Every little helps

The Taoiseach Brian Cowen gave a better than ritual answer to Labour leader Eamon Gilmore’s question in the Dail yesterday, making clear that he had no “predetermined destination in mind” for the GFA. Always useful to be the honest broker when times are fraught.

Mr Gilmore Is there too much hand-holding in this process?
Mr Cowen

“I do not see at any time how the Government could fulfil its obligations by stepping back in the process. The Government should be there to assist a deeply divided political culture . . . We are in a brave new world, a situation in which everyone’s view must be accommodated, but we must also have generosity of spirit informing that process and in people making compromises. The culture has never been about making compromises successfully in the past. Those who made compromises paid the political price.” There was a need to foster relationships between political opponents.“ (Who has he got in mind; Trimble, yesterday and Robinson today, or wider?). It’s not about a separate but equal operation. It’s about a coherent whole working together, recognising that there are people with very strongly held and different perspectives on many fundamental issues of what they’re about and who they are and where their affiliations and loyalties lie.
“The great genius of these agreements is that we are not seeking to reach a predetermined destination. We’re on a journey here that will take us wherever it will, based on principles of consent and respect and mutual interest and we have to devise a culture that sustains institutions to be effective, to be responsive to people’s needs.”

He stressed it was his “strong view that the spirit of the agreement is just as important as the letter of the agreement.
“This is not some inane, abstract mathematical formula about setting up structures for people to co-exist peacefully and tolerate each other.”
I hope to review the arguments about whether the structures of the Assembly help or hinder agreement soon.

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