Dr.Richard Haass begins his final session of talks today to get an agreement from all of main political parties in Northern Ireland on flags, parades and dealing with the past. While his earlier efforts have failed to produce anything, he will be banking on the need for our politicians to demonstrate once again what great peacemakers they all are and not become an international laughing stock.
When we look back on this weekend in a few years’ time, we could view this weekend as the moment when politicians got their act together or when they once again dropped the ball. Our political leaders seem to forget the old adage ‘politics is the art of compromise’ and yet for such seasoned operators they seem adverse to make any real concessions at all. After nearly 7 years in government together the fact that Dr. Haass or Prof. O’Sullivan had to be called in to sort this out at all shows how toxic relations between the main parties at Stormont have become.
When the Executive was formed in 2007, I was genuinely happy that the DUP and Sinn Fein had won clearly, as I felt that had it been close like 1998 it would have just created instability. After years of false dawns and direct rule, I really just wanted politicians that I had elected to take ownership of the place I call my home. Nearly 7 years on, my sense of optimism has gone, and I feel like we are just drifting as our government lurches from crisis to crisis.
For me it is a sad spectacle to watch as even though I am not a fan of the DUP or Sinn Fein, I love the political process and what it can do. Watching declining turnouts, paralysis in government and teaching an increasing number of students who just don’t care about politics is something that really bothers me. I am not one of those who have opted out of voting or political activism as I just cannot bring myself to give up.
All I am asking for from those taking part in these talks is to throw people like me a bone. Give me something to hang on to and hold up as an example against those who say politics doesn’t work. Put these issues to bed and get on with governing the country for everyone. I’m not arguing that we should all be happy clappy and ignore the realities of life in Northern Ireland, but there has to be a better way for us to share this place going forward.
Like Terence O’Neill in 1968, this could be Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness’ crossroads moment when their success or failure could decide our future. I just hope this does not end up with history repeating itself.
Whatever comes of these talks, I think the fact that two people would place so much effort in helping us make this part of the world a better place is something that we should all be grateful for. Ultimately it is up to us and those whom we elected to finish the job and not pass up opportunities when they are presented to us.
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs