What is happening at Stormont? Does anybody know?
Does anybody care?
It would be tempting to answer NO to these questions but that would not be correct. It seems the Executive has not met in over 3 months because of the ongoing dispute between SF and the DUP over the transfer of policing and justice powers to the devolved assembly. Instead of the open, mature and transparent debate we should expect 10 years after the Good Friday Agreement, we are still engaged in back room deals, stitch ups and political fixes, all of which are harmful to the democratic process and indeed undermine public confidence in the integrity of the political process itself. We have already had more than our fair share of studied ambiguity in this tortuous path to a political settlement.
Governments have been prepared to overlook murder, robbery and all manner of other matters, in order that we can set up an administration at Stormont. All the indications are that the latest round of secret and backroom talks between SF and the DUP are in the same mould. The announcement that the Independent Monitoring Commission will deliver some sort of verdict on the continuing existence of the Provo military structures, will surely see that so called independent body deliver the verdict the Governments and the DUP and SF all want in order to have another political fix on the establishment of Policing and Justice Minister. It is about giving the sectarian nationalist and unionist parties a political fig leaf to cover their current political positions. Remember these are the same two parties who declared, “Not a bullet, not an ounce” and “no government without guns” Thankfully the
Alliance Party have refused to play a part in this political charade.
It all leaves us to reflect on the quality and nature of the Executive and Assembly we have up at Stormont. Only the most na´ve of us can admit that the Good Friday Agreement was a perfect political solution or model. Yet the huge turnout in the referenda which endorsed the Agreement, which included thousands of people who had never voted before, and it seems have not since, illustrated a deep desire amongst citizens that difficult as it would be, there was a possibility that a transformation of Northern Ireland society could happen.
Many including the Workers Party feared at the time that we could end up merely institutionalising sectarianism and managing division, rather than overcoming and eradicating both. It would appear that this is what has happened. In the Assembly the parties have been left powerless, spectators every bit as citizens in the street as the DUP/SF coalition sorts itself out. Indeed both governments and the United States have abandoned the SDLP and Ulster Unionists, often in a brutal and callous manner in order to placate the extremist nationalists and unionists in SF and the DUP. What we now have is not power sharing but a sectarian carve up. The Prod and Taig mentality, the “them and us”, is as strong as ever. The guns may be silent but we have the same old sterile antagonism between unionism and nationalism by another means.
Many in the DUP and SF have being crying crocodile tears over the summer about the current economic difficulties confronting our people. But just what exactly do they propose to do about it? What if anything can our expensive and overloaded Assembly do to change economic course?
It is now long past time that the goodwill shown to the Assembly should cease. Hard questions need to be asked. For democrats, but most especially for socialists the challenge is to forge an alternative to the sterile sectarian and conservative politics of unionism and nationalism, for that is what we have in the Assembly - Old Wine in New Bottles.
Issued 9th August 2008