community.
Most of all, the MLAs must recognise that they have been elected not to prove their intransigence, as politicians, but as servants of people who want a better way of life for their children. They want better access to jobs, schools and health care, and they want as many as possible of the barriers that separate communities broken down. The political divide will remain, so long as unionism and nationalism determine how votes are cast, but it should never be a cause for violence, now that all the Assembly parties are pledged to the principles of consent and the rule of law.
As the executive ministers read themselves into their new responsibilities, no one should be in any doubt about the difficulties they face. Coming from four parties, they have different manifesto commitments and different views on many issues, which must be hammered into a shape that wins majority support in the executive and the Assembly. Decisions must be taken collectively, and have the consent of unionists and nationalists, or the weaknesses of enforced power-sharing will soon become apparent.
Goodwill was falling from the skies at Stormont yesterday, in commendations from such prime movers as Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern, but it can only carry the process so far, before harsh realities intervene. Early decisions must be taken on burning issues like the 11-plus, school closures, council reform, Irish language legislation and the role of north-south institutions. Stormy days lie ahead, but this time the strong men are in charge.
Sky at night guy's a fright
The astronomer Patrick Moore is often seen as a national treasure. He is viewed as enthusiastic, amusing and erudite; a wacky great-uncle whose eccentric appearance and gruffness is tolerated because of his service to the nation.
But the Monocled One reveals another side to his character in an interview with the Radio Times, culminating in a fusillade of criticism against women for allegedly ruining the BBC.
One can only imagine the reporter's consternation (and joy at being handed a decent scoop) as Moore branded female newscasters "jokey women" and criticised the BBC for hiding away interesting programmes very late at night.
Doubtless there is no connection whatsoever between his views and the 2am starting time of The Sky At Night.
"The trouble is that the BBC now is run by women and it shows - soap operas, cooking, quizzes, kitchen sink plays" he said.
"You wouldn't have had that in the golden days. I used to watch Doctor Who and Star Trek, but they went PC - making women commanders, that kind of thing. I stopped watching."
Now, everyone is entitled to their views, and this newspaper is no friend of excessive political correctness. But come on Mr Moore, drag yourself into, well, the 20th Century at least.