Is the Parades issue a signal of underlying political drift in Northern Ireland?

So, much to the bemusement of some of the Fine Gael TDs I sat with this morning at the BIPA in Glasgow, Micheal Martin’s accusation that under Enda Kenny the southern government has taken its eye off the ball regarding Northern Ireland seems more than just a little calculated.

Yet, there’s also a fairly robust analysis of the kind of things that are rarely described these a in Northern Ireland as a political problem:

The Peace Process was always intended to be about more than an absence of violence. The people of the North deserve a political system that delivers progress that demonstrates that politics works and which is about making their lives better.

Any calm and objective analysis of the performance of the Assembly and Executive over the last year would, very reluctantly, have to question whether they are delivering in these terms.

There have been notable successes – the ‘Our Time, Our Place’ campaign has been excellent, but we have seen just five pieces of legislation pass through the Assembly and we have seen the news dominated by old ‘parades politics’.[emphasis added]

Yes. Parades. That would be that little annual matter that costs something in the region of £7million. That’s not far off the price tag of the cervical vacine programme in the Republic every year, and a far chunk out of that extra £200million.

In political terms it’s worth paying some attention to Peter Osborne’s remarks:

“We have listened carefully to local politicians and others outline their intention to engage in processes and quiet conversations aimed at delivering progress. The Commission has long advocated the positive effect that constructive leadership can have on difficult and contentious issues.

“We will assist any efforts and, as consistent proponents of local accommodations being reached through dialogue, we will give these processes and initiatives the required time and space to take their course.

“Ideally, if local accommodations were reached the Commission would not be required to make determinations during next year’s traditional marching season. That is an ambitious target, but the building blocks are already in place.

“The momentum generated by ongoing political leadership, a willingness to engage in dialogue and further demonstrations of goodwill and mutual respect could have significant benefit for the 2013 marching season, provided the work is started now.”

Hmmmm… “provided the work is started now…” Actually the general form is not act in concert on anything that’s too controversial, to leave it to that by now well rehearsed principle of creative ambiguity.

Firstly on Martin’s direct point, the Assembly put through just four five pieces of legislation last year (a welcome increase in productivity from the previous term nonetheless).

Second, there’s an aspect of sham fight about these events which helps underline the differences between the two partner parties in OFMdFM.

I’m not saying that either actually wants the north Belfast rioting to continue, merely that the incentives to develop a strong joint political response (of the type Osborne is clearly hinting at) to it is weak.

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