Time to grasp the nettle

Seumas Milne, the Guardian’s most left wing senior staffer is the first London -based commentator I’ve noticed to pay serious attention to the state of our politics for a long time. Today he discusses the links between the rise of republican violence and the Stormont stasis. He begins with an excellent point about why current events should command wider attention.

“From the way terrorism is discussed in the British media you might easily imagine that most political violence in the United Kingdom is the work of would-be jihadists in England. In fact, the overwhelming majority of armed attacks are being carried out by dissident republican groups in Northern Ireland – and they’re multiplying…. But while the dissident campaign has flared, political advance has again been held to ransom by unionists’ intransigence, with no sign of the British pressure necessary to bring them to heel“.

Whatever you think of Milne’s analysis, another bout of “British pressure” looks about to happen. The DUP insist that J&P won’t devolve until “we get it right”. How can they get it right if the DUP and Sinn Fein don’t thrash it out together, with input from all the other parties? It’s not good enough to leave it to the stately progress of the Assembly’s executive committtee or the odd bad tempered debate in the chamber. This failure to address others in earnest leaves them on the back foot with the two governments and looking weak as a party. I’m glad to see that this week Brian Feeney addresses Peter Robinson’s political problems. He fairly requiries Peter to live up to his own conference rhetoric and face down his own dissidents and the TUV. It’s tempting to stall until after the election, but will delay really strengthen his hand against internal and external opposition? On the wider canvas, Brian hits a big nail on the head over unionism’s responsibility for making the new Northern Ireland succeed.

“The ( The DUP) don’t seem to realise that it’s up to unionists to prove to nationalists that the north is a viable political entity. If unionists refuse to work it, as DUP ministers at present refuse, then there’s no reason for nationalists to shore it up. Nationalists hold no brief for the north.” .The last sentence in this passage underplays the responsibilities of nationalists. I assume by “ the north” Brian means the Northern Ireland state, the statelet, partitioned Ireland, whatever. But nationalists voted for the “brief “ in the referendum often invoked by them to guarantee powersharing. Brian can’t have it both ways. The shared experience of everyone in the north gives all of us a huge stake.

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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