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Northern Ireland’s peace is Ireland’s peace, we've all benefited and all of us must make sure we keep it

As the South approaches the next election pressure needs to be placed upon politicians to re-engage with the peace process.

Dr David McCann Lecturer, Ulster University

OKAY, I KNOW what you’re thinking. Can you lot not just get on with it? This tends to be the question I get asked most when I visit places like Dublin and the conversation inevitably turns to some crisis that is plaguing the Northern Ireland political system.

Yes we have another crisis, which is in reality just re-emergence of one thought we had dealt with before Christmas. Remember the Stormont House Agreement that was agreed between the main parties? Well, now Sinn Fein has had second thoughts as they accuse the DUP of reneging on a promise to protect certain parts of the welfare budget.

If I still have your attention, let me tell you why political leaders in South and the wider general public need to be worried about this.

A durable government 

Since the 1980s the British and Irish governments have invested an awful lot of political and economic capital in solving the Northern Ireland problem. Many risks were taken, many false dawns and long nights of negotiation, but in 2007 it appeared that finally the problem of creating a durable form of government in Northern Ireland had been solved.

The old enemies of the DUP and Sinn Fein had embraced and we had two parties with enough electoral support to implement an agenda. That was in 2007, fast forward to today and we have a government that appears to be in a state of paralysis as the two main parties appear unable to develop a solid working relationship and a coherent policy platform.

From 2011-2013, an Irish News analysis revealed that just 11 laws had been passed by the Northern Assembly. To make matters worse, we have had the failure of the Haass Talks and now the crisis over what will happen to the Stormont House Agreement.

Governments step back 

Over the past number of years the British and Irish governments have seemingly stepped back and allowed this situation to develop. As economic concerns have become the priority, the current Dublin administration has not recognised the need to properly bed down the institutions. Leaving the peace process on auto-pilot had effectively got us to this point.

The simple fact is that the clue is in the tile, Northern Ireland is in a ‘process.’ It needs constant work and attention from the British and Irish governments. Yes, a lot of the spade work has to be done by local politicians, but officials in Dublin and London cannot just sit back and let things happen. We need sustained and real engagement to help avert crises and resolve problems quickly.

As the South approaches the next election, I hope that there will be some pressure placed upon politicians to re-engage with the peace process. The current government needs to remember that they have inherited a legacy from people like Garret Fitzgerald, Albert Reynolds and Bertie Ahern and it is up to them to ensure that the hard won gains are not squandered.

We cannot at this critical juncture allow this process to stall.  As the country looks to its future at the next election, the peace process should be a part of their consideration.

A way has to be found to ensure that political leaders can rise above sectional interests and take the difficult decisions necessary to implement the Stormont House Agreement.

Northern Ireland’s peace is Ireland’s peace, all of us have benefited from it and all of us have to make sure we keep it.

Dr David McCann is a researcher at the University of Ulster. Read more of his columns here>>

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About the author:

Dr David McCann  / Lecturer, Ulster University

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