Belfast Telegraph

Stormont parties lack the courage to do a deal

By Steven Agnew

Last week, the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach walked away from the cross-party talks with what appeared to be disillusionment and disgust. How do they think the rest of us feel?

The Good Friday Agreement established the political institutions that are now at stake as part of the cross-party talks involving the five Executive parties. I turned 18 in 1998 and the referendum was my first ever vote. I voted yes, to peace, devolution and cross-community, cross-party co-operation.

For many years I really believed it was two steps forwards, one step back. In other words, progress was frustratingly slow, but at least there was progress.

Until the flags protests at the end of 2012; or perhaps more accurately, until the DUP lost their Westminster seat in east Belfast to Alliance. The irony being that the success of a cross-community party has arguably done more to destabilise the political institutions of Northern Ireland than any other event since 2007.

It would appear that progress in Northern Ireland was conditional; forward steps could be taken as long as the DUP and Sinn Fein did not have to pay an electoral price in the same way the UUP and the SDLP had post-GFA.

And this is where I get as frustrated as any other citizen shouting at the TV. All sight seems to have been lost of the common good of the people of Northern Ireland. The question should not be "Is this what we wanted, is this a deal that will increase our vote"? Instead the question must be "Is this deal better for all the people of Northern Ireland than no deal?"

A deal based on compromise, give and take, something for everyone and everything for no one, may mean parties having to face a backlash from their core vote. But the alternative is further disillusionment, despair and distrust. Parties may protect their vote but in turn they (further) damage the legitimacy of politics in Northern Ireland.

And if the potential backlash really is too much to bear - give the people the responsibility back. Give them the power back. Publish your best compromise and put it to a vote. Let us all decide if the compromises are worth making - share the power and the responsibility.

  • Steven Agnew MLA is leader of the Green Party in NI

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