Or predictions thread for the year to come is still a work in progress, but you don’t need a crystal ball to tell you the shenanigans at the year end suggest that already Stormont’s institutions are having some difficulty staying in touch with where the politics of the street is moving.
Alan Murray notes in yesterday’s Tele:
…many of our politicians on both sides are out of touch with reality. Political current affairs programmes on our local television and radio channels politely thrashed out scenarios, with the usual commentators seemingly unaware that a storm was about to engulf us.
The SDLP and Alliance, in particular, just didn’t grasp the potential for exploitation that the flags issue would provide, which in itself is deeply worrying.
Sinn Fein certainly did, demonstrated by the despatch of their cameraman to film the symbolic removal of the Union flag from the pinnacle flagpole in Ulster.
Insisting that “democracy must take its course” is commendable, but hardly comforting – given the potential street turmoil that lies ahead of us, particularly in the bigger loyalist urban population areas around Belfast.
And he goes on to lay a little blame with the people who promises us delivery, just under two years ago:
in spite of all the money spent on the costly mechanisms at Stormont and the exorbitant OFMDFM spin machine, political progress may have been set back significantly by events on the streets. Again.
The justice minister, David Ford, through the year ritually calling “for an end to terrorism”, as he did again yesterday, will have no impact on the paramilitaries on both sides intent on pursuing their destructive agendas.
Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly has his agenda, as does Billy Hutchinson of the PUP – now with his discernibly different stance on the flag-flying issue.
Unfortunately for the rest of us, between them they have the capacity to press the buttons that cannot just frustrate, but can damage, or even derail, the peace process with a little bit of deadly nudging from the dissidents.
It’s hard to blame any nationalist party for wanting to take reduce the number of days the Union flag is flown on any local government building. What gives all of these actions heightened significance is the sheer lack of anything concrete coming out of the departments at Stormont.
After two years in office, the only thing political play is action on the streets (historically, the precedents are hardly encouraging). Despite apparently cordial relations at OFMdFM, the dealmaking at Stormont Castle appears to have ground to a halt in September.
Sinn Fein’s party leadership (which unlike the DUP’s is embedded at party headquarters rather than inside the political institutions at Stormont), has moved much of its attention and resources to giving itself a base and footing in the Republic rather than Northern Ireland.
It’s this lack of action and concomitant lack of focus on Northern Ireland’s future which is sapping the energies of our fledgeling representative democracy, and in the process enlarging the shadow of the past.
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