Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Let's focus on peace and not the red lines

As the political parties enter into crucial talks today, it is easy for most of us to feel a degree of fatigue that we are beginning this process yet again
As the political parties enter into crucial talks today, it is easy for most of us to feel a degree of fatigue that we are beginning this process yet again

Editor's Viewpoint

As the political parties enter into crucial talks today, it is easy for most of us to feel a degree of fatigue that we are beginning this process yet again.

We all feel a sense of deja vu. How many times has a talks process started, only to fail over political intransigence between the parties? There is scarcely a day that does not come burdened with some political significance, and they keep coming along as we have to cobble together yet another fix on what is obviously a protracted and sometimes sorry process.

The local government election, and the surge by the Alliance Party, brings tantalising hope of some change, but the two main parties have the numbers to ensure that tired old Orange and Green issues have not gone away.

Last February the DUP and Sinn Fein came close to a deal, but what marks a change this time round is the public mood following the Real IRA's murder of Lyra McKee. In the aftermath of that, the Secretary of State Karen Bradley and Tanaiste Simon Coveney announced fresh talks to break the deadlock.

There was the hope that the red lines from past talks, including an Irish Language Act and other issues may have faded slightly, and they are certainly not desirable at this stage. Neither side can expect to come away with all it wants.

No-one has any illusions about the huge problems facing Northern Ireland. The last two years have brought an increasingly sectarian public discourse, and attitudes have significantly hardened.

The DUP faces difficult problems, including how to deal with same-sex marriage, and Sinn Fein needs to reflect on traditional republican ideology. Can it really criticise dissident republican micro-groups for killing people, while commemorating past terrorists?

The obduracy of our main parties and the lack of progress in important areas in the 21 years since the Good Friday Agreement was signed tends to make us feel worn out, even before the politicians trek back wearily to the talks table.

However, while the current peace is not perfect, the situation is so much better than it might have been without the Good Friday Agreement.

The recent murder of Lyra in Derry resonated with the worst of earlier years, and brought vexatious memories of the Troubles.

When we think of those who died and were injured, we also think of the many hundreds alive and uninjured today who would have been victims of violence if we had not found a way of doing a deal two decades ago.

That is no small achievement, and at a time when a lasting settlement is so badly needed, our politicians would do well to reflect more on that, and less on the red lines which get us nowhere.

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