Is the process just a dark hole in which old monsters squirm and grow?

In some ways the implicit meaning of this crisis are too awkward for some of our politicians to face. One that hadn’t immediately occurred to me was Peter Preston’s observation (following consistently on from poisonous foundations) that by locking the incumbent political opinion into Stormont, you automatically alienate any outside political opposition and leave them to their own devices.

Voters in a democracy will always want to know what comes next, to see what’s the alternative. And, intellectually, Northern Ireland offers them no alternative but the gun. They must stick where they are, permutating Catholics and Protestants, loyalists or republicans of various intensity, in pact after pact – but they can’t throw either set of rascals out. Togetherness is a permanent state, not an option. Any peace is conditional until what’s mattered and divided Northern Irish society for decade after decade ceases to matter at all.

We’re not there yet. We have many more decades to go. Relative prosperity, normality and the (fading) prospect of better times can help, but there has to be a clear answer, too, an open agreement about where the province is going. Do we remotely have that yet? When Gordon Brown – in the wake of Major and Blair – denounces the “evil” of Massereene, can he also define a long-term good? Or, 10 years on, is the process just a dark hole in which, malignities untended, the old monsters can still squirm and grow? Where “Real IRA” means just what it says?

Adds: Just been pointed at this piece by Chris Brookes from last year, which kind of relates to the same thing:

I’ve just been re-reading Machiavelli’s Discourses, and one of the points he makes very early on is that you want your political institutions to be such that formal public challenges to authority are very easy, precisely in order to discourage what he calls calunnia, “calumnies”, or doing everything in semi-private unattributable ways through insinuation and rumour.

But Machiavelli also notes that this does not necessarily result in the reduction of strength in the incumbents, since the challengers often entirely overestimate their chance of success in a fair and open fight…

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty