Belfast Telegraph

Stormont is backed by leaders

By Brian Rowan

The tone at last Friday's event in the Europa Hotel was not about them (the politicians) and us (the people). Rather it was about a new Civil Society Network initiative that wants to offer both help and hope.

"We need the Assembly to stay," Liam Maskey told the audience. "We need politics to work. We want to help. Can we lift some of the load?"

And that sense of helping was also heard in the words of lawyer Conor Houston of the Young Influencers Network.

"We have to stop pretending everything would be perfect if it wasn't for the politicians," he said.

His hope was for a place and a peace in which young people choose to stay and where we "encourage the dreamers".

Presbyterian minister Lesley Carroll spoke of the reality of food banks, those in pain, hospital waiting lists and people inside negotiations where "human hearts clash with political heads". Politics, the talking on the Hill, has not got long to work this out.

It is not just about a security report and panel review of paramilitary structures, role and purpose, but the business of budgets and welfare and a continuing battle over a process that begins to address the past.

On the latter, the fight is still about co-operation and national security interests versus disclosure.

A draft Bill introduced to the talks last week is being viewed by some as a retreat from what is needed. So, the clock is ticking at Stormont and this latest civil society intervention has come late in the day.

It has been shaped with the assistance of the academic Dr Lisa Faulkner, and there was an impressive turnout on Friday.

The republicans Sean Murray and Declan Kearney were present, as were the loyalists Winston Irvine and Tom Roberts.

As for the next steps, that will be to engage with the five parties involved in the Stormont talks.

One of Friday's speakers was Jenna Maghie of Nicva, her message framed within a few short words: "It's crucial we don't squander the achievements so far."

And the wider message from inside the room was what is happening at Stormont is not just about the politicians.

  • Brian Rowan is a writer and commentator on security issues

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