Belfast Telegraph

It's time for Northern Ireland politicians to get their toes wet in what CS Lewis called the 'ocean of opportunity'

It is better to have some form of government at Stormont than continue with the current vacuum, says Alban Maginness

It is trite to universally condemn our politicians and to dismiss the new intensive round of negotiations this week as being another Groundhog Day in which past failures are constantly repeated.

But before such a condemnation, people should honestly look at themselves and admit that they are also part of the problem, having voted for either of the sectarian juggernauts (or, indeed, not having voted at all).

It is also trite to say that any restoration will in any event be a waste of time, as the last Executive was scarcely a model of good cross-comunity government.

The subsequent collapse of the Assembly ended in a scoreless draw and thus ensued an endless blame game on all sides.

But that would be wrong as it is better to have something working, albeit imperfectly, than a hopeless and demoralising vacuum that will lead to greater problems in the future. As the famous Belfast writer CS Lewis said: "Between little hope and no hope, lies an ocean of opportunity."

Let us wish them well and let's hope that the new Secretary of State Karen Bradley and Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney successfully coax the parties into that ocean of opportunity.

Last week John Hume celebrated his 81st birthday. Because of ill-health he did not speak publicly about the prospect of renewed talks on the revival of the Assembly.

But if he had it is likely he would have said - as he has said so often in the past - that it is vital for us as a society to heal the fractured political relationship between the two traditions that cohabit in Northern Ireland, and that the way to do that is through partnership between the representatives of the two main political traditions within a power-sharing arrangement that will work together on common issues and thereby create the conditions in which reconciliation will grow between our divided people.

Perhaps those involved in the coming weeks of intensive negotiations could keep Hume's grand vision for the future of our society in mind.

The key objective of a restoration of the Assembly and Executive is to create a genuine, dynamic cross-community partnership that will bring about reconciliation within our society, plagued as it has been by the historic curse of sectarianism.

The aim should not be to restore devolution in itself, nor to recreate an insincere, bogus partnership that is merely a cold, empty co-existence between two large parties that, in effect, dislike and even hate one another.

Nor should the Executive be a device that provides an opportunity for the sharing out of power like some form of booty between two self-serving political parties.

The Assembly should be a forum for healing - not an arena for sectarian mud-wrestling.

Those involved in these negotiations should put the cause of reconciliation first and the promotion of party interests last.

Everything should be measured against whether a proposal will help to develop partnership and reconciliation. This ideal must be at the forefront of their thoughts.

The time for macho, uncompromising sectarian politics is surely over. It has been tried and tested, the result being the collapse of the last Executive over one year ago. The creation of communal goodwill must be the top priority for all parties to these negotiations.

It has been suggested by some that the nationalist community has given up on power-sharing. This is a false reading of the political mood among mainstream nationalists.

Nationalists are, naturally, deeply disappointed at the dismal outworkings of the Assembly. They are frustrated by the failure of the Executive to move beyond the stage of mere co-existence to the gentler climate of a healing partnership.

They have been disillusioned with the political process and its failure to make progress, but they do not reject the necessity for the Assembly and a properly functioning Executive.

They want to see it work - and work well - in promoting goodwill and reconciliation.

They see the DUP exploiting the Assembly and Executive for its own narrow interests, but do not see it understanding why these institutions are necessary in the first place.

Nationalists want the DUP to recognise that power-sharing is about promoting peace and reconciliation. They see the DUP as abusing the power-sharing institutions, instead of using them to bring about harmony and goodwill in the community; The DUP uses them to bolster division.

Nationalists want the institutions back, but working in a genuine way. They haven't fallen out with the Good Friday Agreement project, but are disillusioned by its failure thus far to create a society at peace with itself.

They very largely blame unionism for that failure.

But yet they are still faithful to the Hume ideal of a society working though partnership towards reconciliation using the well-crafted institutions of the Good Friday Agreement - 20 years old this year.

Belfast Telegraph

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