The peace process phase is over. A new age of political progress is what we need

I hesitate just a little to criticise Peter Osborne ‘s piece on Galvanising the Peace  as I bow respectfully to the view that dialogue and contacts are essential for peace, reconciliation and development.  But we really have to move on from this sort of generalised approach to more rigorous analysis and hard questions leading to more real solutions.  We should have learned by now that yet another appeal like Galvanising the Peace won’t crack  it. It lets the political class off  the  hook.

The current political kerfuffle is dramatic evidence that this approach has not had the slightest effect on the practice of politics.  So- called  “Uncomfortable  conversations” too are all very well but they take place among basically comfortable people – even if there are more of them now than there used to be and that’s a really good thing.

Lodged in the Community Relations Council Archive are the excellent Peace Monitoring  Reports and other studies by Paul Nolan. These, the only analyses of their kind, need to be matched by strategies of equal rigour. It is quite  remarkable  that the follow through from this work is so bland. It shows how inhibited  state supported bodies can be. They need to liberate themselves and take a few more risks. Nobody  else is going to do it for them.

It’s surely clear by now that a more rigorous political analysis is needed beyond this sort of social therapy couched  in impersonal language  to avoid hitting too  close to home.

To touch on some of themes in the “ short discussion paper.”

Though I’m keen in it myself  ( but who am I?), it is  too easily assumed that a desegregated community is what’s wanted. It cannot be imposed by social engineering. Community security is currently more important.

Non- sectarian education is the big one., but  how to achieve it  by  consent? (Answers on an old fashioned  postcard please…)

On legacy issues people should be disabused of the belief that dealing with the past is mainly about  victims. It’s really about politics and history. In any case what more can most of them expect to know? The unconvicted guilty can never be named. It is also questionable  whether the past needs somehow be satisfactorily explained before we can , in the horrid phrase, move on . This is a self- imposed inhibition.

On culture, developments are more hopeful, though less by state action  than through independent initiatives  among  often young  entrepreneurs . The old fashioned  statist form of an Irish language policy should be replaced by one that actually encourages  its use.

And the most important point. Up to now “civil society”  that is,  public and private  sector leaders  have funked criticising the political  class.  If we are ever to develop this must change.  I had this dream  once  in which the whole of the public service bureaucracy took to  streets and did some shouting at Carson’s statue. When the water cannon came out, we knew we were in business…


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