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Dublin: 13 °C Saturday 25 October, 2014

Opinion: In Northern Ireland, we are literally lurching from crisis to crisis

David McCann says now is the time for action from Dublin and London who should intervene and assist political leaders in Northern Ireland.

David McCann

IT HAS BEEN an eventful few days in Northern politics to say the least.

The arrest of Gerry Adams, the charge of political policing against the PSNI from Sinn Fein and the predictable rebuttal from Peter Robinson, all made for depressing viewing over the past week.

Commentators and politicians argued over what has to be one of the most asked questions in Irish politics – was Gerry Adams ever a member of the IRA? The answer to this question was never going to be answered over the media, nor would any particular revelation in this respect likely damage Adams or his party, as most people likely have a clearly formed view on the subject.

In my view the arrest of Gerry Adams led politicians across the spectrum down that old political cul de sac of finger pointing and trying to use an event to score political points, which in the future could have serious consequences.

PSNI

Let’s take Sinn Fein, Catholics in Northern Ireland, do have an uneasy relationship with the PSNI.

Most of us would’ve heard stories from our parents about the actions of the RUC and B-specials and would naturally form a negative view of policing. However, thankfully the Patten report challenged much of that culture and allowed us to establish a new police service that could truly be representative across communities.

Now, I am not arguing the PSNI is perfect, but it is a damn sight better than its predecessor in carrying out its duties.

It has taken us decades to get to this point and threatening to pull your party’s support from the police service and using language that links it back to its RUC predecessor it reckless to put it mildly.

At time when dissident republicans are parroting the ‘different name, same agenda’ line about the police, it beggars belief that senior politicians in one of governing parties would use such language.

Although this uncertain approach to policing is not just confined to Sinn Fein, their Unionist counterparts are also willing to hit the police when they act against something that impacts their community.

Flag protests

The trouble that erupted during the flag protests and comments from some Unionist politicians that the PSNI were engaging in political policing against Loyalists really illustrates what a difficult position the police force are in.

If they move against figures in one community they are generally derided by the other. This has become a rather unfortunate development in Northern politics over the last two years in particular.

Yet, this is where we are in politics here at the moment. Since the flag protests relations between the DUP and Sinn Fein have become fractious and effectively paralysed the Executive.

The increasing attacks on one another and the inability to set aside personal animosity have created a poor government which can now boast an approval rating lower than the Greek and Irish governments at the time of their respective EU/IMF bailouts in 2010.

Richard Haas

So, how do we solve this? Eamon Gilmore appears to believe that by bringing in the American diplomat, Richard Haass, again we might be able to make progress on some of the more contentious issues such as flags, parades and the past.

This is believe is farcical suggestion, whenever the entire talks failed just five months ago off the back of Unionism’s unwillingness to accept the deal, why as we approach elections would they be any more willing to compromise now?

Indeed, part of the problem with Northern Ireland is since 2010 both the British and Irish governments have become disengaged from the peace process.

As the overriding focus of both governments has become economic renewal, they have allowed one of the most fragile things in our country to drift.

Crisis to crisis

In Northern Ireland, we are literally lurching from crisis to crisis, while like latter day Nero’s, Eamon Gilmore and Theresa Villiers and fiddle while Rome burns.

If the worst happens and the Executive fell, when the history books are written on its demise, it will not just simply have to point the finger on the Northern Ireland parties, but also include the failure of the two governments to pre-empt and assist in averting these crises.

Bringing back Richard Haass is not the answer to the fundamental problem. The two governments need to use the carrots and sticks at their disposal to force the various parties to agree a satisfactory compromise. Bating from the side-lines as they have done thus far, is patently not working.

It’s time for action from Dublin and London to intervene and assist political leaders in Northern Ireland who are willing to make the compromises necessary to secure our hard fought peace into the future.

Dr David McCann is a researcher at the University of Ulster.

Column: Bold gestures are necessary for a genuinely inclusive Northern Ireland>

Column: Failure of Haass talks highlights two serious problems in modern Northern Ireland>

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