Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Secrecy and distrust have got us nowhere

Editor's Viewpoint

Given the strict controls that the leaderships of both the DUP and Sinn Fein exercise on their members, it was hardly surprising that they would want to extend that to controlling what information emerged from their roles in the now mothballed Executive.

According to David Sterling, now head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, civil servants got into the habit of not taking notes of meetings to frustrate Freedom of Information requests from, among others, the media and members of the public.

He said the parties were sensitive to criticism and this was one way of avoiding details of potentially controversial discussions from being disclosed.

The revelation will do little to improve the public image of politics, especially in the wake of the failed talks to restore devolution and the blame game that followed.

One suggestion which gained some credence after the talks imploded was that the Westminster and Dublin governments should take a more pro-active role in trying to resurrect the talks.

This idea was floated by the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, in the US, but brought an icy response from Arlene Foster, who said it was not appropriate for the Irish Government to propose the future direction of politics in Northern Ireland.

Yet even some of the political parties in the province have called for the governments to introduce fresh thinking and impetus to the search for resumed devolution. And they have certainly co-operated in the past, not least in the framing of the Good Friday Agreement 20 years ago.

A welcome development coming from Washington was the Taoiseach's acknowledgement that some of the comments made earlier this year by him and fellow government ministers were seen as unwelcome and intrusive by unionists.

Given the political crisis facing Northern Ireland, it is encouraging that Mr Varadkar recognises that he needs to cooperate with unionists rather than appear to be coercing them in directions they don't want to go.

Both communities, as represented by the DUP and Sinn Fein, hold an effective veto on political development and are quite willing to use it.

This is a situation which runs contrary to the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement. Two decades after its signing, the hoped-for consensus in both political and civic life is still an aspiration rather than a reality.

Belfast Telegraph

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