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Lindy McDowell: Forget bulldozing Stormont - we need a wave of bright, fair-minded people to rebuild our demolished democracy

Forward march: Civil rights campaigners in Londonderry
Forward march: Civil rights campaigners in Londonderry
Bernadette McAliskey

By Lindy McDowell

Bernadette McAliskey has called for Stormont to be bulldozed, which is surely coming at the problem from entirely the wrong angle.

Because it's not that glorious edifice of white Portland stone that needs the wrecking ball taken to it - it's what's in it. Or more precisely, what currently isn't..

It's our political class, our politicians, parties and our political leaders.

Sinn Fein MP Paul Massey is right when he describes a weekend arson attack on SF offices as "an attack on democracy."

But then, you have to ask, what democracy? Right now, democracy itself has been demolished.

For a start, the standoff at Stormont is also a pretty much an obvious and prolonged "attack on democracy."

In parts of this country right now, voters are entirely disenfranchised as those elected to represent them refuse to take their seats at Westminster or Stormont.

But back to Ms McAliskey, who speaking about sectarianism at a recent Northern Ireland civil rights commemoration event - and Bernadette would not previously have struck me as one of the clarion voices of anti-sectarianism - is quoted as saying that while the civil rights movement itself had not been sectarian, "the reaction of the Protestant population was sectarian".

So there you have an entire community wrapped up, taped together and fixedly labelled with that old blanket banner. A parcel of bigots.

And this, in itself, isn't sectarian, Bernadette?

I grew up not that far from Ms McAliskey, in a household every bit as economically disadvantaged - if not more so - than hers. My experience was that nobody ever came to my father's door and said: "Here's work just because you're a unionist."

Nobody bumped us further up the housing list (If they had, I might have been much younger than nine before we moved into our first council house and out of our previous dwelling, which had been condemned several years beforehand).

My experience was/is that being poor and Protestant was not - and is not - a rarity.

Hundreds of thousands of us across Northern Ireland grew up - and still do - in similarly straightened circumstances.

The vast majority of Prods, like our Catholic counterparts, have always been working-class.

The stereotype may have been Big House unionism, but the reality was council house unionism.

We were no better off than our nationalist neighbours, yet the Protestant working-class continue still to be tagged 'sectarian oppressors'.

Today, many young nationalists genuinely seem to believe that before the one man, one vote campaign led to a law change (which actually benefited the unionist working-class as much as their nationalist counterparts), Catholics actually did not have the vote while Protestants did.

It would be good to hear some clarion voices speak out today to clarify that one.

I don't think it's fair to label just one side of the community as entirely sectarian. But unionist leaders, past and present, consistently did their electorate no favours in enthusiastically living up to the stereotype.

Take the Pope's visit...

Pope Francis is a church leader, a figurehead and a world leader, and it's utterly shameful that the DUP has snubbed not just the pontiff himself (though I doubt he'll even notice their absence) but the hundreds of thousands of people for whom his visit is important and symbolic.

It's not the Pope who's being demeaned here. It's Arlene Foster, it's the DUP and it's the office of First Minister that Arlene previously held. It's unionism as a whole that's tainted by this crass refusal to show civility - in 2018, for God's sake.

We deserve better - we all deserve better - from our so-called leaders, which is why it's not the demolition of one iconic building that's now needed, but the construction of a whole new consensus in the interests of all our people.

The real denial of democracy is when people tell you your vote is irrelevant.

Where are the people's civil rights today when politicians decide to - and can - shut down an entire government?

Yes, we can gripe and gurn and call for the bulldozers.

But what we should be concentrating on instead is a new debate on how to find a way out of this mess, how to encourage to step forward from civic society those many, many bright and competent and constructive and fair-minded people on all sides who are similarly sick of our current political morass.

We need to rebuild democracy.

Rescue tips give me that sinking feeling

The amazing story of Kay Longstaff who fell from the cruise liner off the coast of Croatia but somehow managed to remain floating until picked up 10 hours later has made headlines across the world.

Various news websites are now advising us what to do should we find ourselves in similar circumstances. Apparently you need to float with "your knees raised up to your chest" (Can you actually stay afloat in that position?).

Also you need to try and float calmly - yeah right! - and look out for anything floating on water you may be able to cling on to.

Above all, and I love this, "it's important to get rescued as soon as possible". To sum up then, it'll be a miracle if you make it.

Even royals can feel awkward in spotlight

According to a made-for-American television documentary on the royals, Prince Harry is a happy-go-lucky 'normal' bloke who likes a bit of banter, while his brother Prince William also likes a joke but reportedly has a 'faint awkwardness' about him.

On behalf of all those of us who also have a 'faint awkwardness' about ourselves in certain social situations, actually I think it's William who sounds the nearest to 'normal'.

Harry seems to enjoy the spotlight, but, as most of us would, his brother occasionally does look a bit uncomfortable and wooden and, yes, awkward even, in the spotlight. This is really not a failing. This is normal.

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