Not long after the murder of Kevin McGuigan and even before the PSNI’s assessment of who was involved had been announced, I remember thinking to myself that this was the excuse Peter Robinson now needed to jump ship. With the NAMA scandal whirling around him, failure to implement the Stormont House Agreement and ever-more questions about his leadership, this was a superb opportunity for him to bring down the whole house of cards using an age-old manoeuvre or diversionary tactic, or what became known as Lynton Crosby’s dead cat strategy.
And this is what I find so frustrating. A man was murdered in a Belfast street and here we are three weeks later with politicians on both sides of the border falling over themselves to see who can take the toughest stance for nothing other than party-political gain. Just this morning, Stephen Nolan expertly called out Jim Allister for the sheer hypocrisy of his position regarding the DUP and UUP working with Sinn Fein in Government, with Nolan reminding him that he was a joint signatory of a statement regarding the Twaddell dispute, along with both the PUP and UPRG. Nolan was also quick to remind him that Sinn Fein received a 26.3% share of the vote in the last assembly elections and his desire to see them removed from the executive would by implication disenfranchise their 178000 voters.
The UUP, at the behest of their leader, have decided to withdraw their one solitary minister from the executive because they feel they cannot work with Sinn Fein any longer. Except in business committees, the wider assesmbly and local councils. Apparently Mike wants to see some honesty from Sinn Fein for a start, over the existence of the IRA before he considers going back in to Government. Now that’s a very open-ended pre-condition! Belfast Barman wrote an excellent piece on the UUP leader’s position on these pages a few days ago, and it’s certainly well worth a read.
And what of Sinn Fein’s opponents over the border? With both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael eyeing the upcoming elections, they are doing their damndest to halt Sinn Fein’s growth. Eamonn Mallie even said that “the response of Fianna Fail leader Micheál Martin to the Chief Constable’s remarks about the IRA is more hysterical than that from Unionism”. Fine Gael Justice Minister Frances Fitzerald also came perilously close to censure for accusing Sinn Fein for knowingly benefitting financially and otherwise from criminality.
Ironically it is Peter Robinson and the DUP who have taken the most measured response to the crisis, although I’m sure this has as much to do with intra-unionist rivalry and fear of the perception that if they did bring down Stormont they jumped because the UUP pushed them. The DUP leader has however made a ridiculous request for the suspension of the assembly for the purposes of all-party talks, something which would be almost unthinkable in another legislature.
So where are the modern day John Humes? When I say this I mean those politicians who are willing to risk both their own and their party’s reputation for the greater good. Hume risked everything by talking to Gerry Adams back in the late 1980s, with the likes of Seamus Mallon dead against the strategy. Indeed both Adams and Martin McGuinness have also risked their own lives to deliver the 1994 and 1997 ceasefires, along with decommissioning and that 2005 statement that has been endlessly dissected over the last few weeks. David Trimble, who oversaw the collapse of a once-dominant UUP following the signing of the Good Friday Agreement (Nesbitt was quick to remind us of this last week and yet not so quick to take a leaf out of Trimble’s book, as his latest piece of opportunism attests), was another who put country before party, with the previously anti-agreement DUP waiting in the wings.
I had a brief but interesting debate with another resident of this parish about the grandstanding by some within Unionism and Sinn Fein’s opponents in the south about this whole issue and he said we shouldn’t be surprised when politicians play politics. But should we not have higher ideals? Politics should be about public service first and foremost; it should not be about personal reward, monetary gain or one-upmanship. In a deeply divided society, is it too much to ask that our elected representatives act for the greater good? If not then re-introducing the IMC (and much else?) may be a way of ensuring that the murder of Kevin McGuigan, just like the OTR letters, are not used to further stymie politics here.