Belfast Telegraph

Micheal Martin: Parties' failure to form Executive leaves Northern Ireland more isolated than ever before

By Micheal Martin

In the nearly two decades since the victory of democratic politics on this island we have faced many moments of truth. The process of reaching and implementing an agreed future was never going to be easy.

One of the most destructive strategies adopted by certain parties has been to always manoeuvre to place blame on others. Because they never accept their own contribution to reinforcing distrust and undermining progress, we have been constantly caught in a cycle of denial, distrust and crisis.

There is no more room for manoeuvring.

The two largest parties either agree to create an Executive or the entire foundation of the agreed institutions could fall.

They have consistently failed to show respect for the core principles of the Agreement, and in particular the requirement that the Executive operate in an open and inclusive manner.

And while this has been going on, deep problems have been allowed to escalate. Northern Ireland has the highest poverty rates on these islands and a health crisis that gets worse each year.

Enough time has been wasted.

Not days or weeks - but years have been wasted.

It's time to stop the manoeuvres and start delivering for the people of Northern Ireland.

We believe that there are a series of specific issues which must be addressed if the past cycle of inaction and crisis is to be broken.

First, there must be a clear commitment by all involved to fully implement past agreements.

Regardless of what Gerry Adams has said in the past, the equality agenda does not belong to any single party. It is about protections which will be in place irrespective of who forms the majority in the years ahead.

The next element of a lasting agreement is for a new programme for government which shows a commitment to ambitious action on Northern Ireland's deep social and economic problems. There might be financial limits to what can be implemented, but there are no limits on undertaking proper planning and showing what can be done with the right support.

The final element of a new agreement which can last is that it must address the critical issue of Brexit.

The absence of the Executive in recent months has seen Northern Ireland nearly disappear from the Brexit agenda in London.

In fact, the interests of Northern Ireland have been so marginalised that it did not even merit a direct mention in the detailed Brexit policy outlined by the UK Labour Party last week.

Northern Ireland and the whole of this island needs the northern parties to agree a Brexit agenda which seeks special status where this is possible and achieves recognition in London and Brussels for the fact that every permanent resident of Northern Ireland will retain the right to full EU citizenship after Brexit is complete through their right to Irish citizenship.

This is not about one party or one individual, it is about a wider series of problems which must be addressed if the potential for real economic and social progress in Northern Ireland is to begin to be realised.

We need full implementation of agreements. We need a respect for the mandates of all parts of the community and not just two parties.

We need a programme for government which addresses poverty, a health system in crisis and other entrenched issues.

We need the governments to once again become partners in Northern Ireland's development. There will be no stable Executive unless the two governments understand that their decision in 2011 to take a hands-off approach to the North has been disastrous.

We need a new commitment to North/South cooperation.

And we need an urgent commitment to a united approach to reducing the damage which will be caused by Brexit.

Enough time has been wasted. There has been enough political manoeuvring. Now is the time for the governments and for the parties to get on with working on behalf of the people.

Micheal Martin is the leader of Fianna Fail

Belfast Telegraph


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