Everybody’s out of step except our wee Caitriona

The Belfast Telegraph’s “sort it out” on line petition over the academic selection deadlock seems to be having some impact, much as the local politicians might want to deny it. Only Sinn Fein are mulishly holding out against this unexceptionable demand. Last week, amazingly, the representatives couldn’t find time to get together. But now they’re deigning to do so at last and interparty talks seem set to take place this forthcoming week among all the other parties, leaving SF playing the traditional DUP role by holding aloof. I’m sure MLAs who are so jealous of their prerogatives, loathe being seen to be acting under media pressure but that’s what seems to be happening. Last Monday in their fifth debate on the subject, the Assembly voted down a private member’s motion from the Ulster Unionist Basil McCrea. This would in effect, have ended deregulated selection after extending the de facto situation for another year. It was Ms Ruane’s decision, after a wobble, to turn down a two year cooling off period that hardened positions and revealed the full extent of her impotence. MLAs should recognise the political reality that whatever the minister and the whole lot of them may say, the Assembly will simply be ignored, for as long as de facto selection has significant support on both sides of the divide and 42% of secondary education is carried out in grammar schools. Any legal action to try to impose the Transfer 2010 solution is likely to get bogged down and might indeed lose for lack of cross community support. Sooner or later, Sinn Fein will have to abandon their authoritarian stance and start talking on the basis of a wider agenda or face isolation in the Assembly. I get the impression – but don’t get excited – that the SDLP might be prepared to break with nationalist solidarity on this.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

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