Belfast Telegraph

Staring into the abyss? US has nothing on here

By Lindy McDowell

I imagine if Cliff Richard had a pound for everyone who'd made a crack to him this Christmas about Fiscal Cliff he'd be rolling in it. A fiscal of dollars at least ...

But no laughing matter for our friends Stateside who have been working themselves into a right state over the possibility of their festive Fiscal Cliff. Into a bigger tizzy even than some Americans have managed to work themselves over Piers Morgan and his reasonable remarks to the effect that guns kill people and it might be an idea to have firmer controls over AK47 sales.

Fiscal Cliff, as the name suggests, involves matters fiscal. And the potential for an abrupt, calamitous and presumably irreversible plunge into an economic unknown of higher taxes and bigger cuts.

Or to put it another way, Mayan Doomsday for the dollar.

The interesting thing is that this Fiscal Cliff did not come upon American politicians suddenly and without warning. The man who coined the phrase first mentioned it roughly two years ago in a speech highlighting what lay ahead.

The end-of-year fiscal cliffhanger, then, is yet another example of politicians engaged in what they would like us to think they do best ... brinkmanship. We've had a bellyful of brinkmanship in our own part of the world.

Down the years in Northern Ireland we've been to the brink more often than a Grand Canyon tour guide.

We have tottered regularly on the edge of the abyss and on a few terrible occasions may even have plunged right over only to hoick ourselves back up again. Back to the same old perilous position.

Where have our own politicians, our leaders been while this has been going on?

Generally speaking they've been shepherding us down those separate sectarian paths with the shared signpost: "Abyss, Edge Of. This Way."


The peace process, we'd been led to believe, would put an end to all that teetering on the edge.

The process, we were assured, filled in the dangerous gulches and transformed the local political landscape to something smooth and safe as a putting green. No more dramas, eh? We are, it must be said, a long distance from the darkest horrors of the past which so many of us remember still with such frightening clarity.

But could we ever go back to that?

It's the thought that haunts even as a New Year begins. The start of 2013 and almost 20 years after the first IRA ceasefire and we're still not out of the woods.

There's still that sense of a dangerous brink and the possibility of a backwards drop into bloody terror re-run.

Why have we not been able to move on?

Put simply, the joint evils of paramilitaries and community division have never been properly addressed.

Worse, tolerance of both are actually cornerstones of the process. And, as another New Year begins, there's no real indication of a political will to confront this division and deal with it.

Why should there be? The success of our political parties is built entirely upon maintaining division.

Our big problem here is that it is frankly not in the interests of political leaders to even attempt to repair the oozing sore in our society.

So back to our own scary cliff in 2013?

Have we ever really been away?


From Belfast Telegraph