I’m sure there is some glib joke to be had along the lines of “how many social workers does it take to change a lightbulbs” about the peace processing parties that have inherited leadership in this post Belfast Agreement era..
As Duncan Morrow notes in the Irish Times today, things are immeasureably better than they were fifteen years, or ten. Why then, he asks…
…if things are so good, do things feel so bad? And what should be done? The answers take us into the heart of the carefully worked “non-agreements” at the heart of the peace process: no agreement about the future, and none about the past. Indeed, the prize of agreeing to share power depended on not agreeing about them.
Revisiting national aspirations to accommodate others would have stopped negotiations in their tracks. The mantra that “you do not have to change and neither do I” was presented first as wisdom, second as morality and third as obvious. It was clever politics, but nonsense.
Without change, the peace process is a stalemate between enemies who loathe each other. Without a shared basis for mutual accommodation, there are just contradictory visions of the future wrestling for supremacy. And there is a significant risk that more incidents such as the flag riots will explode.
“Loathe” is a bit strong. No one really believes that these guys don’t know each other, or even admit to some trust, if not out and out affection for each other. A set of politics that allows them to take office but not compromise sufficiently actually get things done is failure of politics.
The result of the stalemate is that areas which took the brunt of the violence are stalemated into confined standoffs, with no sign of relief. A case of some public spaces being treated as though they were private has the effect of hemming large communities into unfeasible small and tense spaces.
As Morrow notes, “Sustained effort to develop free and equal access to public and residential space is an issue of the rule of law as well as housing and public services.”