A Little Perspective on the Spat at Stormont

On a day when the front page of most of the newspapers on these islands carried a heart-wrenching photograph of a little boy drowned on a Turkish beach, we really need to catch ourselves on and make sure our politicians do likewise.

Like Jude Collins, I heard PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton on the news setting out that the IRA does not exist as a paramilitary organisation and that its members are pursuing their goals through exclusively peaceful means.

You know what that sounds like to me? It sounds like the RUC.

The RUC was disbanded as a result of the Patten Commission’s recommendations and whilst some of the former members remained in the new organisation, there was a cultural change. Now we will argue til the cows come home about the depth of that cultural change in policing, with some arguing sell-out and others arguing not enough has, in fact, changed but we do all accept that it has changed greatly. There was an affirmative action policy, decommissioning of a large number of RUC Barracks and a move to a community-based policing model. The RUC ceased to exist as we knew it, yet it remains a part of the fabric of the past and presnet. We can’t change the role played by the RUC any more than we can change the role played by the IRA in the conflict.

So forgive me if I don’t quite understand why we are in this so-called crisis.

Last week at a Debate in Derry I shared the panel with Sinn Féin President Declan Kearney, Chief Constable George Hamilton and Alan McBride on the day the Ulster Unionist party signalled their intention to resign from the Stormont Executive. I remarked that the UUP could find itself like a man who storms out of the house after a row; A long, cold, lonely night in the car lies ahead.

Or a long Assembly term on the back benches with only Jim Allister for company.

The DUP meanwhile wants to exclude Sinn Féin from Stormont but at the same time wants a four-week suspension so they can enter into talks with them. That’s a bit like throwing your partner out of the house whilst at the same time you both go to Relate!

It’s as if the two Unionist parties have taken political advice from a divorce lawyer who’s told them by all means move out of the marital bed but on no account leave the house.

At that Derry debate I was also said that the policy we’ve seen operate to date where nothing is agreed until everything is agreed needs to end. We cannot keep lurching from crisis to crisis because of political horse trading.

The Conflict Transformation Centre at the Maze Long Kesh site has fallen and along with it a world class stadium to be shared by soccer, rugby and GAA. The upgrade of the A5 has fallen victim to politicking. The Social Investment Fund, which was targeted at alleviating poverty in the most deprived areas of the north has only 6 months left to run and there’s still £30 million unallocated because politicians can’t agree on whether to give the money to poor nationalists or poor unionists.

The Irish and British governments will push forward talks in the coming days to drive forward the elements of the Stormont House Agreement. What they will need to be careful about is that there is no renegotiation but rather that the focus is on an implementation plan.

A lot hinges on this for the political parties. The Alliance party won’t follow the UUP and leave the Executive because they want to retain the Justice Ministry, knowing how central that is to the whole house of cards not falling. They’re probably on the moral high ground on this one, to be fair, given that David Ford has cited the need for evidence. Now there’s a thought…

The SDLP won’t resign from the Executive because they know it will be electoral suicide within Nationalism if they are seen to allow Unionism dictate the pace.

Sinn Féin will struggle to keep its electoral strength because those Nationalist votes they have won over the last 3 or 4 electoral cycles may just stay at home. What’s the point voting if the Unionists always have a veto, they will say.

The DUP and UUP will continue to slug it out with the only question being who will draw first blood. Might it be the DUP, who refuse to re-run D’Hondt and let the UUP back into a Ministerial position? Neither is likely to make significant electoral gains as a result and, like Sinn Féin, could see only party stalwarts coming out to vote at the next election.

But in the end, what’s happening at Stormont isn’t that big a deal. A crisis is when a three year old child lies face down, drowned, on a beach because his parents tried to bring him to a place where he could live safely.

Aylan Kurdi’s death really puts the spat at Stormont into perspective.